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2013 Toyota Avalon Launch Review By John Heilig

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Toyota Avalon (Hybrid Shown)

By John Heilig
Senior Editor
The Auto Channel

2013 Toyota Avalon Specifications

Model: 2013 Toyota Avalon
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower/Torque: 268 hp @ 6,200 rpm/248 lb.-ft. @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 111.0 in.
Length x Width x Height: 195.2 x 72.2 x 57.5 in.
Tires: P225/45R18 (Limited)
Cargo: 16.0 cu. ft.
Economy: 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway/25 mpg combined)
Fuel capacity: 17.0 gal.
Curb Weight: 3,461 lbs.
Sticker: $30,990 (XLE), $32,195 (XLE Premium), $35,500 (XLE Touring), $39,650 (Limited). Add $760 transportation

The Bottom Line: Toyota wants the all-new Avalon to compete with other premium mid-size vehicles such as the Lincoln MKT, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus and Cadillac ATS. Personally, I see it more as a competitor for owners/buyers of traditional Buicks. The ride is there, the styling is a bit more enticing, and the power is similar. I can see a lot of grey hairs behind the wheels of Avalons as time goes by.

Toyota has big plans for the “radically new” Avalon, its big sedan. It is the first Toyota (definitely the first Toyota sedan) that was designed, engineered, built, sold and serviced in the United States for the American market. Toyota calls it a “game changer.” Toyota sees their market as members of the Toyota family who are getting older. The bench seat that appeared in the original Avalon is gone in favor of bucket seats up front, but in general the car has a mature feel to it.

After having driven a couple of variants of the Avalon, we have to agree to some extent, but also have our questions.

The Avalon will be offered in four trim levels, with the upper three of them also being offered in a hybrid version. Prices range from $30,990 for the base XLE to $41,400 for the Limited Hybrid. A delivery charge of $760 must be added to all prices.

For that price you get a complete redesign around a returning 3.5-liter V6 or hybrid engine/powerplant. Six-speed automatic transmissions are installed in all models because there is no demand for a manual, according to Toyota. Paddle shifters are available if you simply can’t wean yourself from the stick.

Our first ride was in an XLE Premium Hybrid. Both my co-driver and I found the ride quality to be very good. You can feel the bumps on the road (you wouldn’t want to be totally insulated), but the ride quality is not too harsh or soft.

Our biggest impression was with the silence. On a decent quality road there is essentially no noise entering the cockpit. If road quality deteriorates, you’ll get some tire noise intruding, but this is a very quiet riding car (hybrid or gasoline-powered).

A major contributor to the silence is significant sound dampening all around’ sound deadening glass, newly designed windshield wipers that tuck down out of the air flow when they aren’t in use, and even aerodynamic door handles.

Part of the quietness can be attributed to the hybrid drive, but when we shifted to the gasoline version it was as quiet.

Exterior styling is very nice. In the rear there’s a hint of the Jaguar XF; in the front there’s a hint of the Ford Fusion, especially in the grille design. The final product (and we did drive pre-production prototypes) follows very closely the original sketch. The design team wanted to make that sketch come to life. It is elegant, bold and athletic.

Unfortunately, in our minds, the interior design did not live up to the promise of the exterior. While the dash is nice, and the hand-crafted stitching is nice, the interior left us wanting more. The dash, for example, is flat and, though it’s two-toned, seems lacking in character. In some cases it’s confusing, especially when you’re trying to pick out a radio station. On the other hand, the navigation system is clear and easy to read.

The front seats are comfortable and have good side support. There’s also good side support for the rear seats. The rear seats have good leg and knee room. Since Toyota wants the Limited version to serve as a limousine in some situations, rear seat leg room is important. That Limited limo version is only available in black with a solid black interior, as opposed to the two-tone we drove. Behind everything is a 16 cubic foot trunk that is usable.

We felt the instrument panel design was clear and simple, with not a lot of nonsense. Dials are large white-on-black. And while we didn’t get a chance to appreciate it, there’s ambient lighting in the cabin. Our favorite feature of the dash is the Electronic Storage Bin that has 2 USB and power outlets and a pass-through in the cover for cabin neatness.

The Avalon is equipped with Toyota’s full menu of goodies, with some additions. For example, there’s a new push fuel door that eliminates having to root around the cabin looking for the fuel door release. There are three drive modes – eco, norm and sport – and the paddle shifters operate in any mode. The front suspension has been modified and there are 70 new spot welds to increase rigidity by 27 percent. Dynamic Cruise Control keeps you from creeping up on the car in front of you. The pre-collision system warns you if a crash is imminent and will tighten the seat belts if you don’t react. There’s also a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic assist.

I would expect that the Avalon will appeal to what I call the Buick crowd – people who appreciate a larger car that has modern features and a comfortable ride. The car goes on sale December 1.

2012 The Auto Page