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2013 Toyota Avalon Preview By Carey Russ - Verry Interesting +Video

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2013 Toyota Avalon


2013 Toyota Avalon Preview

I'm in a pre-production 2013 Toyota Avalon, driving on a surface street in Isla Vista, CA during the ride and drive part of the press introduction for the car. I notice a first-generation Toyota Highlander following me. Nothing unusual there, Toyota sold a slew of them so it's hardly a rarity. But this one seems to be following my car.

No paranoia involved - soon the Highlander pulls up next to me, and the driver, a sixty-ish woman, motions for me to put the window down. "Is that the new Avalon?" she asks. "It's gorgeous! I love it!" We pull over to the side of the road, and my driving partner and I have an interesting and amusing conversation with the Highlander driver.

Enthusiasm, for an Avalon? A car that, previously, could be best characterized as the Camry stretch limo for your grandparents? A car that, in its last iteration, could be viewed as one of the last, if not the last, old-time luxury cars, soft, cushy, and completely, numbly insulating.

The newest Avalon, set to go on sale right about now, is very different from any car to previously bear that nameplate. It's the best example yet of the massive changes taking place at Toyota. To be offered with the familiar 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, now matched to a six-speed transaxle, and, for the first time, in hybrid form with the 200 combined horsepower Hybrid Synergy Drive system also found in the Toyota Camry Hybrid, the completely revised and restyled fourth-generation 2013 Avalon is more compact outside and a bit more spacious inside than the outgoing version.

It also boasts eye-catching styling and dynamic ride and handling qualities more akin to those of a contemporary European luxury sedan than those of an American luxury sedan of the past. All of the contemporary safety and infotainment features expected in an upscale car today are standard or optional, depending on trim level. The 2013 Avalon was designed and is built in and for the American market, assembled in Georgetown, KY.

Sitting on the same 111.0-inch wheelbase as before, the newest Avalon has shorter overhangs, decreasing length by two inches. It has lost about an inch in height, but the track has been increased fractionally, for improvement in ride and handling. The suspension was revised and retuned for improved agility and stability, with no loss of ride comfort or interior quiet. Inversely-wound coil springs in the front MacPherson struts and new geometry and bushings in the rear independent dual-link system and careful tuning and balancing of springs, shocks, and bushings ensure ride and handling qualities never before experienced in a Toyota Avalon, and all for the better. Brakes, four-wheel antilock discs, are unchanged and work very well. Steering is electrically-assisted.

Exterior styling is unlike that of any previous Avalon. Adjectives like "formal", "mature", and "dowdy" do not apply. While it looks, unsurprisingly, a bit like a big Camry in general design, the two cars share no sheetmetal. The front is most prominent, with a small chrome-crossbar grille featuring the corporate logo merely accenting a large, ovalish lower intake that dominates the front view. “Quadrabeam” headlight clusters and available LED running lights give a contemporary look. Sculpted sides with strong shoulder lines and moderate fender flares help give a toned, athletic appearance, with a near-fastback roofline reminiscent of German premium luxury sedans the crowning touch. The rear panel is the most conservative part of the new Avalon's bodywork, and with sharply-defined edges, large wraparound LED taillights and a chrome accent panel above the license plate, it's not conservative at all.

Inside, the new Avalon is even more changed for the better than outside. The instrument panel is wider than previously, and as restyled as the exterior. An elegantly flowing design covered in soft-touch materials with hand-stitching, it's divided into a "display zone" in front of the driver, with bright electroluminescent "Optitron" gauges, and a "command zone" center stack with climate, audio, and navigation system controls (for cars so-equipped). Front seats are new, with better side bolstering and improved materials for enhanced comfort on long drives. All models have leather upholstery and power front seat adjustment, with higher grades getting heating or heating and ventilation. The rear seat has also been redesigned for better comfort, with heating in the top trim levels. There are ample storage spaces and cup and bottle holders around the cabin. The eBin™electronic device storage tray at the front of the center console integrates storage, connectivity, and charging for two devices.

Trim levels, "grades" in Toyota parlance, are XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring, and Limited for the V6, with the hybrid offered in all but the not-so-base XLE. Standard equipment levels steadily increase up the scale with upper ones getting paddle shifters and multiple drive modes, with blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring, HID headlights, puddle lamps in the outside rear-view mirrors, navigation, and the Entune connectivity system.

Standard safety equipment includes Toyota's Star Safety System, with ten airbags, whiplash-reducing front seats, front and rear crumple zones, side-impact door beams, and energy-absorbing steering column, an anti-theft system with engine immobilizer, and daytime running lights in all models. Touring and Limited grades have the blind-spot system, and Limiteds get LED DRLs and the Safety Connect telematics system, with the Pre-Collision System optional.

To learn more about the 2013 Toyota Avalon, I attended the press preview in Isla Vista, CA, near Santa Barbara. After a comprehensive briefing and technical presentation, it was time to drive the cars. First up was a V6 Touring, on a route that encompassed city street, mountain road, and highway driving. The new car's vastly-improved suspension and steering were immediately apparent, and appreciated as we headed into the hills behind town. With no float over bumps, no unwanted body motion under acceleration, cornering, or braking, it felt distinctly unlike any earlier Avalon, which should be a positive selling point to younger buyers. This is not your grandmother's Avalon! A 140-pound weight reduction also helps nimbleness, and acceleration and fuel economy as well. Even with a higher final-drive ratio (for highway economy) the lighter weight and six-speed automatic mean good fuel economy, expected to be 21mpg city, 31 highway, and 25 overall -- not bad for a large-midsize sedan with a 0-60 capability of under seven seconds.

After finishing that drive, it was repeated in a similarly-equipped Hybrid. Ride and handling were comparable to the V6, which is to say remarkably good. With about 100 pounds more weight and 68 less horsepower, acceleration was more leisurely. No surprise there, and performance is not a hybrid selling point. Fuel economy is, and with that expected to be 40 mpg highway, 39 city, and 40 overall, fuel economy looks good.

With its new style and improved road manners, the 2013 Toyota Avalon looks to be a surprise among upper-middle class premium sedans. With MSRPs ranging from 30,990 for a V6 XLE to $41,400 for a Hybrid Limited, it's priced competitively.

EXTRA: Toyota sees a new market for the 2013 Avalon - the livery trade. That means chauffeured transportation, a small but important market - one that used to be the primary customer for the late (and much-lamented, by them) Lincoln Town Car. Reliability, dependability, low maintenance costs, and good fuel economy are critically important there. Toyota has a good reputation in those areas, but previously has not had a vehicle that would fit in the small but high-profile livery market. Specially-contented versions of the V6 in XLE and Hybrid Premium are being prepared to do battle with the likes of the Lincoln MKT, Cadillac XTS, and Chrysler 300.

Wonder how it'll work stretched?

EXTRA2: Stealth sports sedan, anyone? The previous generation had far more engine than its chassis could really handle, but the new Avalon's chassis is so good that it can easily take more power than the 268 hp of the V6. Lotus just happens to use a version of Toyota's 3.5-liter V6 in its Evora, with 276 hp. Not enough of a boost to make a difference, but then there's the Evora S, that's S as in supercharged, and 345 hp. TRD, are you listening?

Co-publishers Note: See Also Expectant Toyota Team Members See Their New Arrival