YOUNTVILLE, CA – The Toyota Avalon has been viewed as a car for folks who don’t really care about cars.

The fullsize sedan’s popularity with the older generation cemented its unfashionable status, as did its ho-hum 3-box appearance and floaty ride and handling.

But a big change has been made for the ’13 Avalon, on sale now at U.S. Toyota dealers.

Thanks to its U.S.-based design and engineering staff, the auto maker has transformed the Avalon into a vehicle that most would be proud to park in their driveways, including the younger set.

Borrowing a page from Mercedes’ CLS and Volkswagen’s CC, the new Avalon wears a fastback coupe look, making the large sedan appear less stodgy, more sexy.

For its fourth generation, the Avalon moves from a dedicated platform to the midsize Camry architecture.

Ride and handling is improved, and an incredible leap in interior design and materials quality more than makes up for the loss in rear-seat room.

While the ’13 Avalon retains the same wheelbase as the ’12 model, the car now is 2.4 ins. (6.1 cm) shorter than before and 0.6 ins. (1.5 cm) narrower. Vehicle height is lowered by 1 in. (2.5 cm). As a result, some interior dimensions have shrunk.

The 1.7-in. (4.3-cm) loss of rear-seat legroom appears bigger than it is, but the backseat still is plenty comfortable for an above-average-height female. (Toyota isn’t sweating the loss of space too much, as it plans to market the ’13 Avalon for use as a chauffeur-driven vehicle.)

Front- and rear-seat passengers sit closer together in the ’13 model, but the loss of shoulder room isn’t terribly noticeable.

Toyota, acknowledging its interiors are falling shy of competitors’, invested heavily in the  Avalon’s cabin. It pays off big, resulting in the Toyota brand’s most enticing interior yet.

The materials are of high quality and attractive, including the circular-knit headliner fabric that also covers the pillars; judiciously applied “smoke” chrome trim; mirrored knobs; brushed hard plastic; and a soft-touch instrument panel with real stitching.

The color schemes also are attractive. Taking a page from the Germans, the instrument panel is largely black while seats and door panels come in black, light grey or a new almond shade, a smidgen more tan than the ivory color it replaces.

Luxury appointments include capacitive switches, which function accurately in our tests with a simple touch; front- and rear-heated seats and ventilated front seats in Limited grades; and an optional 11-speaker JBL audio system mated to Toyota’s Entune infotainment package, which includes Pandora and Bing apps and weather and stock-price data.

Points of contention in the Avalon’s interior include no bottle/can holders on door pockets, an unadjustable middle-seat head restraint and cramped headroom for outboard rear passengers.

For ’13, Toyota carries over the ’12 Avalon’s 3.5L V-6 that also powers the current Camry.

Making 268 hp and 248 lb.-ft. (336 Nm) of torque, the mill gets the job done but, as is the case with most Toyota engines, favors quiet competency over a sparkling personality. On paper, it falls shy of the competition, including the’12 Hyundai Azera’s 293-hp 3.3L DI V-6.

New for the Avalon is the addition of a 200-hp hybrid model, which uses the Camry Hybrid’s 156-hp 2.5L DOHC 4-cyl. engine mated to two 105-kW (141-hp) electric motors – with one acting as a motor and the other a generator, per the Toyota way – and a 244.8V nickel-metal hydride battery pack.

Fuel economy is seen at an average 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km) in hybrid Avalons.

Combined V-6 fuel economy is estimated at 24 or 25 mpg (9.8 or 9.4 L/100 km), depending on tire size, up from 23 mpg (10.2 L/100 km) in ’12.

Driving an XLE grade of the new Avalon Hybrid around California wine country in the fall at 40-50 mph (64-80 km/h) results in 40.9 mpg (5.8 L/100 km).

Avalon Hybrid Limited-grade real-world fuel economy is on par with the XLE grade on a shorter jaunt, which includes spirited mountain-road driving before encountering stop-and-go traffic on a state highway.

WardsAuto’s final test, of a V-6 Avalon Limited, returns 23.3 mpg (10.1 L/100 km), just shy of the estimated EPA average.

That car comes equipped with Toyota’s optional Dynamic Radar Cruise Control technology, which maintains a pre-set distance between vehicles.

It’s easy to see how the days of a self-driving car are around the corner, as DRCC performs almost perfectly, slowing our V-6 tester even from a great distance. Vision on curves continues to be an issue, as our car speeds up when losing sight of the car ahead.

The ’13 Avalon’s suspension is taut but forgiving. Toyota still uses MacPherson struts in the front and rear but now employs inversely wound front coil springs for better straight-line stability and a sportier feel. Rear-suspension geometry is revised as well for better stability; the No.1 control arm gets a pillow-ball joint for improved agility.

Simply put, the Avalon transmits some road imperfections and doesn’t lull passengers to sleep as did the ’12 comfort cruiser. This injection of personality should help Toyota achieve its goal of lowering the average buyer’s age by 10 years, to roughly 55.

The Avalon’s steering is one rare area where the car feels less sporty than the ’12 model.

Hydraulic steering switches to electric power steering for ’13. It generates fuel savings of 3%-5%, but Toyota engineers need to dial in a heavier feel, especially in the too-light Sport driving mode, to match the ’13 Avalon’s overall athletic character.

Toyota projects annual sales of the Avalon to more than double, to 70,000 units, split 80-20 V-6/hybrid, thanks to the introduction of the new model.

The auto maker sold 24,385 current-generation Avalons through November, WardsAuto data shows.

While the new Avalon does much to advance the case for fullsize sedans, as does Hyundai’s new Azera, it’s a fact the segment continues to shrink from its glory days. That, combined with the luxury-like prices of such models and increasing quality of midsize sedans, casts some doubt on volume expectations for big 4-doors.

But with the combination of its well-done new interior, energetic ride and handling and many creature comforts, the Avalon is a wise choice for those still desiring such a vehicle.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com

 

'13 Toyota Avalon Limited
Vehicle type 4-door front-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan
Engine 3.5L DOHC V-6, aluminum block heads
Power (SAE net) 268 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque 248 lb.-ft. (336 Nm) @ 4,700 rpm
Bore x stroke (mm) 94 x 83
Compression ratio 10.8:1
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase 111.0 ins. (282 cm)
Overall length 195.4 ins. (496 cm)
Overall width 72.3 ins. (184 cm)
Overall height 57.5 ins. (146 cm)
Curb weight 3,535 lbs. (1,603 kg)
Base price $30,990 ($39,650 as tested, not including $795 destination)
Fuel economy 21/31 mpg (11.2-7.6 L/100 km) city/highway
Competition Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera, Nissan Maxima, Chrysler 300
Pros Cons
Well-done interior More cramped than before
Energetic ride and handling Steering too light
Near-luxury features Near-luxury price