2013 Toyota Avalon First Drive

2013 Toyota Avalon First Drive

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The Champagne Edition of the Camry Finds a New, Younger Audience

It's not that current Toyota Avalon buyers are old. It's just that a median age of 64 makes them really, really old. Avalon owners don't always trade in their old sedans on new ones; more often the cars they leave behind are sold at estate sales. Given this, the mission of the new 2013 Toyota Avalon is to knock a decade off the median age of the owner body by bringing in some fresh — but still mature — blood to the pool of potential buyers.

So the new Avalon is aimed at boomers born in the early 1950s to the early '60s, an age notoriously obsessed with perpetual youth and its own sense of hipness. You know, people like Madonna, George Clooney, Dan Marino and, of course, LeVar Burton. It's a generation that would never have looked twice at the original 1995 Toyota Avalon with its front bench seat and column-mounted shifter. After all, it never would have imagined itself maturing to the point of owning what has been Toyota's version of a Buick.

But here the boomers are, well into their 50s and still resisting activation of their AARP cards. And here's the sleeker, vastly better 2013 Toyota Avalon and 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid aimed straight at them. It's better-looking than any Toyota has a right to be. Most of all, it's not a Buick.

Think of the new Avalon as the Champagne Edition of the Toyota Camry. It's everything that's right with the newly redesigned 2012 Camry — its easygoing chassis, slick drivetrain and robust build quality — only in a package with more interior room. Plus it has that champagne bubble thing when it comes to the styling.

Champagne Wishes
When the first Toyota Avalon was introduced in early 1994 as a 1995 model, it was basically a Camry stretched over a 4-inch-longer wheelbase. It was even built alongside the Camry at Toyota's plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. So we shouldn't be surprised that the new Avalon is still a stretched Camry, only this time the wheelbase has been stretched 1.7 inches to 111 inches. The suspension, most of the structural stampings and both the available drivetrains have been brought over from the Camry to the Avalon. And the Avalon is still made at the Georgetown plant on the same assembly line that churns out Camrys. Philosophically at least, the basic idea of the Avalon hasn't changed much.

The outgoing 2012 Avalon also rode on a 111-inch wheelbase, but now the new car's overall length is actually 2.4 inches shorter. Total EPA rated interior volume has dropped a bit from 106.9 cubic feet to 103.6 cubic feet, while trunk volume rises slightly from 14.4 cubic feet to 16 cubic feet.

As you walk around the new Avalon, you'll note that while the upper grille on the new car looks Camry-esque, the larger lower grille has some Ford Fusion in it. The most visually compelling aspect of the car can be seen in profile, as the C-pillar has been pulled back almost completely over the trunk, making the car look longer and more impressive. The silhouette reminds us of the Cadillac XTS or Jaguar XJ.

On the whole, the Avalon looks elegant and modern, not to mention more attractive than some of the sedans for sale over at Lexus. Which one looks better, Toyota Avalon or Lexus ES 350? To us, the ES 350 looks like the garment bag that the tailored Avalon was delivered in.

Champagne Engineering
Aside from a different exhaust system, the 3.5-liter V6 featured in the front-wheel-drive 2013 Toyota Avalon is identical to the optional V6 offered on the Camry. It's rated at 268 horsepower and lashed to the same six-speed automatic transaxle used in the Camry with the same gear ratios. To enhance fuel economy, 5th gear is an overdrive ratio and 6th gear is such a tall overdrive that it's tough for the V6 to pull a thread on a sweater. The Avalon is also geared taller overall than the Camry, with a 3.238:1 ratio compared to the Camry V6's 3.458:1. So we're saying mpg is more important here than mph, right?

All-wheel drive is not available, though several of the Avalon's direct competitors offer it. Toyota argues that few buyers actually opt for the all-wheel-drive option, and offering it in the Avalon would have entailed engineering a whole new floor pan and rear suspension. So it wasn't worth the hassle and expense.

Thanks to the additional acoustic insulation carried by the Avalon compared to the Camry, it practically takes a stethoscope to detect when the Avalon's V6 is running. With about 3,500 pounds to shove around, each of the 268 horses needs to pull hard, and the Avalon's ponies deliver, despite the transmission's tall gearing. The Avalon V6 never feels strained, and we're guessing the car runs to 60 mph in 8.0 seconds. Maybe even a tick quicker.

