First Drive:  2013 Toyota Avalon toyota reviews first drives
First Drive:  2013 Toyota Avalon toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

Test Drive: 2011 Toyota Avalon

Manufacturer’s web site
Toyota Canada

Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

Photo Gallery:
2013 Toyota Avalon

Ann Arbor, MI – I have been a little rough on Toyota lately. Vehicles that I’ve driven and written about didn’t resonate with me. I was underwhelmed by the new Camry Hybrid, perplexed by the Lexus ES 300h, and confused about the FJ Cruiser.

Apparently my views have not been widely shared because Toyota has been selling more cars this year than it has since 2008 (in the US, 2009 in Canada), before the bailout of GM and Chrysler, before being skewered in the media for that recurring phantom, uncontrolled acceleration, and before recalling millions of vehicles and admitting that it had lost control of quality control.

Proving that Toyota can manage a crisis better than quality control systems, the company has re-emerged based on its openness and honesty about the issues that dogged it and by producing the kind of vehicle its customers wanted, cars like the Toyota Camry.

The 2013 Toyota Avalon is being hyped as the second coming of Toyota—at least in the US, not so much here—as Toyota marketing pumps up the message machine to let us all know that Toyota has a new vision for itself as a company and the new Avalon is the physical embodiment of that vision, a Toyota that shares its customers’ “desire for style and their passion for driving.”

First Drive:  2013 Toyota Avalon toyota reviews first drives
First Drive:  2013 Toyota Avalon toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

The Avalon has never been much of a player in Canada with just 496 sales in 2011, but in the US where big cars are appreciated, it is an important model for Toyota with 28,925 sales in 2011.

It is also Toyota’s top model meaning that much of what one sees in or on the Avalon will eventually trickle down to all other Toyotas. It tells us something about the future of the Toyota brand and based on what I’ve seen in the Avalon, the future for the Toyota brand is good.

Although the Avalon shares many of its components with the Camry and its wheelbase with the Lexus ES, it was designed by an American team led by an American Chief Engineer and it shows. Not in a way that is uniquely North American, but in a way that differentiates the Avalon from the Lexus ES or the Camry.

If we can assume that “a passion for driving” in a car of this stature is more about comfort, convenience, safety, and the intelligent use of high technology, then the Avalon is a most passionate car indeed.

First Drive:  2013 Toyota Avalon toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

And stylish, too; a long sloping rear roof line that disappears under the trunk lid, a low belt line, and shortened front and rear overhangs magically give the big sedan a proportionately balanced silhouette, something that was previously missing. The front fascia includes a wide, aggressive opening, as is common these days, but the grille is not as dominating as the Lexus “spindle” grille.

Inside, the Avalon is every bit as comfortable and luxurious as the ES but a whole lot more modern. The Avalon lacks certain equipment available on an ES, such as a power adjustable and heated steering wheel, but once you have interacted with the Avalon’s new capacitive touch switchgear, you won’t feel deprived.

Capacitive touch switches operate like switches on a smart phone touch screen. Located under the grained panel surface on the centre switch panel, the innovative controls have been tuned to operate conveniently with a light touch, and can even be operated by hands with gloves or longer fingernails. The HVAC fan speed is operated by use of a responsive touch slide.

First Drive:  2013 Toyota Avalon toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

The Avalon is equipped with the latest version Toyota’s Optitron gauges which feature 3D tick marks on a clear dial ring. The attractive gauges border a 3.5-inch TFT (thin-film transistor) multi-information display. Unique to Avalon is its electronic storage bin, a retractable tray with USB and AUX ports and two 12V power points. Conveniently located at the base of the centre console and centre stack, the eBin hides away the devices and wires that usually clutter cup holders.

Priced at $36,800, the 2013 Avalon XLE comes equipped with standard features like a large colour display to adjust the nine-speaker audio system with text-to-speech and email-to-speech capabilities as well as the standard navigation system. Leather seating, smart key with push-button start, paddle shifters, dual-zone automatic climate control, power adjustable driver and passenger seats, and power moonroof are all standard equipment on the 2013 Avalon XLE.

First Drive:  2013 Toyota Avalon toyota reviews first drives
First Drive:  2013 Toyota Avalon toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

By comparison, the 2013 Lexus ES 350 starts at $39,500 and doesn’t include real leather upholstery or a navigation system.

The Avalon Limited, priced at $38,900, adds heated and ventilated front seats covered in premium leather and power adjustable 10 ways for the driver and 8 for the passenger, LED daytime running lamps, blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert system.

Furthermore, a Premium package ($41,850), which includes three-zone independent climate control, 11-speaker JBL premium audio system, pre-collision warning system, dynamic radar cruise control and automatic high beams, can be added to the Avalon Limited.

The Avalon interior is a nice way to spend an afternoon, as we found out recently during the Avalon press launch in Ann Arbor, Michigan. With premium finishes, hand-sewn pieces, and smoke chrome trim surrounds, it is a rich feeling and exceedingly quiet environment. Competitively, the Avalon fares well, being the only vehicle in its segment to feature navigation, paddle shifters, back-up camera, passenger knee airbag, and rear seat side airbags as standard equipment.

First Drive:  2013 Toyota Avalon toyota reviews first drives
First Drive:  2013 Toyota Avalon toyota reviews first drives
2013 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

The Avalon is powered by the same 3.5L six-cylinder engine offered with the Camry V6 and the Lexus ES 350, producing 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. This is a strong V6 engine that returns surprisingly good fuel economy (8.3 L/100 km combined city/highway). Unlike the Camry and the Lexus, the Avalon will not be offered in Canada with a four-cylinder gas/electric hybrid drivetrain.

But the Avalon is equipped with three drive modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. The Eco Mode prioritizes fuel efficiency by reducing throttle response, engine performance, and air conditioning function. Sport mode helps create a more engaging driving experience by increasing steering effort and throttle response.

The Avalon is a big, comfortable car and its front MacPherson strut, rear dual-link suspension is set up to balance ride comfort, cornering ability, and agility. Despite its size the Avalon’s electric power steering and suspension tuning provide a ride that is super quiet and smooth, but without sacrificing feedback and cornering ability. The big car exhibited minimal body roll, decent feedback, and competent stopping power.

The Avalon has a big car load of active and passive safety gear including Toyota’s standard Star Safety System, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stop Technology (SST). As well, the Avalon can be equipped with a blind-spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert system, dynamic radar cruise control, and a pre-collision system. This latter system reduces the impact of an impending collision by reducing vehicle speed.

In addition, the 2013 Avalon has 10 standard airbags including front air bags, front seat-mounted side airbags, knee air bags for both driver and front passenger, rear seat-mounted side air bags and side curtain airbags.

I may not have written flattering prose about the Toyota vehicles I’ve driven this year, but with the new Avalon, flattery isn’t necessary. Anyone thinking that they have outgrown their Camry should have a look at the Avalon before moving on to Lexus or some other luxury brand. They may find it has everything they need and at a price that doesn’t break the bank.

The 2013 Toyota Avalon arrives in dealerships in mid-December.

Pricing: 2013 Toyota Avalon
Avalon XLE: $36,800
Avalon Limited: $38,900
Avalon Limited w/Premium package: $41,850
Freight & PDI: $1,565

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