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William Maley

First Drive: 2013 Toyota Avalon and Avalon Hybrid

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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?

gallery_10485_492_123947.png

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.

gallery_10485_492_452107.png

gallery_10485_492_792457.png

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.

gallery_10485_492_889642.png

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.

gallery_10485_492_1224360.png

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.

gallery_10485_492_402635.png

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?

gallery_10485_492_887739.png

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 william.maley@cheersandgears.com 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.

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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.

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It's okay I guess. The new Impala IMO looks much better though. I doubt it will attract many younger buyers and the plood that is often griped about in today's cars in well placed here.

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    • By William Maley
      The Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX 570 are part of an endangered species: SUVs designed with the purpose of going off-road. It may seem somewhat mad to describe most SUVs as not off-road oriented, but most buyers don’t really take SUVs off the beaten path. Automakers have responded in kind by providing a minimum four-wheel capability while improving on-road behavior. The Land Cruiser and LX 570 haven’t gone down this path as they have a small, but loyal owner base that would cry foul if Toyota/Lexus decided to do this. But as I found out during my week with them, Toyota and Lexus need to do some serious thinking about the future of these models if they want to keep them around.
      Exterior
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      Interior
      Considering the $84k+ price tag of this Land Cruiser, it is slightly disappointing that Toyota went for a very utilitarian look. It doesn’t have the flash or elegance and you’ll find in competitors such as the Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz GLS. Material quality is what you expect for the price with an abundance of soft-touch plastic, leather upholstery, wood trim, and faux metal used all around. 
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      Getting inside either SUV is somewhat tough due to the tall ride height. But thanks to doorsteps and pull handles, entering both models becomes easier. The front seats are some of best I have sat in, offering plenty of cushioning and support for any trip length. Power adjustments and memory come standard on both models. The second-row offers plenty of head and legroom for passengers. You can slide the seat to either increase legroom or cargo space. The third-row should only be used for small kids as there is only a minuscule amount of legroom. The lack of padding also makes third-row best for short trips.
      One quirk about the Land Cruiser and LX 570’s third-row is that the seats don’t fold into the floor. Instead, the seats flip towards the side. Not only does it make it slightly awkward to load cargo into either model, but it also makes for a small cargo area. Measurements for the two models are 16.1 cubic feet with all three-rows up, 44.7 with the third-row folded, and 81.7 with the second-row folded. For 2018, Lexus did introduce a two-row version that increases space by 5.8 cubic feet - bringing the total to 50.5 cubic feet.
      Infotainment
      Lexus has fitted one the of largest infotainment screens in the class into the LX 570. Measuring 12.3-inches, this allows for a split-screen capability where you can have various functions up at the same time. For example, you can have navigation on one side and audio on the other. Some of the configuration options Lexus offers are strange to say in the least like having two maps of the navigation system up at the same time. Where the LX 570 falls short is the Remote Touch controller. The joystick controller is a pain to use as it feels quite vague when moving around and causes you to overshoot when trying to select something. This is very problematic when you’re driving as you’ll find yourself paying more attention to the system than the road.
      In the Land Cruiser, you’ll find a smaller 9-inch infotainment system with Toyota’s Entune system. Thankfully, Toyota had decided to use a touchscreen instead of a frustrating controller. Moving around in Entune is easy thanks to a simple interface with large touchscreen buttons and a set of physical shortcut buttons underneath. I did notice that Entune was a few ticks slower than the system found in the LX 570.
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      Powertrain
      Under the hoods of the Land Cruiser and LX 570 is a 5.7L V8. The Land Cruiser gets 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. The LX 570 features 383 horsepower and 403 pound-feet of torque. This is teamed with an eight-speed automatic and a full-time four-wheel drive system. Interestingly, the Land Cruiser feels slightly faster than the LX 570. Outlets who have timed both models say the Land Cruiser is about 0.5 seconds quicker to 60 than the LX 570. This is a bit surprising considering the two models are nearly identical in power and weight. But the LX 570 has a noticeable pause when accelerating. It feels like the engine was asleep and was startled by the throttle being prodded, before realizing it needed to get to work. The eight-speed automatic delivers rapid and smooth upshifts, but stumbles somewhat when it comes to downshifts.
      Both models come fully-equipped to take on whatever Mother Nature decides to dish out. This includes a two-speed transfer case, locking center differential, crawl-control system, terrain selection system, and an adjustable suspension system. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to take either model off the paved road to see what they are capable of.
      Fuel Economy
      EPA rates the 2018 Land Cruiser and LX 570 at 13 City/18 Highway/15 Combined. My average in both vehicles landed around 14.9 mpg in a 50/50 mix of city and highway driving.
      Ride and Handling
      These SUVs prefer the roads to be straight as there is significant body motion when cornering. Blame the tall ride height and soft-suspension tuning. Steering feels very numb and slow, making it somewhat tough to figure out how much input is needed when turning. When the road is straight, both vehicles provide a smooth ride. I did find that on the highway, I needed to make constant corrections with the steering to keep it in the middle of the lane.
      One major difference between the two is braking. The LX 570’s braking system felt very discombobulated. It was very difficult to modulate the pedal to provide a smooth stop. Either the vehicle wasn’t slowing down or the braking system would enter panic stop mode and passengers being thrown from their seats. I thought this was an issue that was limited to my LX, but other people who have driven different LXs have reported similar behavior. The Land Cruiser didn’t experience any of this during my week.
      Value
      The 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser begins at $83,665, while the LX 570 begins at $85,630 for the two-row variant and $89,980 for the three-row model. Both models come generously equipped with a number of standard features such as adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, heated and ventilated front seats; power tilt-telescoping steering wheel, and three-zone climate control. The vehicles tested here came lightly optioned. The Land Cruiser featured a set of optional floor mats, bringing the as-tested price to $85,185. For the LX 570, it came with a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and center console cool box to bring its as-tested price to $93,350.
      The best value of the two models has to be the two-row LX 570 as you get a nicer interior and more cargo space, for not much more money than the three-row Land Cruiser. But if you really want three-rows, then the Land Cruiser is your best bet.
      Verdict
      Unless your daily commute includes traversing the Rocky Mountains or driving through Death Valley, I cannot recommend either of these SUVs. They have a number of flaws such as middling fuel economy, small cargo area, and needing constant steering corrections on the highway. But the LX 570 comes off slightly worse as it has some issues with the powertrain and brakes need to be addressed quickly. Besides, the Land Cruiser offers many of the features of LX 570, albeit in a more utilitarian package for a couple of grand less.
      But for some people, the off-road capability and legendary reliability of these two models are more than enough to excuse the faults. That group of people though we have to think is getting smaller as time goes on and makes us wonder if the next-generation of the Land Cruiser and LX 570 will go through a dramatic change or not.
      Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the Vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
      Year: 2018
      Make: Lexus
      Model: LX 570
      Trim: N/A
      Engine: 5.7L 32-Valve, DOHC, Dual VVT-i V8
      Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Four-Wheel Drive
      Horsepower @ RPM: 383 @ 5,600
      Torque @ RPM: 403 @ 3,600
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 13/18/15
      Curb Weight: 5,815 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, Japan
      Base Price: $89,980
      As Tested Price: $93,350 (Includes $1,195.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Dual-Screen DVD Rear-Entertainment System - $2,005.00
      Cool Box - $170.00
      Year: 2018
      Make: Toyota
      Model: Land Cruiser
      Trim: N/A
      Engine: 5.7L 32-Valve, DOHC, Dual VVT-i V8
      Driveline: Eight-Speed Automatic, Four-Wheel Drive
      Horsepower @ RPM: 381@ 5,600
      Torque @ RPM: 401 @ 3,600
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 13/18/15
      Curb Weight: 5,815 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, Japan
      Base Price: $83,685
      As Tested Price: $85,185 (Includes $1,295.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Carpet Floor/Cargo Mat Set - $225.00
    • By William Maley
      As the Toyota Supra continues its slow march to production, the automaker is considering adding another sports car that may revive an iconic nameplate.
      "We want to have Celica back, we want to have the MR2 back," said Masayuki Kai, Assistant Chief Engineer on the Supra project.
      The biggest was Supra. Supra was number one, the biggest demand from the market. Now that we've brought Supra back, what will come next depends on the market needs."
      Kai suggested that nothing is set in stone, but did hint that the Celica could be an all-wheel drive performance coupe. The MR2 could keep its mid-engine layout if a business case could be made.
      There lies within the problem for Toyota - making the business case for either model. Kai said that today's market makes it quite challenging  "to introduce niche, small-volume performance models."
      "Sports car are becoming more and more expensive to develop. So a single company cannot afford to invest in all the tooling for parts and components, because the volume of sports car is quite small. A sports car requires a lot of specific components that you cannot share with other cars. The suspension components we're using on the Supra, you can't use on a sedan like Camry or Corolla. And as you know, all the homologation issues are also getting more and more complex and difficult," he said.
      One possibility is for Toyota is to forge a partnership like they did with BMW with the Supra, or Subaru with the 86/BRZ.
      Source: Road & Track

