ANN ARBOR, MI: Toyota’s chief executive Akio Toyoda has said he wants his firm to build vehicles that stir peoples’ emotions.
Since that pronouncement, the first new Toyota model that might actually create an emotional attachment is an unlikely one—the mid-size 2013 Avalon sedan.
I say unlikely because the Avalon has been a niche car for Toyota for many years. Sales have been so small in Canada that many people don’t even know it exists and the last generation, although a very good car, was bland and uninspiring.
But the Avalon won’t languish in obscurity for much longer as Toyota Canada says it is putting its full advertising and promotional support behind the new Avalon just like it does with Camrys and Corollas and the like. The Avalon is seen as symbolizing Toyota’s new design and product direction.
As Toyota’s flagship sedan, the Avalon has an exciting new look on the outside and a refined, upscale interior. Toyota executives call it the most North American Toyota ever as everything from the design concept to the production has been done on this side of the pond.
The styling came from Toyota’s Calty Design studios in Newport Beach, CA, and Ann Arbor, MI, while the car is assembled in Georgetown, Kentucky at the same plant where the Camry is also produced.
The goal of the new design is to appeal to a broader customer base, certainly a younger one than the previous generations whose buyers have been predominantly old age pension recipients.
While the new Avalon has a much more upscale and modern look than the outgoing model; the starting price has been reduced by 11 per cent to $36,800.
Toyota has modest sales goals for the Avalon, although they say the plan to sell 1,400 units in the first year might be a conservative estimate and more product can be delivered as needed.
First and foremost, the more sculpted, athletic-looking exterior of the new Avalon might be the first Toyota sedan in many years to actually turn heads like the Venza does on the CUV side. With a drag coefficient of 0.28, the Avalon is sleek, and, dare I say, even sexy—a dramatic styling change from the outgoing Avalon.
The flowing roofline has been lowered 25 mm, the front overhang is 15 mm shorter and the rear overhang has been reduced by 45 mm, yet amazingly the interior space and cargo capacity have not been compromised.
Looking at the silhouette of the car from the side, one would think rear seat headroom would be a problem with the steep rake of the C pillar, but that is not the case at all. Even for a six-footer like myself, there is plenty of head and legroom in back.
The head of the interior design team was a transplanted Canadian, Benjamin Jimenez, born in Hamilton, Ont. Jimenez and his team deserve kudos for their job of transforming the interior into an elegant, inviting, comfortable space.
The dashboard is covered in hand-stitched premium soft-touch material and is especially attractive with the use of three contrasting colours.
Technology doesn’t get the short shrift in the Avalon, yet unlike some other cars on the market where you need an engineering degree to operate the electronics, here the controls are simple and easy to use.
One neat feature is the capacitive touch switches on the HVAC display panel and some multimedia controls. This will be familiar to smartphone or tablet owners as you don’t actually have to touch the switches, just pass close to them with your fingers.
The controls can even be operated if you’re wearing gloves in the winter, Toyota says.
The Avalon is offered with only one engine choice, a 3.5-litre DOHC Dual VVT-I (Dual Variable Valve Timing, with intelligence) V6 engine that also powers the Lexus ES 350. It produces 268 hp and 248 lb/ft of torque.
The six-speed hydraulic automatic transmission has been optimized for improved fuel economy without sacrificing performance. Steering wheel mounted paddle shifters are standard for those who prefer to use manual shifting on occasion.
Although this isn’t a high performance sports sedan, you can have some fun with it by punching up the Sport Mode button—one of three drive mode settings along with Normal and Eco.
The Eco mode, as the name implies, prioritizes fuel efficiency by limiting acceleration response, while Sport provides a more engaging driving experience by adjusting throttle response and enhancing the electric power steering effort. The Normal mode basically performs half way in the middle.
A stiffened suspension does wonders for the ride and handling of the Avalon. More high-strength steel has also been used to add to the body rigidity.
Punch the Sport button, though, and you have a car that offers a touch of performance to go along with the luxury and accoutrements that come with it.
During our ride and drive, I found the cabin to be extremely comfortable and quiet. Lots of noise deadening material has been used and the results are nothing but positive.
Although the price has been adjusted downward, don’t think that Toyota has skimped on the standard content. Features such as navigation system, paddle shifters, drive modes, back-up camera and passenger knee and rear seat side airbags are standard fare.
Prices start at $36,800 for the Avalon XLE trim that was priced at $41,195 in 2012.
The Limited model adds features like heated and cooled premium leather front seats, Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert system, LED daytime running lights and unique interior illumination system. This is priced at $38,900.
Top-of-the-line is the Avalon Premium at $41,850 and it has all the Limited features plus heated rear seats, rear sunshade, pre-collision system, an adaptive radar-based cruise control and premium JBL audio system.
This is the fourth generation of the Avalon and a huge step forward over the outgoing model. With the price reduced, the content increased and styling dialed up considerably, this upgraded premium sedan is set to make a bigger splash than ever before.
The 2013 Avalon will be at dealers in mid-December.
Toyota Avalon 2013
Body Style: four-door, mid-size premium sedan.
Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel drive.
Engine: 3.5-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 engine (268 hp, 248 lb/ft of torque).
Cargo Capacity: 453 litres.
Fuel Economy: 9.9/6.4/8.3 L/100 km city/highway/combined.
Price: XLE $36,800, Limited $38,900, Premium $41,850.