At last, Toyota has seen the potential in this model beyond retirees, and for 2013 it's steering its full-sizer in a more lively and interesting direction, with more attractive sheetmetal, a fresh, modern interior layout, and some useful high-tech safety equipment.
But what's most noteworthy in the 2013 Avalon is how this car drives, and what's under the hood. V-6 models, with a strong, smooth 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter, are still expected to make up most sales; but it's the multiple Avalon Hybrid models in the lineup that seem the most compelling, not only for their surprisingly responsive performance, but for their level of refinement that might even fool some traditional Avalon shoppers. With a net of 200 horsepower, altogether, from its lean Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder, teamed with nickel-metal-hydride batteries and two motors tucked in the transaxle, the Avalon Hybrid can get to 60 mph in just (conservatively) 8.2 seconds. Admittedly, that's 1.5 seconds slower than the V-6, yet the Avalon Hybrid can return a phenomenal 40 mpg city, 39 highway—for a Combined rating of 40 mpg.
With the Hybrid weighing only about a hundred pounds more than the V-6, the driving experience isn't far off the stronger model's high water mark. In either case, Toyota has managed to give the Avalon a seemingly awesome performance makeover. It's quicker and more responsive in every way, yet it actually feels far more composed and refined compared to the outgoing model. We wouldn't call it sporty, but it's supremely capable and controllable in a way that the Avalon hasn't been in the past—essentially muting the almost cartoonish queasiness, bounciness, and excessive body motion of the former model.
The 2013 Toyota Avalon has shrunk a bit in length, width, and height, but you really wouldn't know it once you climb inside. This is a cabin that feels extremely roomy and far more modern and luxurious than the previous Avalon, with top-notch materials, thoughtful details and comfortable seats. What you get in front are seats that don't have a lot of lateral support, but they're supportive for the back and upholstered in impressive, supple leather, with real stitching—and ventilated premium leather in Limited models. In back, the seats are among the best we've sampled in a larger sedan—contoured well for adults and with relatively long lower cushions to provide thigh support. The new Avalon gets a 16-cubic-foot trunk, and with a flat floor and wide opening, you can fit a lot of grocery bags. Meanwhile, the Hybrid's 14-cubic-foot trunk is only slightly smaller than last year's 14.4-cu-ft cargo hold.
Taking a step back, the exterior of the new Avalon really lures you in; and considering the history of this model, that's saying a lot. From the side profile, the design looks at ease and neither trying too hard to appear as a hunkered-back rear-wheel-drive sport sedan nor as a cab-forward front-driver. There's a lot to like in the roofline and beltline arcs, and what gives the design punch though is the offset of the rear fender, along with the way the sheetmetal so gracefully flows from the roofline and the doors, meeting in a way that looks not computer-designed but positively hand-sculpted with a series of French curves.
Nothing in the new Avalon says farewell to the status quo more than the thoroughly modern instrument-panel layout, and its flush, capacitive (touch-based) dash switches—a feature that cleans up the look, and does away with physical buttons. They sit on a plane closer to the driver, above a layer that's trimmed with wood grain and an attractive striated surface, all framed in metallic trim. It's unique—not Camry knockoff like some previous Avalon interiors. Up close, cabin materials are superb, and also a full league above those in the Camry. The dash and upper door trim are covered in soft-touch material, and the grains actually match throughout the area in the driver's sight.
The Avalon offers a strong list of safety features, including separate rear side-thorax airbags and front knee bags. And at the top of the lineup there's the Rear Cross Traffic Alert system, which uses sensors in the rear quarter panels to help detect vehicles as they approach from the side and behind the vehicle—especially helpful if you're backing out of a driveway with an obstructed view. Additionally, all but the base Avalon XLE come with a backup camera system.
Parsing out the Avalon's pricing and feature set is a little more challenging than in past years. That's because the 2013 Toyota Avalon covers a wider price span, now coming in XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring, and XLE Limited trims—with Hybrid models for all but the base XLE. If you want us to distill the line of trims and models down to a single point, it would be this: You're essentially getting a Lexus-caliber feature set—and for the most part, Lexus ambiance—at a price that's at least a few grand less than the Avalon's Lexus ES cousin would be with some comparable features. Much of the lineup gets Entune, capable of running apps (Pandora, for instance) from your smartphone, using your data connection. Top Limited models cost around $40k but are luxury vehicles by the equipment list, with a Blind Spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, perforated leather upholstery, heated-and-ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, three-zone automatic climate control, a rear sunshade, 785-watt JBL Audio, HID headlamps, and LED daytime running lamps. Add the Tech Package, with Adaptive Cruise Control, a Pre-Collision System, and Automatic High Beams.