2013 Toyota Avalon: A more exciting sedan

The 2013 Avalon is slightly smaller than the

The 2013 Avalon is slightly smaller than the outgoing model, but with a large greenhouse it looks more substantial. Where the related Camry starts out with a four-cylinder engine, the Avalon comes with a V6 and a leather interior. Start adding some options and pretty soon you'll find yourself in Lexus ES territory. (Credit: Toyota )

As competent as the 2013 Avalon is, the car has traditionally walked a fine line between its spot as Toyota's top-level sedan and the entry-luxury Lexus ES that is a portal to Toyota's up-market division.

That situation isn't likely to change for the 2013 model year with the arrival of the next-generation Avalon. Fortunately, however, the big sedan no longer dwells in the Camry's shadow where it has performed in relative obscurity since its 1995 model-year arrival.

The all-new edition receives more defining sheetmetal courtesy of Toyota's Calty Design Research Division. In creating the Avalon, the stylists must have concurred with Toyota president Akio Toyoda's expressed "vision" (urgent request was likely the read-between-the-lines interpretation) for his company's clay modeling types to develop more exciting vehicles.

The Avalon's new and radically different sheetmetal translates into a larger appearance, which is entirely illusionary since the car is slightly shorter and narrower than the 2012 version.

Overall, the look is more youthful and dramatic, especially the dual grille in front and the sweeping roofline that flows into the rear deck (not unlike the 2013 Lincoln MKZ). More importantly, the Avalon now puts more distance between it and the smaller, less-luxury-oriented Camry from which it was spawned. No doubt about it, this is one handsome car.

The new Avalon rides on the same basic platform and maintains the same distance between the front and rear wheels, yet the additional use of high-strength steel (which means less metal can be used overall) has helped reduce overall heft by a claimed 120-pounds, while adding 27 percent more chassis stiffness. The Avalon's suspension has also been beefed up with thicker anti-sway bars and stiffer springs for greater ride control. The electronic power steering system now has had some of its previous numbness dialed back. All of this is good news for a car that has been previously criticized for its 1970s-era mushy handling traits.

There shouldn't be any criticism leveled at its redesigned interior with its concave-shaped dashboard that exudes luxury at every turn.

Leather-covered seats with improved side bolstering are standard, as is a large and legible touch-screen panel that operates the climate, audio and communications systems. Add a total of 10 standard airbags to the mix and you almost have to wonder why anyone would feel the need to head over to the Lexus store for their premium sedan fix.

Unchanged is the 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, although Toyota has tweaked the engine and installed an updated six-speed transaxle (with a quicker-shifting sport model selector) for improved fuel economy, which is now rated at 21-mpg city and 31-mpg highway (versus 20/29).

For buyers craving even greater fuel economy, the Avalon has joined the Camry in offering a gasoline-electric Hybrid model. It uses the Camry's 156-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine working in tandem with an electric motor and a continuously variable transmission. Toyota claims the 200-horsepower (net output) fuel-miser will achieve the same 40-mpg city and 39-mpg highway numbers as the Camry Hybrid, which makes sense as the systems are identical and both sedans are very close in weight.

In addition to the leather-lined cabin, the base XLE features heated and power-adjustable front seats and keyless pushbutton start. That trim level can be optioned with a moonroof, backup camera, paddle shifters and 18-inch wheels, (17-inch rims are standard).

The top-line Limited receives heated and cooled perforated leather seats and is the only way you can upgrade to the Avalon's active safety gear and automatic high-/low-beam headlights.

Avalon's on-the-road pricing begins at $31,800, or $36,400 for the Hybrid model that also includes a moonroof and backup camera as standard. Most importantly, Toyota's flagship should now appeal to a wider audience that has likely passed on previous versions for their general lack of personality and for literally being out of touch with buyers who actually like to drive. Not anymore.

2013 TOYOTA AVALON

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive, full-size entry-luxury sedan
Engines (hp): 3.5-liter DOHC V6 (268); 2.5-liter DOHC I4 with electric motor (200, net)
Transmissions: Six-speed automatic; continuously variable (Hybrid)
Market position: Although large sedans are not as popular as they once were, their creators are doing everything in their powers to make these big cars frugal, beautiful and inspiring to drive.
Points: The Avalon finally shows some eye-appealing character that puts greater distance between it and its Camry roots; Fuel-efficient Hybrid edition should win over a fair share of buyers; Offering all-wheel-drive option would have added to Avalon's distinctiveness; If you're not a Lexus ES fan, a fully optioned Avalon makes an attractive alternative.
Safety: Front airbags; front- /rear side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front knee airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 21/31 (V6);
Base price (incl. destination) $31,800

BY COMPARISON

Chrysler 300
Base price: $30,850
MPG-stretching V6/ eight-speed transmission combo make the 300 a standout.

Chevrolet Impala
Base price: $27,500
2014 model uses Cadillac XLR platform; offers three powerplant choices.

Ford Taurus
Base price: $27,400
Upgraded engine choices are now offered on Ford's big sedan for 2013.

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