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Not every day does one have the opportunity to whisk along the beautiful countryside of Napa, Calif. in a brand-new car before it hits dealership showrooms. But that’s exactly what Toyota recently asked a group of auto journalists, including yours truly, to do. So, I obligingly packed my bags and traveled to wine country to test out the all-new 2013 Avalon sedan.
For 2013, the Avalon receives an extensive makeover. Like the stars of the Real Housewives of Orange County, there’s little on this car that you would recognize from previous models.
The first Toyota Avalon launched in 1995, selling 70,000 units in its first year. The Avalon of the mid-90s has come a long way from its original design, stock with an old-school front bench seat. Toyota executives did not shy away from the car’s boring yet reliable history. In fact, they fully embraced it during the vehicle presentation, sharing with us the details that make this the best Avalon yet.
“The 2013 Avalon showcases Toyota car-building prowess and infuses the Avalon nameplate with new levels of excitement, dynamic capability, and refinement”, said Bill Fay, Group Vice President and General Manager Toyota Division.
The 2013 Avalon is an example of a manufacturer truly listening to the customer, answering calls for higher-quality interior materials and building a car with an eye for detail. Toyota’s dealers requested a new car that would lure customers into the showroom. Journalists wanted to see both regular and hybrid versions that were fun to drive. And consumers asked for an interior customized to their tastes.
Improvements over the 2012 Avalon are vast. The design aesthetic, handling, and overall functionality should appeal to just about any buyer looking for a reasonably-priced mid-size sedan.
Taking a localized approach, the new Avalon has been designed and developed in the United States. It is Toyota’s first major vehicle development with a North American engineer. The company teamed up with Calty Design Research for the sedan’s design. The Avalon will be built at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky facility, also the site where Toyota produces its ever-popular Camry.
The styling is more fluid, borrowing design cues from the latest Corolla and Camry. The Japanese automaker hopes to use its emphasis on styling and advanced technologies in the 2013 model to appeal to a younger buyer. For Avalon, that means a customer between 40 and 60 years old, nearly a decade younger than their current owner demographic.
I tested two of the models available to us during the event – one gas, one hybrid. Both models were shining stars when compared to the 2012 model (which I thought could have easily passed for MY 1999). When I say the new Avalon is a big improvement, I mean it. Here are my first impressions:
2013 Toyota Avalon Limited with 3.5L V6 | Fuel economy: 25 mpg combined
I drove along Lake Hennessey. The scenery reminiscent of the German Alps, it was the perfect place to shift into Sport mode and put the Avalon’s handling to the test. The road wrapped around the lake’s boundary and up the mountainside.
The car seemed eager to dive into corners and stick tight turns. I quickly gained confidence in Avalon’s ability to respond to my commands. The steering wheel felt soft but sturdy in my grip, and the seats provided a gentle, supportive hug. Visibility both within and beyond the cabin were clear.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine was smooth and powerful, allowing me to breeze along the country straightaways and press into the curves of the lakeside at my leisure.
I took a different path of hilly twists and turns in the Hybrid XLE Touring. I ventured away from the lake and across Napa’s vineyard-ridden valley, excited to see how the hybrid version would compare. The new route began with a steep incline that had the engine screaming for mercy along the way.
My aforementioned confidence diminished slightly as the four-cylinder struggled to push the hybrid uphill with the same ease I’d witnessed in the gas model. I pressed the throttle to the floor, but the Avalon whined back that it was doing the best it could. Yet we moved upward steadily and reached the top. From there, I could almost hear the car sing praises as we easily coasted downhill.
While the V4 lacked oomph, everything else about the car matched my expectations for a Toyota hybrid. The powertrain is the first hybrid sedan in its class to get EPA-rated 40 mpg combined. It weighs less than competitors and can go 680 miles on one tank.
What’s new for 2013
Toyota provides many upgrades for the new Avalon, mostly focusing on the driver experience. Included now are industry-first Quadrabeam headlights, paddle shifters, various drive modes to custom-tailor your fuel economy and performance preferences, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic warning, and rear seat mounted airbags.
Buyers will get to select from four model trims for the gas and the top three trim levels for the hybrid version. Features at the basic level, or XLE, include smart key, soft touch materials, chrome accents, leather seats, and LED brake and tail lamps. Moving up the trim options to XLE Premium and Touring, buyers can expect to pay a little more for features like heated leather seats, moonroof, Sport & ECO driving mode, paddle shifters, fog lamps, driver’s memory seat and mirror.
If Toyota had made the new Avalon any more luxurious for its class, they would have had to put a Lexus badge on it.
The top-of-the-line Limited trim includes all the bells and whistles, adding even more luxury and safety to Avalon. Unique features like Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Warning and HID headlamps set this trim apart from the others.
Eco-conscious customers can expect to get just about the same options in the trims the gas-electric hybrid shares with the gas model. For the green buyers out there who want a roomy sedan without the luxury brand price tag, Avalon now comes with Hybrid Synergy Drive.
I’m thrilled with the new design changes on the Avalon. Items that could be tweaked include the entertainment system’s functionality. The center stack panel is so sensitive that when turning the volume knob I accidentally hit the eject button for the CD player (more than once).
All in all, I think it’s safe to say that the 2013 Toyota Avalon is no longer your typical old dude’s sedan.
I loved the Limited’s seat extender option for extra lower-leg support – not even my 2013 BMW has this thoughtful feature. The Eco option for driving is cool and helps save on gas, but if car makers are going to start providing three driving modes, I would advise those manufacturers that provide a mediocre driving experience standard to just go ahead and make the ‘normal’ drive mode ‘sport.’
Disclaimer: At the time this article was written, the author provided strategic communications services for organizations that represented the auto industry, including Toyota. The views expressed in this post are solely the author’s and were not solicited by any third party.
Toyota paid for one contributor to attend and cover the launch of this vehicle. Travel, accommodations, meals, and branded gifts (“swag”) were provided as part of this event. While we appreciate all that manufacturers do to ensure our safe travels and creature comforts while participating in such a program, we remain committed to sharing our honest opinion on and evaluation of their vehicles.