By Toyota’s own admission, they haven’t been giving the Avalon its fair share of attention. Since it isn’t one of their “core” models, explains Toyota Canada’s national marketing manager, Jamie Humphries, it’s tended to soldier on by itself, quietly selling in decent numbers, but appealing mainly to established older buyers and those who have out-grown their Camry or Corolla.
That’s about to change. The 2013 edition of the company’s flagship sedan is on the receiving end of a complete – well, almost – makeover and will be aimed at young and older buyers alike. “We want to attract a younger demographic to Avalon,” continues Humphries, “and will be giving it more support than ever before.” Among other things, the Avalon will be expanding Toyota’s new push to extol the company’s emotional appeal as well as its “logical rational choice” reputation.
One of the ways it’s going to accomplish that is by making the Avalon as homegrown as possible. The 2013 model will be the “most North American Avalon” yet, designed exclusively at the company’s CALTY facilities, in California and Michigan. This, the fourth generation Avalon, features a “keen” look, according to project design manager, Benjamin Jimenez. “We are looking for a more youthful image beyond just boomers,” he commented at the launch, in Michigan. One of the raps against the current Avalon was that it was just too bland and didn’t stand out in a crowd. The new version goes a long way to remedying that, and is a nice looking automobile, subtly refined and much more contemporary looking than its predecessor. I especially like the concave or “negatively moulded” side panels and doors.
Three trim levels will be available: SLE, Limited, and full-zoot Premium. All will be powered by a 3.5 litre V6 engine that delivers 268 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic only with paddle shifters.
There are also three drive modes: Eco, Normal, and Sport. These are accessed via a console-mounted set of buttons beside the driver. And for once, these modes actually do what they’re supposed to. Punch the Sport setting while you’re in Eco, for example, and the performance difference is immediate and noticeable. This setting “enhances” throttle response and slightly re-calibrates the steering, with Toyota’s “dynamic rev management” system coming into play during manual downshifts. Eco, on the other hand. is all about maximizing fuel economy.
One small gripe here: the mode buttons are a little hard to get at….I suppose one would get used to them eventually, but as it is, they’re kind of tucked away and would probably be better placed somewhere on the dashboard, front and centre.
Ergonomics and switchgear are arguably the most sensible and easily-understandable in this corner of the market. Upscale cars seem to be getting more and more complex….high technology at the expense of driveability. That isn’t the case here. Perhaps Toyota hasn’t forgotten that, despite its purported youthful ambitions, the new Avalon will still be purchased by plenty of oldsters, who don’t appreciate overly complicated buttons and knobs. The entire interior has been redesigned, possibly with this in mind. Airbag count is up as well, with the 2013 version getting 10 airbags, compared to seven for the ’12.
Moving on, not too many changes to report vis-à-vis the V6 engine. This is essentially the same unit used in the previous model, and in this application, it’s more than adequate. Plenty of punch and reserve power, and fuel economy is 8.3 L /100 km, combined rating, which is about par for this kind of vehicle. It may look more up-to-date than before, but the Avalon is not a sports sedan, by any stretch.
Built on the same platform as the Camry, Venza and Lexus ES 350, the new Avalon has a slightly longer wheelbase than the Camry, with various chassis modifications in keeping with the vehicle’s overall flavor. If you feel the urge, it can get up and go….to a point, and is flat and stable through the corners. In a word, it’s competent.
Here’s the best part: price is down. Base price for the 2013 Avalon is $36,800, with the Limited starting at $38,900 and the Premium, $41,850. By way of comparison, the 2012 version starts at $41,195, and a fully loaded Camry XLE is in the $34,000 neighbourhood.
Needless to say, equipment level is right up there, with things like heated front seats, leather interior, electronic cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering, Bluetooth, and a power sunroof with shade all coming standard with the XLE. You can also order things like a blind sport warning system, back-up camera, and a rear cross-traffic alert. This latter item lets you know if there’s someone/something behind you as you’re backing out of a parking stall, for example, and can’t see oncoming traffic. Lexus utilizes a similar system on some of their models.
AT A GLANCE
Price Range: $36,800 – $41,850
Engine: 3.5 litre V6
Horsepower: 268hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 248 ft. lb @ 4700 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 9.9 city; 6.4 hwy. Regular fuel
Alternatives: Buick Lacrosse, Hyundai Genesis, Chrysler 300, Chev Impala, Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima