FIRST DRIVE: 2013 Toyota Avalon
Updated Avalon takes new styling direction to appeal to younger buyersClare Dear
Published: November 22, 2012, 3:00 PM
Updated: May 6, 2018, 11:29 AM
ANN ARBOR, MI – Toyota designer Benjamin Jimenez concedes the styling of his company’s vehicles has been conservative, more vanilla than spice. That, however, is about to change.
“We have been somewhat reserved in our styling in the past,” said Jimenez, a Hamilton, Ontario native who is the project design manager at Toyota’s Calty design studio in Ann Arbor, Mich. “There are some things we haven’t done that well, such as headlight treatments, for example. We know we can do better.”
Jimenez points to the 2013 Toyota Avalon as evidence of the brand’s shift to more dynamic designs, a trend he says will continue in future Toyota products.
Jimenez says the goal of the total makeover this fourth-generation Avalon received was to make it more appealing to younger buyers; hence the bolder, more athletic look, while still retaining the elegance of previous models.
For 2013, this iteration offers improved dynamic performance, a greater degree of refinement and a spacious, comfortable interior with numerous convenience technologies.
Shift in appeal
This shift in appeal is critical. For the nearly two decades this premium mid-size sedan has been on the market, the bulk of its sales, which lately in Canada have only been a few hundred cars annually, has been to older consumers.
In fact, the average age of an Avalon buyer has been 60-plus and that pool of consumers has been fading away. It’s a situation very similar to the one General Motors’ Buick division was facing until recently, where its market pool was aging beyond their driving years.
So Toyota, like Buick, is taking steps to make its Avalon more attractive to a younger crowd and hopefully knock 10 years or so off the average age of buyers.
Previous generations of the Avalon were considered merely gussied-up versions of Toyota’s mainstream top-selling sedan, the Camry. This new version is distinctly different and is being touted as Toyota’s flagship sedan.
It does, however, still share some links with its sibling. Its platform and suspension bits are identical and its sole powertrain package – a 268-horsepower, 3.5-litre V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission – is also shared with the Camry.
The wheelbase, however, has been stretched 45 millimetres – a move that helps improve the ride – while the overhangs have been trimmed noticeably compared to the current model: the front is 15 mm shorter and the rear has been tucked back 45 mm.
The roofline is been lowered 25 mm, creating a dramatic fastback profile, enhanced by the C-pillar, which has been moved rearward significantly, creating a look that stirs hints of a Jaguar sedan.
New design language
The Avalon’s front end reflects the new Toyota design language, with a floating lower grille opening that closely resembles the new Ford Fusion.
Above, there’s a smaller opening with a chrome bar that stretches across the front, tying together the dramatically restyled double-eye projector ellipsoid system headlamps. These lights feature high-intensity discharge, ensuring superior visibility for night-time driving.
The rear end, too, has dramatic new features, including large, high-performance LED taillights and twin chromed exhaust tips peeking out below the sculptured lower fascia. A strong character line stretches along the side of the car from front to rear, drawing the design together.
The Avalon’s interior has taken on a fresh, upscale tone. While the exterior dimensions have been reduced, the interior remains spacious with decent headroom and plenty of rear-seat legroom.
There are no compromises in cargo capacity, either. In fact, despite the trimmer rear overhang, the luggage compartment capacity of 453 litres is 45.3 litres greater than in the current Avalon.
The wide, sweeping instrument panel that enhanced the spaciousness of the previous model has been replaced by a twin-cockpit look, with a concave section in front of the passenger that gives the cabin a feeling of openness.
The centre area is dominated by a large floating panel that houses the navigation screen, audio and climate controls. Capacitive switches have replaced buttons and knobs, with particular attention to their placement and sensitivity to avoid the unintentional activation that seems to plague similar systems in some competitive models.
Premium materials and a high level of craftsmanship give the cabin an upscale fee, with much attention given to details, including stitching on the IP cover and seats. Highly polished pieces replace the flat-finished faux wood accents of the current model.
Considerable attention has also been given to numerous structural and chassis improvements that give the Avalon superb ride quality, stability and handling.
Additional welds, improved body bracing, and the use of high-strength steel in key areas have resulted in a stiffer chassis. The additional torsional rigidity also allows the Avalon’s improved suspension system to perform at optimum levels.
Upgrades include new MacPherson struts with advanced valving and rebound springs to balance handling and agility with ride comfort, plus increased coil spring rates and stiffer front and rear anti-roll bars to help improve body control and body roll.
The Avalon offers three drive modes – Normal, Eco and Sport, available through pushbutton switches on the console – that enable the driver to tailor the car’s dynamic performance to one’s personal preferences.
In Sport mode, throttle response is enhanced and steering effort required by the electric power assist is weighted off-centre to offer a sportier character, while Eco changes throttle response and A/C power usage to help improve fuel economy. Steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters add to the sporty flavor.
The 2013 Avalon, which is the first Toyota car designed entirely in North America, specifically for North American needs, will be offered in three trim levels.
Pricing for the base XLE will start at $36,800, which is an 11% reduction compared to the current model, yet it includes such standard features as navigation, back-up camera and heated front seats. The Limited model, which is expected to be the volume leader, starts at $38.900, while the top-of-the-line Premium package lists at $41,850.
The Avalon will arrive in dealers’ showrooms in mid-December.