The 2013 Toyota Avalon is trimmer and more tech savvy, and it houses one of the most luxurious interiors on the market for less than $35,000. And get this: The 2013 costs $2,210 less than the outgoing model.
Cars that have traditionally appealed to older drivers are nearing extinction. Ford discontinued the Crown Victoria, there aren't any more bench seats, and easy-access flat seats are being replaced with more curvaceous sport seats intended to appeal to youthful buyers. Now, even the redesigned Toyota Avalon has diminished its geezer factor.
An Avalon Hybrid joins the lineup for 2013, with EPA-estimated gas mileage of 40/39/40 mpg city/highway/combined. Non-hybrids also get a boost in mileage. You can compare the hybrid and V-6 Avalons here, or the 2012 Avalon to the 2013 here.
Though it's not immediately apparent when sitting inside, the Avalon has shrunk from a full-size sedan to a midsize one for 2013; interior volume is down from 107 to 104 cubic feet. There's still no folding backseat, though, which seems like a missed opportunity considering the rest of the interior has been significantly redesigned.
This Is a Toyota?
While not technically a luxury car, the "premium" Avalon is closer than ever to the quality of Toyota's luxury division, Lexus — particularly the midsize ES 350. And by that I mean the all-new 2013 ES, in which I recently drove approximately 500 miles. The amount of high-quality materials, fine stitching and pleasant design flow in the Avalon is staggering compared with the old model, which honestly didn't seem offensive until I viewed its dull, fake wood, its painted plastic and its blah leather alongside the new 2013.
I'm glad to say there's not one piece of painted plastic meant to look like aluminum on the Avalon's dashboard. The center console that would often be clad in this material is an attractive dark color with a brushed texture. The chrome trim around the cupholders and gear selector looks tacky, but it's not as offensive as fake aluminum.
Stitching gives the front seats, dashboard, center console, door panels, steering wheel and upper dash pad an upscale look. All 2013 Avalons receive the same treatment standard; all consumers have to do is pick an interior color. Trim levels are differentiated by feature content only, as detailed below.
A revised roofline is to blame for the lowered overall interior volume that takes the Avalon down to a midsize classification, but my 6-foot-tall frame had no issues with the 0.4-inch decrease in front headroom.
The old Avalon's ride was comfortable, but the seats were not. The old wide and flat front seats were offensively uncomfortable for my frame, while the new seats are more supportive, with formed bottom cushions and gentle side bolstering that cups the backside without gripping too harshly.
Even though it feels a smidge smaller than the previous generation, the Avalon's backseat is still very spacious, with enough head, leg and hip room to mimic an extended-wheelbase livery car — in fact, a livery version will be available to fill a void left by the deceased Lincoln Town Car. Unlike the Volkswagen Passat's massive backseat, which suffers from an intrusive floor hump, there isn't a big tunnel through the middle of the floor, which gives passengers more side-to-side legroom.
Gone for 2013 is the previous generation's unique reclining rear seat, eliminating the justification for this car having no folding rear seats.
Behind the Wheel
The Avalon's 268-horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission carry over, but with new tuning to increase responsiveness. There aren't any surprises here, with predictably smooth and refined acceleration. You won't find driving excitement like you would in a V-8 Dodge Charger R/T or a twin-turbocharged Ford Taurus SHO. Gas mileage is up for 2013 through the use of electric-assist power steering, an electric water pump and a lower curb weight.
The EPA rates the Avalon at 21/31/24 mpg, up from 2012's 19/28/23 mpg. All Avalons use regular gas.
Most significantly changed is the Avalon's suspension, now with stiffer springs and new shock absorbers to firm up the ride and reduce body motion in corners. The new ride is more contained than previous Avalons, which exhibited bobbing of the nose over rough roads and practically scraped their door handles on the pavement when flung into a corner. It's clear after driving the new and old versions back-to-back that the softness is gone. The 2013 feels more substantial and heavier, despite weighing 111 pounds less than the outgoing model.
The additional road feel is an acceptable balance of livelier driving experience and refined ride comfort. Still far from being "fun," the new Avalon is at least far less sloppy than the old one, though its gentle ride quality will surely be missed by some. New front glass and insulation measures make for quiet highway driving.
The Avalon's steering is greatly improved, with new electric power assist instead of hydraulic. The old Avalon's steering had virtually no resistance, recalling a 1980s racing arcade game.
Avalons with the V-6 have three driving modes — Eco, Normal and Sport — that tailor the engine, steering and transmission responsiveness. The variable steering assist is markedly improved in Normal mode, with more feedback and resistance. Sport mode firms up steering effort and quickens throttle and transmission response, while Eco mode lessens air conditioning use and dulls throttle input for maximum mileage.
