published Saturday, January 19th, 2013

TestDrive: Not your elementary school principal's Avalon

The new 2013 Avalon has new, racy sheetmetal that portends more dramatic styling to come from Toyota.
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The new 2013 Avalon has new, racy sheetmetal that portends more dramatic styling to come from Toyota. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

Model: 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited

Exterior color: Champagne Mica

Interior color: Beige and Almond

Engine: 3.5 liter, V-6

Horsepower: 268 horsepower

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 31 highway, 24 city

Dealer: Capital Toyota

Price (as tested): $43,229

When I told a newsroom pal I was driving an Avalon from Capital Toyota last week, he quipped, "Oh, isn't that the car for retired school administrators?"

Wiseacre. Still, his jab at Toyota's flagship sedan was so precise that it had a ring of truth.

After all, the original Avalon had a bench seat in the front and a column shifter -- not exactly a combination associated with sporty performance automobiles.

I always thought the Avalon seemed a little out of proportion, its body perhaps a little too big for its chassis -- kind of like me when I stand sideways in a full-length mirror.

Anyway, let it be known, the redesigned 2013 Avalon looks like it has been dipped in the Fountain of Youth.

Toyota has positioned the Avalon -- the sometimes-forgotten premium midsized car slotted between the Camry V-6 and the Lexus ES -- on the crest on a new wave of brand design.

Claude Hyde, general sales manager at Capital Toyota, reminded me that the new Avalon is an All-American vehicle that has been designed, engineered and built entirely in the U.S.A.

Maybe that is why the makeover is so sweet. Wow, this Avalon actually creates an emotional response. Be prepared to see it on many top-car lists for 2013.

STYLING AND COMFORT

Let's start at the front. The new Avalon has an oversized lower grille with five horizontal slats that looks like it should be sucking in air on the fuselage of a fighter jet.

Meanwhile, the upper grille features square double-eye headlamps that give the car a pleasant "smile."

The Avalon's belt-line has been lowered, which lends more visual weight to the rear of the car. Get ready to see more of this as car companies move away from cookie-cutter, cab-forward designs. Fender flares and a low, sloping roof-line add to the design drama.

The rounded rear and integrated rectangular exhaust tips lend an expensive, upscale look -- think BMW 7-series.

Inside, the Avalon is just a wood-grain steering wheel shy of a Lexus. Tweaks to the sheet metal and additional sound-deadening material give the cabin a vault-like level of isolation. An attractive beige-and-black interior color scheme in our tester is spot on. The dash and doors are embellished with smoked chrome-metallic accents.

Leather is used liberally on the seats and touch surfaces of the Avalon and showcases hand-crafted stitching. As always, the rear-seat leg-room is limousinelike. The front seats have been lowered about a half inch to improve headroom.

In Limited trim, the Avalon includes a standard 11-speaker sound system, paddle shifters and navigation.

Our test car included a technology package that bundles dynamic cruise-control, auto-dimming lights and a pre-collision safety system.

PERFORMANCE

The Avalon is powered by Toyota's trusty 3.5 liter, V-6 engine that makes an energetic 268 horsepower. There are three driving modes -- normal, eco and sport -- designed to match your mood.

"Eco" coaxes a few more miles per gallon from the powerplant, the "sport" mode tweaks throttle response and steering weight for a more spirited ride.

Meanwhile, the "normal" mode seeks the sweet spot in between.

On our test drive on Lee Highway and Highway 153, the Avalon proved to be a capable boulevard cruiser.

A six-speed automatic transmission pours out power on demand.

BOTTOM LINE

After years as a durable -- if unexciting -- placeholder in the Toyota line-up, the 2013 Avalon is poised for a break-out year.

With a base price in Limited trim of $39,650, our Avalon test car stickers for $43,299. Fuel efficiency is 31 miles per gallon highway and 24 mpg city. Estimated annual fuel cost is $2,200.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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