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  • William Maley
    William Maley

    First Drive: 2013 Toyota Avalon and Avalon Hybrid

    William Maley

    Staff Writer - CheersandGears.com

    November 26, 2012

    Toyota is in the midst of a sea change. The company who is currently known as the brand who builds bland, boring, and reliable vehicles has been issued an edict by CEO Akio Toyoda to design and build vehicles with passion. We’re beginning to see some of the fruits of this edict bear out with the Scion FR-S and Lexus GS.

    Now, Toyota has introduced the next vehicle to follow this in the form of the 2013 Avalon. You might be wondering, the Avalon?! Well yes, Toyota wants break the adage that Avalon is for old people by giving the new Avalon a very sleek look, new interior, and a sporty ride. Does the change from couch on wheels to sport-infused big sedan work?


    The big thing Toyota hammered into our heads during the regional press preview in Ann Arbor, MI besides 'the new Avalon isn’t your grandfather’s car', was that the new Avalon was built with America in mind. Bill Fay, Group Vice President & General Manager, Toyota Division said during the Detroit launch, the new Avalon is “designed, engineered, manufactured, sold and serviced in America, the 2013 Avalon marks the beginning of a new era for Toyota… with the company developing more vehicles here specifically for the U.S. market.”

    Toyota's CALTY Design Research group was in charge of the new Avalon’s design and they did an excellent job. The overall look chucks the plain box look of past Avalons and goes for something that is very sleek and muscular. Up front, the most prominent design touch is a two-tiered grille layout. The bottom features a large chrome grille that makes a reference to new Aston Martin models. Above the chrome grille is a wide chrome strip with the Toyota emblem sitting in the middle. The side profile features a lot of deep contours, a coupe-like roofline, and a raked c-pillar. The back end gets two-tiered taillights and dual exhaust outlets.



    Inside the Avalon, Toyota put a lot of emphasis on making the Avalon look and feel very special. Materials range from soft-touch plastics, stitched door and dash panels, and leather seats. The only ding I’ll give the Avalon’s interior is the use of ‘plood’, it really doesn’t belong in this very handsome interior. The center stack features either a 6.1 or 7-inch touchscreen (depends on model), climate control, and what Toyota calls IntelliTouch controls, which are capacitive buttons. The capacitive buttons responded very quickly when pressed.


    Also appearing inside the new Avalon is Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. Entune uses your smartphone to provide applications like Bing, OpenTable, iHeartRadio, and Pandora in the vehicle. Entune also provides traffic, weather, fuel prices, sports, and stocks info. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to play around with Entune during the event. Hopefully when I do get a vehicle equipped with Entune, I can go deeper into it.

    While the outgoing and new Avalon share the same wheelbase length, the new model is actually smaller in all exterior dimensions. Interior dimensions are largely unchanged from the outgoing model, meaning there is a load of head and legroom through out the new model.

    For safety, the new Avalon comes equipped a Rear Cross Traffic Warning system which warns the driver of vehicles in the way when reversing. There is also a Blind Spot Monitoring system, ten airbags, radar cruise-control, and optionally, a Pre-Collision System.

    Next: Shall We Drive?

    The new Avalon uses the same 3.5L V6 engine from the last-generation Avalon. The engine is rated at 268 HP and 248 lb-ft of torque going through a six speed automatic. The engine has got the oomph to move car at a very rapid pace, something that cannot be said of the previous Avalon. This is mostly due to weight loss of the new Avalon, dropping around 110 lbs from the outgoing model. The engine is also very smooth and quiet when you decide to drive it at a normal pace.


    The six-speed automatic provides is well-suited for this application providing some very smooth shifts. Toyota also fitted paddle shifters and ‘Dynamic Rev Management’, which blips the throttle on a downshift. On paper this sounds completely ridiculous for a big sedan like the Avalon, but when you actually try it, it works beautifully. I do wonder though if the age group that the new Avalon is targeted at (40 to 60 year olds) will actually use this feature.

    For those who are looking for some greenness in their big sedan will lean towards the new for this generation Avalon Hybrid. The Hybrid comes equipped with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive which in this uses a 2.5L Atkinson-Cycle four cylinder producing 156 HP and 156 lb-ft of torque, a electric motor with 105 kW and 199 lb-ft of torque, and a nickel-metal hydride battery. Total system output is 200 HP going through a CVT.


    Performance is adequate with the run to 60 MPH taking about 8.2 seconds, about 1.5 seconds slower than the V6. Otherwise, the powertrain is very quiet and smooth whenever you’re in electric or hybrid mode. The CVT is a does a good job of keeping you moving and doesn’t make its presence known unless you push the pedal further down and the engine noise is abundant.

    The handling characteristics of the new Avalon and Avalon Hybrid can be described as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When driven normally, the Avalon provides a very luxurious and gentle ride. Wind and road noise are kept to a minimum. It’s only when you take the Avalon onto a curvy road and show it some aggression that Mr. Hyde appears. Despite being a large sedan, the Avalon shows a surprising amount of agility when driven through a corner. The suspension keeps the Avalon planted while the steering has the right amount of weight and firm feel that you would want in a sporty vehicle. This is a one-eighty from the last-generation Avalon which had all the steering feel of a used-and-abused arcade racing game. Plus, the old Avalon felt like it going to tip over when driven enthusiastically due to its marshmallow-fluff suspension.