      View full article
    • By William Maley
      As the Toyota Supra continues its slow march to production, the automaker is considering adding another sports car that may revive an iconic nameplate.
      "We want to have Celica back, we want to have the MR2 back," said Masayuki Kai, Assistant Chief Engineer on the Supra project.
      The biggest was Supra. Supra was number one, the biggest demand from the market. Now that we've brought Supra back, what will come next depends on the market needs."
      Kai suggested that nothing is set in stone, but did hint that the Celica could be an all-wheel drive performance coupe. The MR2 could keep its mid-engine layout if a business case could be made.
      There lies within the problem for Toyota - making the business case for either model. Kai said that today's market makes it quite challenging  "to introduce niche, small-volume performance models."
      "Sports car are becoming more and more expensive to develop. So a single company cannot afford to invest in all the tooling for parts and components, because the volume of sports car is quite small. A sports car requires a lot of specific components that you cannot share with other cars. The suspension components we're using on the Supra, you can't use on a sedan like Camry or Corolla. And as you know, all the homologation issues are also getting more and more complex and difficult," he said.
      One possibility is for Toyota is to forge a partnership like they did with BMW with the Supra, or Subaru with the 86/BRZ.
      Source: Road & Track
    • By William Maley
      Toyota has announced that it will be recalling 1.03 million vehicles worldwide to fix an issue that could start a fire.
      According to Reuters, the problem deals with a wiring harness that connects to the hybrid system's power control unit. Vibrations and accumulating dirt can wear down the wire insulation at the connection point. This will expose the bare wires and possibly cause an electric short - increasing the chances of a fire. Toyota has told the news service they have one report of a vehicle in Japan that went up in smoke.
      The majority of vehicles involved in the recall are located in Japan. In the U.S., around 192,000 examples of the 2016-2018 Toyota Prius are involved. 
      Owners of the affected models will be notified later this month by Toyota. Dealers will inspect the harness in question and, if any wires are exposed, replace it with an updated harness with a protective sleeve, If none of the wires are exposed, dealer technicians will apply a protective coating to the harness.
      Source: Reuters

      View full article
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