Hybrid Champagne
In addition to the conventional Avalon, Toyota also now offers a new hybrid version. Given the way the car has been engineered, you'd expect the powertrain to be the gas-electric package from the Camry. And since Toyota has never shied away from doing exactly as expected, the Avalon Hybrid's powertrain does indeed come from the Camry Hybrid.

As in the Camry, the heart of the Avalon Hybrid is a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 engine that puts out 156 hp. The electric motor that accompanies it is rated at 105 kilowatts, and the juice comes from a pack of nickel-metal hydride batteries. The combined 200 hp is channeled through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to the front wheels. Let's guess that the car will get to 60 mph in 9.0 seconds. Maybe a tick more.

While the new Avalon V6 is EPA-rated at 21 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, the Avalon Hybrid hits a big 40 mpg in both the city and highway tests. And the hybrid drivetrain can be matched to any Avalon trim level except the base XLE.

Caviar Dreams
Yes, the outside of the Avalon is going to attract a new generation of buyers, but it's the inside that's going to have them taking out reverse mortgages and telling their kids to settle for affordable, third-tier colleges. Thanks to the use of multidimensional panel designs somewhat like the Camry, the 2013 Toyota Avalon's interior is simply great.

Slouch into the driver's flat front bucket seat and what faces you are two electroluminescent dials floating up under their own veranda. Chrome wings spear off from the instrumentation and contain air vents. Just below is a black panel that seems to float over the center of the dash and which contains the sound system and HVAC controls. Beneath that is a center console containing the shifter and oversize cupholders.

Even in the plain XLE, the Avalon's cockpit is gorgeously detailed, roomy and shockingly comfortable. The rear seat even has some shape to it that should keep it comfortable over long cruises. This is a clear move up from the old Avalon and a move up in general for Toyota. Surprisingly, the Avalon has abandoned its use of matte finish for the fake wood trim and gone back to a glossy finish for the fake wood accents on the dash. "It's more dazzling," the Avalon's chief engineer explained to us. "And dazzling is good."

Champagne and Caviar Drive
If you drive the new Avalon out the back of a C-130 cargo plane flying at 10,000 feet, we can promise you that you'll have the most serene 90 seconds or so of your life before you smash into the ground. The new Avalon is so comfortable that it's almost as if you're still in freefall after driving out of the Hercules. This is a car that can drain the excitement out of almost any situation. (Get into your 50s and this sort of thing starts to sound pretty good.)

With the V6 doing business under the hood, the 2013 Toyota Avalon is confident and poised, with its wheels broadly apart on the pavement. There's weight in the nose and you can feel it leading you down the highway. This isn't a car that goes out hunting corners; it's the car driven by the guy who hires other guys to hunt for him. The transmission changes gears so smoothly that the machinery might well be lubricated with ambrosia, and there's enough acoustic insulation to effectively hush any tire noise.

There's not a lot of communication from the steering, but what it's not telling you is stuff the Avalon driver doesn't want to know anyway. The ride is soft but controlled, while the nose dips only slightly when you get on the brakes.

Except for a slight whine from the regenerative braking system, the Avalon Hybrid drives fully as confidently as the conventional V6 version. That's not a surprise. After all, every part in the package has been well proven in the Camry Hybrid.

Single-Malt Prices
Prices for the 2013 Toyota Avalon start at $31,750 for the XLE including a $760 destination charge. Adding a moonroof, back-up camera, garage door opener and smart key system turns that car into a $33,955 XLE Premium. Throw in a nav system, blind spot monitor and 18-inch wheels and suddenly it's a $36,260 XLE Touring. At the top of the line is the $40,410 Limited which includes HID headlights, a color HVAC system monitor and practically everything else imaginable.

There is also a fifth model available that's aimed at the livery trade. It's based on the XLE but includes features like rear-seat climate controls. Apparently Toyota is taking aim at the market left open by the demise of the Lincoln Town Car. No word yet on whether to expect another Avalon optimized for conversion into stretched limousines, hearses and flower cars.

The 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium starts at $36,315 ($2,360 more than the V6), while the line tops out at $42,160 for the Limited (a $1,750 bump up from the V6). This seems to represent a reasonable premium to pay for a hybrid system at a time when gas prices are stuck above $4 per gallon.

By the time you're in your 50s you ought to know what kind of person you are. And not everyone that age needs a Mercedes AMG blitzwagen or BMW M car. Some of us want to drive something different. Unpretentious but elegant. Comfortable, but not showy. Reliable, but not generic.

The 2013 Toyota Avalon is for those of us who can admit our maturity and want to grow really, really old in style.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2013 Toyota Avalon in VA is:

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