If you live in the Detroit area, you probably know that the Ferndale-Royal Oak neighborhood is an amusement park for foodies. From wings to cupcakes to fine dining, you can’t swing a carryout bag without hitting a waiter primed to describe the daily specials. It’d be good if you knew that, because the 2013 Toyota Avalon’s touted system for navigation and Internet connectivity drew a blank when I asked it to find nearby restaurants.
"There are no points of interest in this category near here," the nav system announced as I sat in the parking lot of One-Eyed Betty’s restaurant. Web searches through the car’s Bing and Open Table apps produced similar results. I could smell the signature Sweaty Betty Sausage and Peppers sizzling 50 feet away, but Toyota’s Entune system couldn’t find the place, or any of the other restaurants within a block.
The system’s multiple shortcomings combine with iffy interior fit and finish to reduce the appeal of what’s otherwise a good, highly fuel-efficient family sedan.
The front-wheel drive Avalon is Toyota’s largest car, longer, roomier and more expensive than the Camry. Prices start at $30,990 for a base Avalon with a 264-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. Toyota also builds a 200-horsepower hybrid that starts at $35,555.
I tested a loaded V-6 Avalon Limited that stickered at $41,654 and included features like perforated leather seats, adaptive cruise control and Entune, which promises access to Microsoft’s Bing search engine, Pandora radio and other Internet services. All prices exclude destination charges.
The V-6 Avalon has the best fuel economy by a wide margin. Its EPA ratings of 21 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway and 25 combined are 2 mpg better on the key combined score than a comparably equipped Charger, Taurus, Azera or Passat, and 4 mpg better than a V-6 LaCrosse.
The EPA hasn’t published fuel economy ratings for the all-new 2014 Impala yet. The Impala goes on sale this spring.
The Avalon’s V-6 generates less power than its competitors, but the car I tested accelerated confidently, shifted smoothly and was quite capable in fast highway driving. I noticed a slight vibration in the steering wheel at 2,000-2,600 engine rpm, but the engine was otherwise unobtrusive.
An Eco mode adjusts the throttle response and transmission to boost fuel economy, while a Sport button nudges those systems in the opposite direction for quicker acceleration and enthusiastic driving. The Sport mode is quite effective.
The suspension is tuned for comfort. It cushions the ride over bumpy surfaces and minimizes body roll in corners. The Avalon squatted noticeably back on its rear wheels under strong acceleration.
The sport setting also adjusts the steering, adding weight to a system that’s responsive but rather light in its normal mode.
The passenger compartment offers good head, leg and shoulder room for front and rear occupants. The 16.0-cubic-foot trunk is larger than those the LaCrosse and Passat offer, but smaller than those in the ’14 Impala, Charger, Taurus and Azera. The trunk opening is a bit small.
The instruments are large and easy to read. Soft materials in contrasting colors cover the doors and dash. The gaps between some interior pieces were too large, however.
Entune combines voice recognition with Internet connectivity through your smartphone. Toyota’s proud of the new system, which is its answer to Chevrolet’s Intellilink, Chrysler’s Uconnect and Ford’s Sync.
The voice recognition is very good for hands-free phone calls and navigation. The Internet function did not work as well. The "apps" folder on the touch screen that linked to Bing, Pandora Radio, Open Table and other apps failed to open several times and required time-consuming updates at least three times over the course of four days.
The apps’ operation was poor. In addition, Entune requires you to download its app and open a new account to use any of the services. Vehicles from other brands offering connectivity work with the apps I already had.
A patient and helpful Toyota representative who trains dealerships about how to use Entune gave up several hours of his weekend in repeated phone calls to trouble-shoot the system, but it never worked as well as it should.
Somewhere in Dearborn, the folks responsible for MyFord Touch and Sync are nodding sympathetically. Perhaps they and Toyota should form a support group. On second thought, maybe their customers should.
2013 TOYOTA AVALON LIMITED:
-Vehicle type: Front-wheel drive five-passenger sedan
-Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC variable-timing 24-valve V-6.
-Power: 264 horsepower at 6,200 rpm; 248 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 rpm
-Transmission: Six-speed automatic
-EPA fuel economy rating: 21 mpg city/31 highway/25 combined. Regular fuel.
-Base price, base model: $30,990
-Base price, model tested: $39,650
-Price as tested: $41,654
-Rating: Two out of four stars
-Reasons to buy: Fuel economy, passenger room, looks
-Shortcomings: Operation of Internet and navigation apps, fit and finish
All prices exclude destination charges