I’m not going to lie and say I was excited to review the Toyota Avalon. After all, this is the car that emulated your father’s (actually, probably your great-grandfather’s) Buick for years, and was marketed to the nearly dead.
But Toyota has made some changes to the Avalon. Huge, sweeping changes. And they’re not shy about it. They want you to know the Avalon is an all-new car, with a new attitude and with new capabilities. So… is it really? Let’s find out.
Choosing an Avalon is very simple. There are only two models, the “entry-level” XLE (normally a high trim level for Toyota) and the Limited. The XLE starts at $36,800 – and that’s what I reviewed. Everything noted here is part of that price – nothing in this review is an option, so this is the most base model of Avalon you can get here.
The changes are very evident long before you get into the car. Toyota has done a fantastic job in updating the Avalon on the outside. Smooth lines flow from front to back. You’ll find the occasional curve, although the styling certainly won’t pass for sensuous. And what’s this? A handsome kink toward the rear side window trim? Good looking 18″ wheels shod with low-profile 225/45s filling those fenders? A stylish rear end with eye-catching details and tail lights?
Though it’s a mature looking car, Toyota has added some interest (a pleasant change) and even some aggressive characteristics to spice things up. It looks worlds better than any Avalon before it, and in my opinion, it’s a slick, good looking sedan.
Under the Hood
Nothing super exciting going on here. It’s Toyota’s 3.5-litre V-6. Relatively old technology, and appearing in many of their vehicles, it’s a good engine. Strong, relatively linear and responsive, but not particularly fuel efficient by today’s standards. It puts out 268 horsepower at 6200 RPM and 248 lb.ft of torque at 4700 RPM. All that to drag around a surprisingly light (for its size) 3620 pound car.
The power makes its way through a 6-speed automatic to the front wheels.
Mileage is rated at 9.9 L/100 km in the city and 6.4 L/100 km on the highway. I averaged 11.4 L/100 km during my week with it. I actually spent more time on the highway than I usually do with a review vehicle. The Avalon has a 64 litre tank.
Materials in the Avalon are very, very nice. There are soft-touch plastics everywhere, as well as upholstered, stitched materials and a sauve wood trim. Also, the styling will surprise you. First of all, it’s a major departure from the past, and frankly, it’s a nice step into the future.
Headroom in the front is good for my 5’10” frame, but someone much taller might start to feel the squeeze. The cabin feels large, open and spacious.
The heated leather (yes, it’s real leather) seats are very comfortable, and offer a surprising amount of bolstering for a cushy car. Both front seats are power-adjustable and the driver’s side has a two-position memory setting.
I liked the Avalon’s steering wheel – it’s grippy and comfortable with a surprisingly fat rim. On it, you’ll find controls for the media system, phone, handsfree and driver information screen functions.
Ahead of you sits a pod with two large, clear gauges – between them is a narrow, vertical driver information screen. Even though it seems a bit crowded in there, it’s sharp and easy to read and provides access to fuel economy, trip meters and other goodies.
There’s not so much a center stack as what I’d call the chin – it juts out of the dash as it drops down, reminding me of Lord Farquaad from Shrek. This panel holds a small but responsive touch-screen that handles the audio system, navigation, phone and smartphone app functions, as well as the back-up camera. The screen is surrounded by flat, soft-touch buttons for major audio system functions. These flat buttons are completely offset by the addition of two HUMUNGOUS knobs – one for volume, one for tuning. You could probably use them even if you had all your fingers amputated. At the bottom of the chin is a dual-zone automatic climate control system. The screen for it is a bit of a mess, and gets busy when you’re trying to just look at it quickly.
The sound system feeds off AM, FM, satellite, USB, auxiliary, CD and Bluetooth streaming sources. It uses 9 speakers and sounds very good.
Anyway, all in all, the layout is clean, smart and effective. I liked how it worked and I liked how it looked, and several passengers commented on the dash and agreed with me.
The console houses the gear selector, two cupholders and the drive mode selectors.
Overhead, you’ll find a rearview mirror with a compass and three HomeLink garage door opener buttons, as well as a tilt/slide sunroof.
Here you’ll find three seats – each comes with a seatbelt and a headrest. The rear seats are spacious, with significant headroom and legroom. Being a back seat passenger on a road trip wouldn’t be a bad thing in the Avalon.
In terms of convenience, it’s bare bones. No power plugs, no air vents. Just a couple of seatback map pockets.
The doors open wide, making access easy – that includes putting kids in. There are two sets of LATCH anchors for kids’ seats. All three of our kids were happy back there, although the middle seating position is a bit cramped.
The middle seatback folds down to become an armrest with two cupholders.
I love the space between the bottom of the dash chin and the console. At first it seems there’s only a swoopy, soft curved tray – which is nice in and of itself. However, push it down, and it silently lifts out of sight to reveal a nice carpeted storage area, along with two 12V plugs and the USB and auxiliary plugs. Very smart.