Elephant-Sized Grille in the Room
I'm not one to condemn a car because it's ugly, but the Avalon's massive-mouthed grille must be addressed. It's huge; the grille stands out in photos and in person. Place your thumb over the grille on the computer screen and see how the Avalon looks without it. Better, right? Styling is, of course, subjective, and some may find the look, um, attractive? The Avalon's rear looks luxurious, and if the front matched, the Avalon could have taken a route more upscale than a recycled, slack-jawed Camry.
At 16 cubic feet, the Avalon's trunk is larger than the 2012's 14.4 cubic feet. The Avalon Hybrid's trunk volume is decreased to accommodate the battery pack, but it's still a respectable 14.0 cubic feet.
There's more to cargo than size. The Avalon continues to lack a folding rear seat for hauling extended-length cargo; there's only a small pass-through for skis. Once rare in large sedans, folding rear seats are now more common, and they prove useful in the Hyundai Azera, Charger and Taurus (see them side by side). Toyota says Avalon buyers weren't interested in a folding backseat because they plan to use the car for nights out, not necessarily for hauling stuff.
Though substantially nicer on the inside and less expensive than last year with a starting price of $31,785 (all prices cited include a $795 destination charge) — the base 2013 XLE does sacrifice some equipment that was standard in 2012: a moonroof, satellite radio, backup camera and built-in HomeLink garage door opener. (All these features come on higher trim levels.) However, heated seats, a passenger knee airbag and a proximity smart key system have joined the standard equipment list. Six-cylinder trim levels include XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring and Limited.
Going for a higher-tech look (and cost savings for Toyota), all Avalons use capacitive touch-sensitive panels for climate and stereo controls. Intended to mimic a touch-based tablet, like an iPad, these have been a tough sell in other cars because they usually lack physical feedback and use small, difficult-to-read text. The Avalon's capacitive buttons are better than many, with large text and grooves surrounding each button for a physical marker you can feel. The buttons respond relatively quickly, but I'll still take a regular, boring button over a capacitive one any day.
Toyota's latest Entune multimedia system makes its way onto XLE Touring and Limited trim levels with a suite of features, like Pandora and iheartradio internet radio, plus restaurant reservation service Open Table, applications built into the stereo. Additionally, users can tag a song for later purchase through iTunes. Most features require a paired smartphone, and satellite radio is now part of the Entune suite rather than standard. All Avalons have a touch-screen: It's 7 inches in Limited trim levels and 6.1 inches in the others.
You can see a full list of standard equipment broken down by trim level here.
Toyota expects the all-new Avalon Hybrid to make up a substantial 20 percent of Avalon sales. Being a full hybrid, the Avalon can accelerate modestly on electric power alone to save gas, helping city gas mileage estimates of 40 mpg be a substantial 19-mpg gain over the V-6's 21 mpg city rating.
It handles similarly to the V-6 Avalon, with minimal body roll. My gripe is brake feel during moderate to heavy stops, when stopping power didn't match how hard I was pushing the pedal — until I went into full panic stop. Light braking is fine, as is heavy braking, but anything between had a momentary dullness. The Lexus ES 300h hybrid was similar.
With the exception of hybrid badges, distinct wheels and blue highlights around the Toyota "T" badges at the front and rear, there's virtually no exterior difference between the V-6 and hybrid Avalon.
Hybrids come in XLE Premium ($36,350), XLE Touring ($38,045) and Limited ($42,195) trim levels, and the difference in cost between a base XLE and a base hybrid is $4,560. The XLE Premium Hybrid costs only $2,360 more than a similarly equipped V-6 XLE Premium.
The 2013 Toyota Avalon had not been crash-tested at the time of this writing. Standard safety features include 10 airbags: frontal and knee bags for driver and passenger, and seat-mounted side-impact airbags and curtains for all window seats. Antilock brakes and an electronic stability system are also standard, as has been required on all new cars since the 2012 model year. See all safety features here.
Optional safety features include a pre-collision system that will pre-load the braking assist when an imminent impact is detected, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, and Safety Connect, Toyota's telematics system that can alert a call center when a collision has occurred.
Avalon in the Market
Toyota hopes to lower the average age of Avalon buyers by 10 years (it's currently in the mid-60s). With the new Avalon's focus on technology, its more athletic ride and its newly luxurious interior, I see no reason why that won't be an easy task. Toyota's big sedan may not have a luxury name in front of it, but it delivers a luxurious experience without the luxury price.
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