Behind the Wheel: Avalon takes sleek turn
Toyota's flagship sedan, the Avalon, is stylishly elegant for 2013, offers more technology and safety features than ever and has a new, noticeably controlled and poised ride.
The Avalon also impresses with a base retail price that's some $2,200 less than the starting retail price for last year's Avalon.
The price cut to a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $31,785, stems in part from the moonroof being removed from the list of Avalon standard equipment.
But leather seat and steering wheel trim, heated front seats and power-adjustable driver and front-passenger front seats remain on every Avalon.
The base engine -- last year's smooth and powerful 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 -- is still there, too, and is mated to an updated six-speed automatic.
Meantime, new standard features in the Avalon include 10 air bags, up from seven last year. There's a new eBin, too, where drivers can manage and store away plug-in devices like phone, radar detector, etc.
Perhaps best of all, Consumer Reports puts predicted reliability of the new Avalon at better than average.
Competitors to the front-wheel drive, four-door Avalon include other premium mid-size sedans such as the 2013 Buick LaCrosse, which has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $32,555.
But the base LaCrosse doesn't have leather seat trim, and its base engine is a 182-horsepower four cylinder.
Another competitor, the 2013 Hyundai Genesis sedan, packs more power -- 333 horses from a larger displacement V-6 than the Avalon has -- and an eight-speed automatic for a starting retail price of $35,095.
The 2013 Avalon is about 2 inches shorter in overall length and about an inch shorter in height than its predecessor. But it still looks generously sized, and some auto critics still refer to the Avalon as a large sedan though the federal government continues to classify it as a mid-size.
Interior dimensions for passengers are not changed much from last year's model, save for rear-seat legroom which went from 40.9 inches in the 2012 Avalon to 39.2 inches in the new car.
Cargo room in the Avalon now is a surprising 16 cubic feet vs. 14.4 cubic feet last year. Much of this space is under the rear window.
But other interior space dimensions are pretty much unchanged. For example, rear-seat headroom of 37.5 inches is nearly identical to that of last year's Avalon, and front-seat headroom of 38.5 inches is just 0.4 inch less than that in the 2012 Avalon.
The test Avalon Limited, which is the top-of-the-line model, didn't feel cramped, though the new-styled rear seats mean the middle person now sits atop a more contoured area than before. Taller passengers may brush against the ceiling.
The test car interior showed craftsmanship, with well-aligned trim pieces and nicely supple, perforated leather on the seats.
The only thing that didn't feel right were the plastic-covered, memory seat buttons in the test car. They pushed way in on the driver door and had a weak, cheap feel.
The new Avalon dashboard design is inviting, with a minimum number of visible buttons on the dashboard to control everything from navigation to audio and phone operation.
The design was simple, yet eminently usable.
Best of all, it doesn't take long learn how the controls work, and the seven-inch, high-resolution touchscreen had bright colors and large, legible letters for easy viewing.
The Avalon rode quietly much of the time, with little noise intruding from trucks and blaring radios nearby.
Views out were a bit confined by the low stance of this car compared with sport utility vehicles and trucks.
The test Avalon Limited with 18-inch tires rode more firmly than any previous Avalon tested, but it wasn't harsh or even noticeable. The more controlled ride was in contrast to some pillowy rides in earlier generation Avalons and made for confident driving on twisty mountain roads.
Still, the 2013 Avalon remains, like its predecessors, one of the most comfortable cars for highway cruising.
The improved dynamics comes in part from stouter stabilizer bars, as the Avalon's basic suspension design -- MacPherson struts up front and dual-link MacPherson struts in back -- remain.
Rack-and-pinion steering this year is electrically assisted and needs only a light touch, yet has a surprisingly decent on-center feel.
The V-6 provided strong power in all situations and moved the car easily along in city traffic and on the highway.
Paddle shifters on the steering wheel give convenient access to no-clutch-pedal driver shifts, but just letting the automatic tranny handle things created smoother transitions between gears.
Peak torque is the same as last year: 247 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm.
The test car spent time in all three drive modes -- normal, sport and eco -- and averaged 21 miles per gallon in driving that was 65 percent in the city and 35 percent at highway speed.
The 21-mpg is on par with the government's city fuel economy rating for the 2013 Avalon. The government pegs highway mileage at 31 mpg, but the test car never got close to that.
Regular unleaded is fine for the Avalon, which has a smaller, 17-gallon fuel tank this year instead of the 18.5-gallon tank last year.
So filling the tank at today's prices can cost more than $65. In the test car, this $65 bought a travel range of just over 350 miles.
Fact sheet: 2013 Toyota Avalon Limited
Base price: $30,990 for XLE; $33,195 for XLE Premium; $35,500 for XLE Touring; $39,650 for Limited.
Price as tested: $42,195.
Type: Front engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, mid-size sedan.
Engine: 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 with dual VVT-i.
Mileage: 21 mpg (city), 31 mpg (highway).
Top speed: NA.
Length: 195.2 inches.
Wheelbase: 111 inches.
Curb weight: 3,500 pounds.
Built at: Georgetown, Ky.
Options: Technology package (includes dynamic radar cruise control, automatic high beams, pre-collision system) $1,750.
Destination charge: $795.
-- Ann M. Job
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