The armrest lid conceals a carpeted bin with another 12V plug, and there’s a great change drawer on the left underside of the dash, lined with soft material to keep your coins from clinking. Lest you attract vagrants and such with your riches.
The glove compartment and the door bins are small and not that useful.
There’s a power trunk release – you’ll find one on the dash as well as on your key fob. The cargo space isn’t huge at 453 litres (16 cu. ft.) but it’s definitely big enough for a road trip. There’s a small pass-through panel for long, skinny items like skis, etc.
The 6-speed transmission is very smooth, shifting imperceptibly most of the time. Whoa! What’s this?! You can snick that gear selector over to the left – into a SPORT MODE?! Yep. Wait, wait – and then you can shift it manually too?! Yep. What the?! What are those things on the back of the steering wheel? Paddle shifters? Get out of town!
Let me be clear – I think those factors are more of a perception thing than a reality thing. The transmission is too smooth and a little too slow and luxurious to be considered sporty – ever. Yes, Sport mode hangs on to the revs longer before shifting, but in the end, it just seems out of character in the Avalon. Yes, you can manually shift the car, and the shifts are actually quite quick, but seriously – who’s going to do that in an Avalon?
The V-6 puts out plenty of power for everyday driving. It will spring off the line, happily squawking the tires in the process. The Avalon never feels underpowered in the city. On the highway, it remains a smooth operator, but when you step on it to pass, it takes a second or two to downshift to the right gear, making everything feel a bit sluggish. I actually don’t think that’s a knock on this car – that seems more in line with this car than the Sport mode or the paddle shifters.
By the way, you can also choose a drive mode with buttons on the console. There’s normal drive mode, ECO mode which makes this car simply hemorrhoidal to drive because everything gets syrupy, and the Sport mode, which seemed to be the same one you get if you slap the gear selector over a notch.
Of course the ride is tremendously comfortable – I would say it is approaching (but not quite at) Lexus levels of suspension refinement. It really is well done. Handling is a different story. Now, let’s get this out of the way. The 2013 Avalon handily runs circles around the old model, and if you need it to, it will stick to the pavement around curves and corners. But it makes it very clear that it’s not fond of them. There’s a ton of body lean (though less than there used to be) and although the steering response is acceptable, it’s tuned toward luxury, not anything resembling sport. Again, that’s completely acceptable here. I don’t think anyone shopping the Avalon will be shocked and dismayed by a numb on-center feeling in the steering wheel.
Stay in a straight line, and you’ll have a tough time finding a more comfortable car at this price. Which means this is a heck of a highway car. Sound levels are exceptionally low – drivetrain, road and wind noise are absolutely minimal, regardless of the speed it’s traveling. I was very impressed.
The brakes are pretty mushy. They’re effective, but with the soft suspension, you’ll find the Avalon’s snout diving quite a bit when you hammer on them.
Visibility out of the Avalon is really good in every direction.
My eye kept coming back to the dash. Toyota certainly went out of their way to bring new styling elements, textures and shapes to the interior of the new Avalon, and in my opinion, it’s very refreshing. It wouldn’t hurt to bring some of this innovation to some other Toyota interiors. Pardon me while I stifle a yawn. Or maybe all of them.
The placement of the seat heater controls irked me, because it’s on the driver’s side of the console, behind the raised, padded surface surrounding the cupholders. What that means is that the passenger will not have an easy time turning their own seat heater on. Not cool. Or hot. However you want to look at it.
The new Avalon no longer feels like a car that is soft just for the sake of being soft. It doesn’t feel like a senior’s car anymore. Although its motions are smooth, and everything is clearly leaning toward comfort, the feeling I got here was one of luxury and refinement instead of “Git yer diaper on, Thelma. We’re goin’ mushroom huntin’.”
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was middling. She did enjoy the smooth ride and how everything in the interior worked, and she said it looked good. But she told me that “it felt like an old lady’s car” and it looks a bit too “mature” from the outside too. Mind you, this is the girl that thinks her Odyssey looks hot.
The 2013 Avalon is, without a doubt, an improvement on virtually every facet of the previous model. It is certainly a nice car to look at. It offers plenty of space inside, front and back, as well as a ton of comfort, convenience and even driver tech. It has more than enough power, and it carries itself with confidence. Not swagger, because that wouldn’t suit it. I found myself being pleasantly surprised by the Avalon in many ways.
It’s not the car for me at this point in my life, but it is certainly a great car. Check it out, and you’ll fine a fine automobile that makes a luxurious statement on the road. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this car to those looking for entry-level luxury at a very reasonable price and I give the Toyota Avalon a solid 8 out of 10. Want more? As I noted earlier, the Avalon is also available in a Limited trim, which leaves few stones unturned when it comes to equipment, tech and luxury.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Toyota Canada.
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