If you’re wondering what message Toyota wants to send with the newly redesigned 2013 Avalon, just look at the automaker’s website. The dramatic photo of a black Avalon ripping through a rainy night seems like a still from The Dark Knight Rises, the sedan’s taut sheetmetal and gaping front grille telegraphing power and elegance.
But such promotional drama aside, the good news for lovers of the old Avalon is that this new model isn’t that big a departure from the dependable people mover that since 1995 has offered a Japanese-designed take on the timeless American luxo-cruiser.
Yes, the body is all new and rife with styling touches that are starting to appear across the Toyota model range, including slit-eye headlamps and tail lights, the aforementioned wide grille and a creased beltline that brings to mind a BMW. But untouched is Avalon’s generous interior and trunk space as well as its reputation as an easy and quiet boulevardier. In other words, Grandma and Grandpa will still be in the market for this car, even if its spruced up looks start attracting a younger buyer.
And the latter is definitely the automaker’s intent, considering Toyota’s desire to significantly boost Avalon sales with this new iteration. Never known as a sporty car, Avalon’s transmission now comes in three flavors, Normal, Eco and Sport, the last of these a defiant paddle-shifter-equipped attempt to rid the model of its Early Bird Dinner Shuttle stigma. Toyota engineers labored to put more rock and less roll in Avalon’s ride by tweaking suspension geometry and rebound springs, resulting in a flatter, less floaty ride along winding roads.
Also helping to woo younger buyers is the debut of the Avalon Hybrid, featuring the 2.5-liter inline four cylinder-plus-electric-motor powerplant from the Camry Hybrid that’s good for 40 mpg city/hwy (that’s in significant contrast to the normally aspired Avalon’s EPA mileage of 21/31 city/hwy). In EV mode, the new Hybrid Avalon will glide gas-free in slow-speed situations up to 25 mph, at which point the old-school motor kicks in. Expect to pay around $5,000 more for the Hybrid over the base model; Avalon pricing runs from $31,000 to $39,500 for the standard 268-hp V6.
In top Limited Edition trim, the four-door is awash in enough leather and electronic assists to make you cry Lexus, which isn’t an accident. Avalon was always the most plush sedan in the Toyota lineup, and that remains the case with this new model.
Available creature comforts range from the app-powered Entune entertainment system (particularly potent in its 785-watt JBL incarnation) to a suite of safety-related features (including Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control and Pre-Collision System, a brake-assist technology once only found in high-end European machines). The interior is a pleasant enough place to relax for front and rear riders alike. Up front, the dash is a relatively straightforward affair with a minimum of gauges and a center console anchored by a touch-screen monitor. In back, well let’s just say it’s so cavernous that you’ll feel like whoever’s driving is the chauffeur. In fact, little surprise Toyota is planning a Livery Edition of the Avalon that could compete with Lincoln Town Cars and other car- and taxi-service machines.
The real question here is simply why someone looking for an unquestionably luxurious ride wouldn’t just hop into a Lexus 350 ES at $36,000 and up. The answer could be sheer size, as the Avalon offers more of that. But the other could be attitude, which the Avalon proffers less of. After all, in this age of fiscal cliffs and tightened budgets, sometimes the perception of less is more.