By David Colman
Hypes: 0.28 CD and Short Overhangs Yield a Looker
Gripes: Why All the Interior Chrome Trim?
Did you ever notice how automotive reviewers feel compelled to trash a company’s previous offering – one they universally loved just a few years back – whenever they’re given a new version of the same model to drive? This frequently occurs because manufacturers themselves denigrate their prior offering in order to cast a fairer light on its replacement. In most new model debuts, the comparison is odious. But the completely redesigned and repurposed 2013 Toyota Avalon is one of those rare cases that validates the rejection/adulation syndrome.
Until now, the Avalon has registered little more than a cipher in Toyota’s otherwise hot selling product line. Derived from the forgettable Cressida back in 1995, the Avalon came across as a luxurious sedan designed to satisfy customers who thought they had pulled into a Buick dealership. Even though it underwent makeovers in 2000 and 2005, the Avalon remained a stodgy looking car for folks who didn’t relish taking much of a chance on their automotive purchase. To be sure, Avalon was quiet, refined, and well put together in the best Toyota tradition. But when it came to serving up sizzle, Avalon was more tepid than a wet briquette.
Avalon’s wandering in the wilderness is officially over. Toyota management snatched design of the 4th generation model away from the minions in Japan and turned the new car over to the American styling whizzes employed at the Toyota Technical Center in Woodridge, California known as CALTY. They have come up with a startlingly handsome sedan that bears no resemblance to its predecessors. Yes, it still has 4 doors, seating for 5, and a full 16 cubic foot trunk. But the sheet metal that now clothes the Avalon is devastatingly effective at communicating the total reboot of this model line. The motivating idea is to appeal to a younger buyer who will cross shop the Avalon against products from BMW, Audi and yes, even Buick.
Against them all, the Avalon fares well. Its frontal view connotes snarl. From the side, its ellipse is slick, with the cabin glass tumbling home in one unbroken line from roof to rocker panel. CALTY definitely outdid themselves with the shape of the new Avalon. Because the externals are so compelling, the interior is somewhat of a letdown, harkening back to the detail-oriented fussiness of previous versions. Instead of a sleek overall design along the lines of a BMW 3 or Audi A4, the Avalon cockpit presents a lumpy pastiche, with too much chrome outlining every pod edge, instrument binnacle and door rest. Although the chrome used is “smoked” to lessen brightness, matte aluminum would have improved the overall ambiance immensely. At one point, I was actually blinded by dazzling reflections off the bezel of the instrument cluster.
Two versions of Avalon consumed my full day of testing at the model launch in Santa Barbara. Although Toyota touts the superior mileage of their poster child Hybrid version (40MPG), I decided to stick with the conventional, and cheaper, gas-only V6 models that constitute the bottom and top of the food chain. On a 75 mile loop from the UCSB Campus at Goleta to Solvang via twisty San Marcos Pass (State Route 154) with return on US 101, the first lap went to the Avalon XLE Premium model which retails for $33,195.
This Champagne colored model is one step above the entry level XLE and two steps below the top line Limited. Since all Avalons boast the same 268hp V6 and 6-speed automatic gearbox, mechanically the various levels are interchangeable. On its 17 inch painted alloys and Michelin MXV4 radials (215/55R17), the XLE’s sizeable fenderwells loomed large over the small wheels and tires. With 8 unbranded speakers, no XMSirius hookup, and a small 6.1 inch touchscreen on the dash, the entry level Avalon was definitely suffering from amenity loss. But the seats were decent, the ride was plush, and the cornering force generated by those petite Michelins was adequate for non enthusiastic driving.
If you can afford the upgrade to a Limited, the $39,650 entry price is definitely worth the investment. Sitting on 18 inch alloys shod with Michelin MXM 225/45R18 tires, the Limited looks vastly better than the XLE. The V6 is surprisingly lively, strong enough to cut 0-60mph times in the 6.7 second bracket, albeit at the expense of substantial torque steer if you floor the gas with the steering wheel cocked into a turn. The interior of the Limited features a 7 inch display panel that is significantly easier to read than the XLE’s, dial-your-own performance settings for Normal, Eco or Sport driving modes, paddle shifts for the leather wrapped steering wheel, and a bewitchingly good JBL stereo with 11 crystal clear Green Edge speakers. In Limited configuration, the new Avalon will remake opinion of the brand. The Avalon is more of a rolling communications lab than a driver’s car. Toyota hopes to sell 100,000 of them in the next year to a younger audience more interested in connectivity than conductivity.
2013 Toyota Avalon Limited
- Engine: 3.5 liter V6
- Horsepower: 268hp @ 6,200rpm
- Torque: 248 lb.-ft. @4,800rpm
- Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $39,650
- Star Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Stars