Every time an all-new car is developed, planned and built, a lot of effort goes into its look. And Toyota went to great lengths to explain to us exactly why the new 2013 Toyota Avalon looks the way it does. Toyota designers pointed out that thick and blocky cars look more like a typical sedan and impart a sense of prestige or even tradition. The current Chrysler 300 and Ford Taurus are perfect examples; their tall sides and well-defined trunks make them look substantial.

Avalon's New Look

On the other hand, a thin body with a less obvious trunk gives a sleek and sporty impression; think the new Kia Optima or 2013 Nissan Altima. That's the look Toyota picked for the new '13 Avalon. The new Avalon also has a prominent grille giving it a more striking, stronger look than the previous Avalon. From certain angles, the 2013 model looks a little like the new Toyota Camry (under the skin, the Avalon is Camry based), but in person, it makes a stronger impression. It looks much larger and obviously more luxurious.

Stronger Personality

Thankfully, the Avalon's sleeker, more contemporary look is backed up with a good deal of mechanical attitude. For one thing, the new model is 120 lbs lighter. Also, the car's suspension is now stiffer, and that makes the car more fun to drive. We can hardly believe we're using the phrase "fun to drive" in a Toyota Avalon review but, the truth is, Toyota engineers have fundamentally changed the Avalon's disposition. There are even driver selectable modes (not on the base XLE) including a Sport mode that enhances the driving experience by changing the throttle response, steering feel and the way the automatic transmission shifts. There's also an ECO button that does almost the exact opposite in an effort to deliver better fuel economy.

V6 or Hybrid

The new Avalon is available with a V6 or hybrid powertrain. The V6 is a 3.5 liter engine that makes 268 horsepower. The Hybrid is good for 200 hp and Toyota says it delivers 40 mpg in combined city and highway driving, which is very good for a large sedan. The Avalon shares its engine and even the hybrid power train with the Camry, but in the Avalon the software is revised. Acceleration with the V6 model is adequate, but the big sedan just doesn't move with the same urgency as other, sportier sedans. Curiously, it's the hybrid that feels a little more powerful. It's not more powerful, but there's something about the way the quiet and torque rich electric motors kick in that gives the Avalon Hybrid the feel of a true luxury sedan.

Near Luxury

Inside, there's a 3-color scheme that really works well. Lots of bright, metallic looking trim enhances the cabin too. There's even nice looking stitching on the dash that sort of reminds us of the Hyundai Genesis sedan. The seats are comfortable and even the XLE has a seat bottom extension making the driver's seat comfortable for drivers of varying heights. Even with all the luxury touches, there's something about the Avalon's interior that doesn't make it all the way to true luxury. Maybe it's intentional, but there is a clear and distinct difference between the Avalon's interior and that of the Lexus ES350. It might just be the look and Lexus' use of real wood versus the Avalon's wood grain plastic look.

Standard Features

The 2013 Toyota Avalon is available in four specific trim levels: XLE, XLE Premium, Touring and Limited. The lowest equipment level you can get with the Avalon Hybrid is XLE Premium.

The V6 Avalon XLE ($31,750) includes standard features like leather, heated and power adjustable front seats, smart key push-button start, touch-screen display audio, alloy wheels and outside rearview mirrors that are heated and have integrated turn signals. The XLE Premium ($33,955) adds a little extra luxury with features like a rear-parking camera, moon roof and auto-dimming rear-view mirror with compass. Touring models ($36,260) add features like Entune with navigation and a 9-speaker audio system, fog lights and a blind spot monitoring system. Also, V6 powered Avalon Touring models get steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, 18-inch wheels and the 3-button drive mode selector. Top-of-the-line Limited models ($40,410) get even more luxury touches like heated and cooled front seats, JBL audio system, heated rear seats, rear sunshade, HID headlights, LED running lights up front and puddle lamps. The hybrid version is about $2,000 more, and Touring and Limited models are $1,750 more since those versions already include lots of standard features. All of these prices include $760 for shipping and handling.

Like most Toyotas, value is an important ingredient in the Avalon formula. However, there's something else happening here too. The last time Toyota revised the Avalon, it was perfectly happy admitting that the biggest Toyota sedan primarily appealed to older buyers. This time around, Toyota is hoping to attract plenty of buyers who are NOT receiving a Social Security check.

The car is good enough and good looking enough to attract a few Ford Taurus shoppers and maybe some Hyundai Genesis sedan shoppers. The 2013 Toyota Avalon doesn't feel as luxurious as the previous Avalon, but it's a lot more fun and more youthful looking.

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Brian Moody heads up the AutoTrader.com editorial team. An automotive writer and presenter for more than 12 years, he's contributed to such media outlets as CNBC, Edmunds.com, Fox Business, Speed TV and The Today Show.

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