2013 Toyota Avalon

Toyota Unveils More Stylish Avalon
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I think it was around my second loop of Lake Hennessey that I really started to like the 2013 Toyota Avalon, carving through a tunnel of orange and green canopies with the calm winter water out my left window. Of course, being in Napa Valley tends to make you happier about everything - a pending root canal doesn't seem too inconvenient when you're surrounded by pulsating purple sunsets and a nice Pinot Grigio. So is the all-new and suddenly hip Avalon truly good, or the figment of my fermented imagination?

A simple and comfortable four-door sedan simply doesn't cut it in the post-recession American auto market these days, and the all-new 2013 Toyota Avalon responds accordingly, with more dynamic styling and performance to compliment a truly luxurious interior - all for under $40,000. This is the price of admission to the segment these days, with potential buyers demanding more and more bang for their reluctant buck. Toyota recognized the changing market, and made the necessary changes to bring their flagship Avalon out of its drab past and into a new light that bodes well for the future.

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Trims and Pricing

Available with a 3.6L V6 engine making 268 horsepower, or a gas-electric hybrid powerplant with 200 horses, the 2013 Avalon has plenty of different trims to choose. The base Avalon XLE is priced at $30,995, a relative value compared to costlier rivals like the Ford Taurus and Buick LaCrosse.

The price climbs as you add features and amenities. Springing for the Avalon XLE Premium will run you $33,195. For more driver-focused performance, the Avalon XLE Touring costs $35,500 and the luxurious Avalon Limited feels more expensive that its $39,650 MSRP. Both the top trims come with paddle shifters and a Sport mode for (relatively) aggressive driving.

A more fuel-efficient version is also available in the 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid, which starts at $35,555 and increases to $37,250 for the Hybrid Touring and $41,400 for the Hybrid Limited. The Atkinson cycle hybrid is rated at 40/39 MPG (impressive, compared to the 21/31 MPG gas engine), and on a 30-mile loop of city and highway driving I averaged 44.8 MPG.

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Designer's Touch

No one would blame me for calling the previous-generation Avalon a boring car. Least of all, Toyota designers. For the 2013 Avalon, their pens swooped across paper to create that giant front grille, and a coupe-like side profile that tapers into athletic hips punctuated by a welcome lip spoiler. It's especially attractive from this three-quarter rear view, where designers were clearly granted more creative freedom. They didn't disappoint.

Up front, a low hood is armed with quadrabeam projector headlights; aggressive additions to the upscale-Camry look that help the big sedan wear its considerable size well. (There's little doubt that Toyota designers borrowed cues from the Hyundai Sonata to achieve the four-door coupe look, but it works, and such is the nature of the auto business, anyway.) Toyota dropped about 200 lbs. from the 2013 Avalon, and it also boasts a lower center of gravity and more attention to aerodynamics. In fact, its drag coefficient is a class-best 0.28, which helps drastically with fuel economy.

Inside, the 2013 Toyota Avalon has leapt forward with a rich and comfortable cabin. Long, continuous lines create a bespoke aura, draped in leathers and soft foams that are very well appointed and standard on all models. Controls are easily accessible on the steering wheel, or flattened instrument panel on the center console. The gear selector and controls are tasteful chrome, which accents the interior throughout. While the XLE Premium includes a moonroof and the Avalon Touring adds Entune audio, the Avalon Limited clears the bar here, offering a 10-way power driver's seat, heated seats all-around, rear temperature control and premium leather.

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Driving Impressions

Toyota went to great lengths to make the Avalon more playful, like lowering the center of gravity and building a rear cross-brace for improved rigidity. They also included all-new electric power steering that provides acceptable feedback for its class - downright incredible feedback for a Toyota sedan.

The 2013 Avalon has trimmed a lot of fat, however, it's still far from spritely. Pushing the limits on that lakeside road, the front MacPherson struts and rear dual-link independent suspension lacked body roll, but clearly objected to my intentions. This may be a more driver-oriented car, but it would take a whole lot of Cosentino grapes to get me to use the word "aggressive." Even in Sport mode, throttle response to the 3.5L V6 is lacking. Avalon owners are typically the sort that need power only when merging onto the freeway, but if Toyota truly wants to skew younger, they could stand to add a few horsies.

Likewise, the six-speed automatic transmission is smooth as butter but isn't going to launch any successful karting careers. Even when using the lovely aluminum paddle shifters, the transmission acts more like an automatic and often changes gears when you weren't expecting. Sport mode also offers automatic throttle-blipping, but if you're on a road where this can be utilized, you should be in something more inherently athletic than an Avalon.

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Checkered Flag

Toyota wanted to reach a younger demographic, and while the 2013 Avalon has definitely taken a step away from its pillow-soft roots, it's not the magnet for upward Gen Y-ers that Akio Toyoda may be hoping to attract - especially in a market that includes some truly great cars. The new Avalon is a sharp, smooth and luxurious sedan somewhere just short of lithe; stylish commuters should give it serious consideration. But if you're turning to the 2013 Toyota Avalon to quench your thirst for driving excitement, pour yourself another glass and keep looking.

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