2013 Toyota Avalon and Avalon HybridPosted on November 8th, 2012
Reinvented premium midsized sedan
By Nina Russin
Toyota launched the Avalon in 1995 to meet the needs of drivers who wanted more second-row room in their midsized sedans. The idea wasn’t new: those of us who grew up in the era before sport-utility vehicles, minivans and crossovers remember similar models as family cars. But Toyota was unique among automakers in recognizing a market in the post-SUV era.
Despite being tagged as a ‘stretch Camry,’ the first Avalon developed a following of empty nesters that needed the extra space in back for adult passengers. Toyota improved on the original formula with a more powerful drivetrain in the second-generation sedan. At that point, the Avalon solidified its position as an autonomous model.
The problem with Avalon owners, from the manufacturer’s stance, was its median age: about sixty years. An all-new 2013 Avalon appeals to younger buyers with more aggressive styling and a hybrid version.
For the first time, the car was designed and engineered from a clean sheet of paper exclusively in the United States, and is being produced in Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky assembly plant.
Buyers can choose from four grades, all equipped with a 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. A livery edition built off the XLE adds heated rear seats and HVAC controls. Formula-style paddle shifters are available on the upscale Limited grade, enabling the driver to manually select gears.
Power for the Avalon hybrid comes from a 2.5-liter, 156-horsepower four-cylinder engine and two electric motors. The engine and electric motors, paired with a continuously-variable automatic transmission produce 200 net horsepower.
Priced from $30,990
Pricing for the base XLE gasoline model starts at $30,990, while the Hybrid, available in XLE Premium, XLE Touring and Limited models starts at $35,555. Pricing does not include a $760 delivery charge.
In order to simplify the build process, all models with the exception of the Limited grade are monospec. A technology package on the Limited model adds dynamic laser cruise control, automatic high beams and pre-collision system.
Test drive in Texas hill country
This week, I had the opportunity to drive both the V-6 and hybrid models in hill country surrounding San Antonio, Texas. I was curious to see how the new lineup compared to competitors including the Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 300 and Hyundai Genesis sedans.
In addition to competing against other manufacturers, the 2013 Avalon competes against the Lexus ES, since upscale Avalon models have similar pricing to the Lexus.
“The customer demographic is very similar,” said Rick Lofaso, corporate manager for car marketing at Toyota. “The big difference is that Avalon customers are more value-conscious and less oriented towards a luxury brand.”
I drove two models: the XLE Premium with the V-6 engine and XLE Premium Hybrid. Of the two cars, the gas-powered model offers sportier performance. The V-6 engine accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in 6.7 seconds, as opposed to 8.2 seconds for the four-cylinder hybrid. The six-speed automatic transmission also gives drivers who buy the XLE Touring and Limited models the option of manual gear selection.
Styling for the new car represents a major departure from former models, especially the exterior. A strong beltline draws the eye across the bullet-shaped profile. The gasoline V-6 model comes with 18-inch wheels on upscale grades, which makes the sedan’s appearance more dynamic. Still, the new Avalon lacks the edginess of Lexus’ new spindle grille.
Inside, designers focused on upgrading material quality to give the car a more premium feel. A hand-stitched instrument panel, keyless start, large touchscreen information display, soft adjustable armrest and power-adjustable heated front seats bring interior quality up to that of luxury brands.
Power from the V-6 engine is more than sufficient for driving around town and on the open road. The Avalon lacks the seat-of-the-pants acceleration of comparably-priced European sport sedans, but that really isn’t the car’s audience.
Feedback from the electric power assist rack-and-pinion steering system is good at all speeds, although on-center response is soft. This tends to be a problem with electric power steering systems.
The driver can choose between three modes: eco, normal and sport. In sport mode, steering feel is slightly heavier. The turning circle is 37.4 feet, which is exceptionally good for a car with a 111-inch wheelbase.
Eco mode softens throttle response and reduces the amount of air output from the HVAC system to enhance gas mileage. Fuel economy on the test drive was on par or slightly better than the manufacturer’s 25 mpg estimate.
Engineers did an excellent job of maintaining the car’s legendary quiet interior. Acoustic glass on the windshield and front doors and a new windshield wiper design further reduce wind noise.
The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and dual-link struts in the back with stabilizer bars on both axles. By widening the car’s track as compared to the former model, engineers improved cornering stability.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the sedan in a firm, linear fashion.
The new Avalon Hybrid is a satisfying performer. Since electric motors develop peak torque at very low engine speeds, the sedan does quite well in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use merging onto the highway.
In order to minimize weight gain from the battery pack and electric motors, engineers shaved weight off other parts of the chassis whenever possible. The difference between the two models is just over 120 pounds. The difference in fuel economy is significant. I averaged 40.5 miles-per-gallon on my test drive: slightly better than the manufacturer’s estimate.
At the end of the day, the biggest reason for buying the Avalon is second-row head and legroom. Nothing in the Lexus line-up with the exception of the flagship LS sedan comes close. Vents behind the center console circulate air through the back of the cabin. A fold-down armrest adds cupholders. The gasoline model has a small pass-through with the armrest folded flat. The hybrid model does not, due to the location of the nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
Power adjustments on the front seats are easy to use. I found both seating positions comfortable on our two-hour test drive. The adjustable armrest makes the driver’s position comfortable for adults of all sizes.
Keyless entry and start enables the driver to enter the car and fire the ignition without removing the key fob from his pocket. The driver can personalize lock and unlock settings using the touchscreen on the center stack. The hood over the screen is large enough to prevent images from washing out in bright sunlight.
Both rows of passengers get overhead reading lamps. The Limited grade adds ambient lighting. A sunroof brings additional ambient light inside the car during the day.
A locking glovebox provides secure storage inside the passenger cabin. The trunk for the V-6 model is quite spacious, with enough room for luggage, golf clubs, groceries and smaller camping supplies. Although the hybrid model’s trunk is smaller, it has enough room for four roller-board suitcases.
All models come with ten standard airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control. A new whiplash-resistant front seat design eliminates the need for active headrests. Touring and Limited grades get a backup camera, while the Limited comes with high-intensity discharge headlamps.
The Limited grade comes with blind spot monitoring and cross-traffic alert. Safety Connect, which automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision, is also standard.
The all-new Avalon rolls into Toyota dealerships in December.
Like: A quiet, luxurious sedan with ample power, and exceptional fuel economy on the hybrid model. The spacious rear seating area makes the Avalon ideal for buyers who frequently travel with two or more adult passengers.
Dislike: Pricing puts upscale models in the entry luxury segment, making the Avalon unaffordable for some potential buyers.
Model: Avalon, Avalon Hybrid
Base price: $30,990 (V-6); $35,555 (hybrid)
As tested: $33,195 (XLE Premium); $35,555 (hybrid). Pricing does not include a $760 delivery charge.
Horsepower: 268 Hp @ 6200 rpm (V-6); 156 Hp @ 5700 rpm (hybrid)
Torque: 248 lbs.-ft. @ 4700 rpm (V-6); 156 lbs.-ft. @ 4500 rpm (hybrid)
Zero-to-sixty: 6.7 seconds (V-6); 8.2 seconds (hybrid)
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy:* 21/31 mpg city/highway (V-6); 40/39 mpg city/highway (hybrid)
Comment:* Fuel economy ratings are manufacturer’s estimates.
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