Monday, October 20, 2014

Avalon Reborn: Sounds fancy, huh?

As Toyota flirted with the idea of becoming the world's largest automaker, they seemed to have forgetten about building cars that connected drivers on a visual and, a deep emotional level. The recently redesigned Camry could be taken as a signal that Toyota is serious about making appealing cars again. This time, it's the Avalon.

     A wide, almost mouth-like grill accentuates the front-end of the new Avalon, while chiseled lines in the hood and narrow headlamp lenses help contribute to a more forceful presentation. The new Avalon looks sleeker in profile, thanks to the result of the C-pilars sweeping more purposefully towards the trunk. The rear of the car, meanwhile, is more tightly designed with LED taillamps that extend onto the trunk lid, and are tied together with a chrome strip.

     Like before, the new Avalon remains front-wheel drive, but it is overall a smidge shorter than the outgoing model. A stifer body, thanks largely to additional bracing, and revised suspension settings deliver a nicely improved ride and more assured handling, however this is no sports car by any means. The Avalon's engine is pretty unchanged, as Toyota has equipped it again with the venerable 3.5l V6, which produces a repectable 268 hp, while still acheving a combined 25 mpg, as rated by the EPA.

     Despite the smaller dimensions, interior room is up slightly, thanks to a greater range of seat adjustments that can be made, and more efficent sunroof packaging. The trunk is also larger, however you only have a small pass-through, for skis and such, folding seats is not an option. The biggest improvement is in material quality. As the story goes, the older version reportedly had quite a few disappointing interior bits that paled in comparison to those found in rivals.

 The 2013 Toyota Avalon is offered in four trim levels: XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring and Limited. The XLE comes standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, full power accessories, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat with power lumbar support, a four-way power front passenger seat and heated front seats. Electronic features include keyless ignition/entry, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a 6.1-inch central touchscreen display and an eight-speaker audio system with a CD player, an, auxiliary audio jack and a USB/iPod interface.

     The Avalon XLE Premium is very similar but has upgraded keyless ignition/entry (additional functionality for rear doors and trunk), an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a rearview camera. The Touring has 18-inch wheels, foglights, upgraded leather upholstery, a 10-way power driver seat, an eight-way power front passenger seat, heated rear seats, a navigation system, Toyota's Entune smartphone app integration system and a nine-speaker audio system with satellite and HD radio.

     Going with the Avalon Limited gets you all of the above plus xenon headlights, auto-dimming side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, ventilated front seats, a rear power sunshade, a 7-inch touchscreen display and an 11-speaker JBL premium sound system.

     The only option for the Avalon is a Tech package for the Limited that includes adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights and a pre-collision system.

     The 2013 Toyota Avalon is, as earlier mentioned, equipped with a 3.5 liter V6 engine that produces 268 horsepower, and 248 lb.-ft of torque. All of that power is sent to the front wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmisson. EPA estimated fuel economy stands at 21 city/31 highway. During this review, I was able to manage almost 33 mpg over a mostly highway route.

 Standard safety features for the Avalon include traction and stability control, ABS disc brakes, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags, and front knee airbags. Touring and Limited models also come with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. A pre-collision warning system is optional on the Limited.

     The Avalon's interior is certainly spacious, and some might even say elegant, with high quality materials through-out, however some cheap plastics do exsist, like around the radio. The dash has a somewhat unusal layered layout, dividing it into different zones for the instrument panel, center console, and front passenger area. The effect is tied together with bits of chrome flashing that is almost attractive, but catches the sun in bright light. However, all the controls are easy to use, and weighted nicely to give a high quality feel.

     The front seats are pretty comfortable and highly adjustable, with just the right amount of bolstering and lumbar support for both the driver, and the front passenger. The rear seats in the Avalon are so roomy that Toyota is offering a livery model of this car. The trunk offers a generous 16 cubic feet of space, with a low liftover, and a wide mouth. Again, there is no folding rear seats in this vehicle.

     Gauges are sharp, and you might even say stylish, and the center screen is quite large and easy to read as well. Even the audio controls are well thought out. There seems to be an abundance of storage compartments, which provides hiding places for things that may come in handy, like sunglasses, or maps. There is also a cornocopia of cupholders that can easily hold even the largest of cups, like a super large gulp, if you will. The lower section of the center console provides what Toyota calles an eBin, with power cords passing through a sliding panel for 2 cellphones and an aux, as well as USB connections. A large sliding center armrest provides even more storage space, and additional connections for charging things like cellphones.

     The first thought when you drive the 2013 Toyota Avalon is, Is this really the Avalon? It seems that the redesign has also provided quite the personality change. The stiffer body is immediately noticable by providing a sporty ride, but still a comfortable one as well. Engineers have firmed up steering to provide even more road feel, while the brakes are nicely tuned to match the rest of the drivetrain.

     The engine is smooth, and powerful, moreso than you might expect from the full-size car. Although most Avalon buyers are in love with the previous cars' indifferent driving dynamics, overall you could argue that the new generation Avalon provides a nice blend of comfort and very useful performance.

Toyota is positioning the Avalon as the American sedan, designed and built in the U.S., and catering to the special tastes of our drivers. With its distinctive, edgier new look, and improved interior, the new Avalon is certainly an impressive package that puts it back in front after several competitors jumped ahead of the previous version. Is it worth a test drive? Certainly, but that is something only you, the reader, can decide.

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