    So how was Toyota able to pull this coup off with the new Avalon? For one, Toyota added a number of welds to the new Avalon’s body giving it more rigidity. Toyota also fitted Dual link MacPherson struts in the back, stabilizer bars, and a new electric rack-and-pinion steering system. Finally, there is drive mode select which offers three different modes (four in the Avalon Hybrid) which modifies throttle response and steering effort. The modes are as followed,

    • EV Mode (Only on Avalon Hybrid): Allows a vehicle to travel on electric power for a short distance
    • Eco Mode: Increases the resistance to push down on the pedal, adjusts engine and climate control for better fuel economy.
    • Sport Mode: Adjusts throttle and steering response
    • Normal Mode: Balance between Eco and Sport

    The new Avalon goes on sale next month with a base price around $31,750 (includes the $760 destination charge) for the XLE V6. If you want the Avalon Hybrid, be prepared to shell out $36,315 for the XLE Premium. Toyota expects to sell around 70,000 Avalons within the first year, a huge increase from 23,078 Avalons sold through October this year. Toyota expects 80% of the new 2013 Avalon to be the V6 while the rest will be the hybrid.

    Toyota has taken their couch on wheels and has made the new Avalon into a big sedan that is able to balance comfort and sport pretty well. Will the Avalon's new balancing act bring in the younger generation of buyers that Toyota is aiming for?


    Author's Note: Special thanks to Toyota and Toyota’s Midwest PR office for inviting Cheers & Gears to check out the new Avalon, and providing breakfast and lunch at the Weber’s Boutique Hotel in Ann Arbor, Michigan. -WM

    Year - 2013

    Make – Toyota

    Model – Avalon

    Engine – 3.5L DOHC 24-valve dual VVT-i V6

    Driveline – Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic

    Horsepower @ RPM – 268 HP (@ 6,200 RPM)

    Torque @ RPM – 248 lb-ft (@ 4,700 RPM)

    Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 21/31/25 w/17-inch wheels, 21/31/24 w/18-inch wheels

    Curb Weight – 3,461 lbs

    Year - 2013

    Make – Toyota

    Model – Avalon Hybrid

    Engine – Hybrid Synergy Drive: 2.5L 16-valve DOHC with VVT-i Atkinson cycle 4-Cylinder, Electric Motor

    Driveline – Front-Wheel Drive, CVT, Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) Battery Pack

    Horsepower @ RPM – 2.5L: 156 HP (@ 5,700 RPM); Electric: 105 kW (@ 4,500); Combined: 200 HP

    Torque @ RPM – 2.5L: 156 lb-ft (@ 4,500 RPM); Electric: 199 lb-ft (@ 0-1,500 RPM)

    Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 40/39/40

    Curb Weight – 3,585 lbs

    - 2013 Avalon Pricing:

    • XLE: $31,750
    • XLE Premium: $33,955
    • XLE Touring: $36,260
    • Limited: $40,410

    - 2013 Avalon Hybrid Pricing:

    • XLE Premium: $36,315
    • XLE Touring: $38,010
    • Limited: $42,160

    *Note: All prices include a $760 destination charge.

    William Maley is a staff writer for Cheers & Gears. He can be reached at [email protected] or you can follow him on twitter at @realmudmonster.

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    I like the design of this thing, in and out. The dash is not subscribing to the sameness of so many other cars that have a prominent center stack sweeping into the console, it is different. I also think plood adds warmth to an interior, and this one is no exception.

    The exterior is sporty, really surprising in a good way v. earlier iterations of this model. It does adhere to the long roof, six-window, fastback, short deck sedan school of design pioneered in the modern age by the Audi A7, and shared by the Fusion, '14 Impala and MKZ, among others (arguably, the Benz CLS may have started the trend, but that car had a droopy tail and a little different proportion, imo). It is sweeping and dramatic, but since so many cars share it now, hopefully it doesn't become cliche too soon.

    It appears that Toyota has kept a relatively low beltline here, something that is also a refreshing change from recent design convention. It contributes to a slimmer profile and, hopefully, better visibility, which has been the bane of high beltline cars from all over the map.

    Seeing this sporty new Avalon makes me nostalgic for Mercury, Oldsmobile and Pontiac. The mind wanders, thinking of the possibilities their respective design teams could have come up with on a Milan/Marquis, Cutlass/Aurora, or Grand Prix/Bonneville that adheres to this school of form. Now it is left up to a foreign brand, Toyota, to take up the slack by hiring American designers who don't have a problem helping Japan. Misty for past glories, I guess I am.

    Edited by ocnblu
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    Good post, ocnblu...Interesting observation re: Mercury, Olds and Pontiac. It is too bad that so much has slipped away from the domestic brands.

    While the history of these past brands is great, one has to admit that there were way to many brands and non profitable lines.

    I look for GM ot strengthen their products now by taking from their rich history and putting it into a deeper bench of fewer product lines.

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    They could have dropped Saab, Saturn, Hummer, most of Opel/Holden (keep the R&D centers), not given $2billion to Fiat, and instead focus on just the core brands (including Oldsmobile) that got them to the place of largest automobile manufacturer in the world.

    • Agree 2
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