When we drive an all-new version of an existing car, it's sometimes difficult to discern any profound differences between the old car and the new car. This is most definitely not the case with the 2013 Toyota Avalon, which is a wholesale departure from previous generations of the Avalon. The last time I drove an Avalon, in the summer of 2011, I wrote: "From the moment you slide behind the steering wheel of the Avalon, it's obvious that this is a traditional car chasing traditional-sedan buyers. You know, the people who usually buy Buicks. The big Toyota is definitely geared toward older people, and there's nothing wrong with that, since there's a huge population of aging baby boomers and for many of them the Avalon is the ideal car."
At the time, I figured that only people who are eligible to collect Social Security would want to consider it, but now I could imagine a 40-something dad driving an Avalon, enjoying it, and not being embarrassed to be seen in it. After all, it's far better looking inside and out, and it's much better to drive. Credit goes to communicative steering, far stiffer yet compliant suspension tuning, and stronger brakes. A sport mode perks up the throttle, transmission, and suspension responses, and there are even shift paddles on the steering wheel. Clearly, Toyota is hoping to attract buyers for whom a quickened pulse while driving is a good thing, not a symptom of an impending cardiac event.
One thing that carries over from the old car that didn't really need improvement is the 3.5-liter V-6, which was then and continues to be smooth, powerful, and responsive, even as it makes do with a carryover six-speed automatic in an age when eight forward speeds is the new benchmark. That's okay, because it still delivers super-smooth acceleration.
The modern, enticing cabin has excellent ergonomics. The capacitive switches for climate control and the audio system work quite well, far better than Ford's. I enjoyed the comfortable, supportive bucket seats, a huge departure from the wide, flat seats of the last car. Great seat heaters, too, with a spring-loaded dial with multiple temperature settings.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I had a fellow twenty-something New Yorker coming to visit for the weekend and presented him with a few choices on what our chariot would be. "The Avalon looks tres chic," he emailed me in response, a comment he repeated upon sliding into the passenger seat on Friday. The all-new 2013 model is almost certainly the first Avalon to receive a comment like that.
When the 2013 Avalon made its debut at the 2012 New York auto show, I was awestruck at how good it looked. The flagship Toyota sedan promised to usher in a new era of attractive design at a brand that's known for making new cars that are as stylish as an average toaster. The cabin shows that Toyota's engineers have learned from Lexus' missteps in crafting a high-quality and attractive interior that blends of-the-moment-technology (like touch-capacitive buttons and the Entune infotainment system) in a way that is approachable and easy to use.
Toyota carried over the Avalon's old powertrain setup -- a very smart move, as the 3.5-liter V-6 pulls strongly without being too much of a guzzler, and the six-speed automatic is silky smooth. What's gone is the old Avalon's floaty, couch-like ride. While I wouldn't call the 2013 model taut by any means and the steering is on the light side, both attributes are appropriate for the segment. The new Avalon instills confidence in the driver both behind the wheel and with its chic styling on the street. Now the question remains whether Toyota can do the same with its other new models.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor