Changing The Image

2013 Toyota Avalon Limited
2013 Toyota Avalon Limited. All Photos by Randy Stern

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2013 Toyota Avalon

For the past few generations, Toyota's full-sized, extended Camry-based sedan had an image problem.

Consider the Toyota Avalon's most prevalent demographic. It somehow took on a particular generation/age average for most of its buyers. It did help that the Avalon was inoffensive in design and simple to drive. It also was a big old softy – in driving dynamics, that is. My prior drives supported this claim, but left with some pondering as to the future of this car.

Perhaps my mind was read somewhere in Northern Kentucky, where every Avalon is built. There is a sea change happening amongst full-sized sedans – catering to younger consumers and enticing them with levels of luxury and refinement usually reserved for more premium brands.

Toyota knew exactly what to do – change the Avalon towards that end.

To execute this, the Avalon received a sleeker profile. With Toyota’s current design language as a guide, the Avalon is now transformed into a distinctive and modern sedan with a low profile and a compelling roofline and greenhouse.

The aggressive front end and its large lower grille invite everyone inside. The lines are sculpted finishing with a rear end that shows off details unseen in any Toyota before. One would hope for a larger set of tires and wheels, but the eighteen-inch alloys on this Limited model and low-profile Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires will do for now.

Toyota understood from the beginning the importance of playing in the full-sized sedan market. It needed to be as striking and distinctive as its competition. This time, the Avalon has the looks to compete to the head of the class.

2013 Toyota Avalon Limited

It is inside the cabin that the Avalon reveals its true self. It is a mix of the kind of luxury you expect from an Avalon – and a Lexus. If you peruse some of the switches and readouts, they actually came from Lexus models. The rest of the interior is somewhere between any comparable Lexus and anything else from the Toyota line – the overall cabin is very premium for the brand.

Did you know that the Avalon shares the same platform as a Lexus? No longer do the Avalon and Lexus ES ride on an extended Camry platform – it now has its own, purpose-built full-sized architecture. Hence why there are plenty of shared references between the two.

It starts with an instrument panel that is compelling to look and feel. Instrumentation is in separate binnacles that light up when started, with a switchable TFT screen in-between for trip and fuel consumption information. Switches on the panel and on the steering wheel work to keep the information and entertainment flowing. The center stack is even more compelling with its Lexus-style readouts for audio and navigation functions. Switches are light-touch that only require a slight finger action to control. Even the climate control screen is TFT, but without any touch screen functionality.

However, the seats are a different story. The grade of leather used is a bit harder than those used on any given Lexus. Perhaps that is fine, but the front seats do not offer enough bolstering to keep you locked into these seats and the power driver's side lumbar support does not go all the way down and away for maximum comfort. There is plenty of legroom and width per seat to go around. Tall people may want to be careful when negotiating a position with the moonroof above.

Toyota figured to sell the Avalon as a livery sedan – a "town car" or "limousine" as they called in select markets. To do so, you must have a rear seat that accommodates everyone from business people to entertainers to those wanting to splurge for the night. The Avalon has the leg room to fulfill this new duty, but tall passengers over six-foot-three may want to watch their head in the area where the roof transitions to the rear glass. This tester actually came with a power rear window shade for privacy – perfect for livery duty.

2013 Toyota Avalon Limited

Powering the Avalon is Toyota's balanced and proven 3.5litre V6. It is still the same 268 horsepower engine that keeps the lightweight Avalon – 3538 pounds is considered "light" in this segment – on its toes at all times. Low-end grunt actually defies the 248 pound-feet torque rating, as there is a lot of low end to go when pushing the throttle. A six-speed automatic sends power down its front wheels. The shifts are smooth and swift, including downshifts.

There is a huge surprise waiting for traditional full-sized sedan consumers when they take the wheel of the Avalon. The ride is firm – unexpected from a sedan in its class with an intended audience that prefers comfort over sportiness. The good side of the equation is in its handling – near-flat in the corners and well balanced everywhere else. The flip side is the lack of give in the suspension. You will feel the bumps and hear the cracks in this Limited model.

There are other trade offs. Though the steering system is responsive and quite sharp for its size, it can be lazy on center and a bit vague on occasion. The solution is to put the drive mode in Sport from a series of buttons on the console. The extra weight on the wheel will help in firming up a few things when cornering and keeping things in order. The brakes are OK where stops are fine in both normal and panic situations.

Since all expectations are elevated in this class, fuel consumption becomes more critical than ever. The Avalon turned in an average 24.8MPG, which is average for this size of car.

The Avalon line starts at $32,195 for the standard XLE model. Choosing the Limited will raise your sticker to $40,855. This loaded Limited tester came out to $42,449. You could also choose a Hybrid model for XLE and Limited trims for an additional average uptick of $1,800.

2013 Toyota Avalon Limited

Here is something to consider: Remember the reference to the Lexus ES the Avalon shares a common platform with? If you wanted the more premium badge, you would pay another $1,000-2,000. As someone who prefers the Oval-L badge over the Tri-Oval-T one, I found myself liking the Avalon even more than the ES. It would be a no brainer to pocket that money and send it to the insurance agent instead.

How is that for a bombshell?

Seriously, this is the best Toyota brand vehicle I thoroughly enjoyed since the 1980s. We are talking the likes of the 1984-87 Corolla sedan, the 1986-1989 Celicas and the 1987-88 Corolla FX hatchbacks. This Avalon achieved such accolades by being a high quality big sedan with serious power and moves – thanks to its relative light weight.

By no means is the Toyota Avalon a canyon-carving sports sedan. It would be one big sedan I would be happy to drive again.

That summation alone should be good enough to change the image of the Avalon.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

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