Pros: Excellent standard V6; hyper-efficient Hybrid model; adept handling; smooth styling; big back seat; plenty of technology
Cons: Ride is firmer than it used to be, and fancier models get luxury-grade pricing.
What's New: The Avalon is completely redesigned for 2013.
What a difference a year can make. That's the 2013 Toyota Avalon in a nutshell. Last year we hailed Toyota's full-size sedan as a throwback to the good old days of American highway cruisers, when cars were about covering long distances in plush comfort. But this year the Avalon is all-new, and Toyota has tangibly turned the page.
First and foremost, the sofa-soft ride is gone, replaced by a supple but surprisingly taut setup that actually makes the Avalon fun to drive. Time will tell whether it's the right fit for traditional buyers, but this newfound sportiness seems certain to extend the Avalon's appeal to younger generations.
Equally notable is the revamped look inside and out. The Avalon now resembles a Camry from the front and a Fusion from the side, with a dash of Azera in back for good measure. We think it's a home run, conveying both classy restraint and a contemporary sensibility. The same goes for the modernized cabin, which employs a sleek, driver-centric control layout and visibly up-to-date technology.
The new Avalon is also available for the first time as a hybrid, featuring essentially the same power system as the Camry Hybrid. The fuel economy is unprecedented for a large sedan, clocking in at a whopping 40 miles per gallon overall. Happily, the non-hybrid Avalons continue to rely on Toyota's 3.5-liter V6, a wonderful engine that always seems to punch above its weight.
While the 2013 Avalon is decidedly different from the car it replaces, it's also better in nearly every measurable way. See if the ride quality is to your liking; if so, you'll likely find the rest of the package tough to resist.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Toyota Avalon is offered in XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring or Limited trim. Note that the Hybrid model range starts at XLE Premium.
The base XLE comes well-stocked with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, keyless entry and push-button ignition, a trip computer, cruise control, leather upholstery, heated power front seats with driver lumbar support, a fold-down rear seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 6.1-in central touchscreen display, Bluetooth for both phones and streaming audio and an 8-speaker audio system with auxiliary and iPod/USB inputs.
The XLE Premium gets additional niceties such as a sunroof, rearview camera and auto-dimming rearview mirror. The XLE Touring takes things a few steps further with 18-in alloy wheels (the Hybrid keeps its unique 17-inchers), fog lights, a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, voice-command functionality, an upgraded 9-speaker audio system with satellite radio, a navigation system, Entune mobile-app integration, paddle shifters and driver memory functions.
The top-of-the-line Limited boasts xenon headlights with LED accents, rearview-mirror puddle lights, "white ice" interior lighting, a power rear sunshade, tri-zone climate control with a TFT display, perforated leather upholstery, heated and cooled power front seats with adjustable lumbar (both sides) and thigh support (driver-side only), heated rear seats, a 7-in central touchscreen with split-screen capability, a fancier hard-drive-based navigation system and an all-out audio system that brings 11 speakers and HD radio with iTunes tagging.
In our interior evaluation, we immediately noticed that the Avalon's front seats are no longer flat and soft like your favorite easy chair. Toyota has added real contours this time, and there are even modest side-bolsters to keep you planted in corners. In back, the sloping roofline still leaves enough headroom for 6-footers, while the copious legroom might even satisfy the 7-foot segment.
Most controls are straightforward to use; however, the high-tech IntelliTouch buttons on the center stack may require an adjustment period. Toyota says they're responsive to gloved fingers and long fingernails, but the jury's out on their small size and similar appearance at a glance. On the bright side, the gauges are Lexus-like in their crispness and clarity. The quality of the materials also satisfies.
Trunk space in the regular Avalon has improved significantly, measuring a competitive 16 cu ft versus the outgoing trunk's subpar 14.4 cubes. Laudably, the Avalon Hybrid's trunk can still hold 14 cubes despite sharing that region with the hybrid system's concealed battery pack.
The new Avalon has really stepped up its game when it comes to standard tech. Even the base XLE gets Bluetooth for both phone calls and streaming audio, iPod/USB connectivity, a touchscreen display and dual-zone automatic climate control.
If you want the Entune smartphone-integration system though, you'll need to step up to at least the XLE Touring, as it's not available on XLE or XLE Premium. Entune uses your smartphone's data plan and the Avalon's central touchscreen to power mobile apps such as Bing (Internet search), Pandora (free customized music) and OpenTable (restaurant reservations).
For those scoring at home, the Avalon offers no fewer than three audio systems, two navigation systems and two touchscreens. While the Limited's exclusive 7-in screen is sharper and features split-screen functionality, it's still not that big, and its graphics don't approach those of industry leaders. Chrysler's slick uConnect 8.4-in touchscreen is a better bet at this price point. But we definitely appreciate the Avalon Limited's 11-speaker stereo and hard-drive-based navigation system. Both are noticeably nicer than their cheaper counterparts.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The front-wheel-drive Avalon starts with Toyota's ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6, tuned here for 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque--same as last year. The transmission is a 6-speed automatic. This V6 has been around long enough that we've run out of artful ways to say it kicks butt. It's strong and smooth, and it makes a wicked little snarl at full throttle. The 6-speed is an eager partner, and it's newly able to match revs on downshifts in manual mode. Fuel economy is another highlight at 21 mpg city/31 highway. Long story short, you just can't go wrong with this drivetrain.
You might want even more fuel efficiency though, and that's where the Hybrid comes in. Borrowing its dual mode gas-electric power system from the Camry Hybrid, the Avalon Hybrid is rated at an eye-opening 40 mpg city/39 highway. Total output from the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine and twin electric motors is 200 hp, which is more than enough for normal passing and merging. Toyota's generally seamless Hybrid-spec continuously variable transmission (CVT) puts those horses to the pavement.
The Avalon is equipped with 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, stability control and 10 standard airbags. The Limited can also be outfitted with adaptive cruise control and a pre-collision braking system that enhances brake response when a crash seems imminent.
The new Avalon had not been crash tested as of this writing.
On the road, the 2013 Avalon is much tighter and more responsive than its predecessor. Whereas the old car pitched and rolled in corners, the new one stays respectably flat, even feeling like it wants to play at times. Predictably, the ride quality no longer reminds us of a classic Mercedes, having lost some of its cushiness in the transition. It's still quite refined, but the character here has changed for the sportier. In keeping with past Avalons, road and wind noise is suppressed at all speeds.
Chrysler 300 - Riding atop a rear-wheel-drive platform with Mercedes roots, the 300 is a champ on the highway and offers the excellent uConnect 8.4 interface along with optional Hemi V8 power.
Hyundai Azera - Bursting with features and flair, the Azera is the latest example of Hyundai's transformation into a maker of legitimate luxury cars. But the Avalon's V6 is hands-down better than the Azera's, and the Hyundai doesn't come as a hybrid.
BMW 3 Series - The 3 Series competes in a different segment, of course, but an Avalon can easily hit the $35,000 to $40,000 price range, so it's worth noting that you could get a sophisticated 328i for the same kind of coin.
The base XLE V6's generous feature set and reasonable starting price make it a compelling proposition. We'd have to think harder about dropping 40 grand on the Limited, but the XLE is a bargain at about $31,000 to start.