Toyota de-ages the 2013 Avalon (first drive)

November 5, 2012 4:06 PM PST / Updated: November 7, 2012 2:48 PM PST

2013 Toyota Avalon
Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Toyota's going after a younger demographic with the new Avalon and it shows in the new model's exterior aesthetic and cabin design.

The 2013 Avalon's front end features a massive lower grille that is filled with chrome brightwork and contrasts with the much smaller and thinner upper grille. This ratio gives the Avalon a more aggressive appearance and visually lowers the level of the hood for a more flattened and athletic look. Meanwhile, the greenhouse sweeps nearly back to the lip of the trunklid, furthering the "coupelike" comparison without cutting into the rear-seat headroom too badly. And out back, sharp creases cut forward from the wide, abrupt taillamps.

Entune-powered interior tech
Inside, there's a new interior aesthetic that is very high-tech and high-design. Capacitive controls on the floating center stack, which pushes the audio and climate controls into easy reach from the steering wheel, lend a futuristic look and surprisingly do not suck. (I'm usually not a fan of capacitive buttons on car dashboards.) Brushed metal knobs for volume and tuning help the look, flanking the 7-inch display of the premium Entune infotainment system.

We've seen Entune and its various forms in the Camry, so we already know what to expect here. The Entune system comes in two trims, one that uses onboard premium navigation, another that relies on Entune's Bing navigation app for turn-by-turn directions. Both connect to the Internet using your connected smartphone's data plan and feature an array of onboard apps for MovieTickets.com, Pandora Radio, OpenTable, iHeartRadio, and Bing, each with an interface that's been optimized for use in the car. Additionally, the SiriusXM Satellite Radio connection provides weather, traffic, stocks, and sports scores.

At the base level, drivers step down to a display audio system that uses a smaller 6.1-inch touch screen and loses Entune functionality, but still offers a range of audio sources including the standard USB/iPod connectivity, analog audio input, and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.

The climate controls on the top trim levels are visualized on a slim, full-color LCD. Lower trim levels also use a display, but step down to a monochromatic LCD readout. Automatic climate control with multiple zones (two or three depending on options chosen) is the way to go, but fan speed can also be manually controlled with a capacitive slider.

2013 Toyota Avalon
The 2013 Avalon's dashboard features capacitive controls flanking a large touch screen. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The Avalon is also available with a few different audio rigs. At the top is an 11-speaker JBL Synthesis system that uses an external amplifier and a pair of powered subwoofers. This system sounded pretty good during my road testing, but I noticed a rattling coming from the door panels in our test car. I'm not sure if that's a problem limited to my specific vehicle or if it's a preproduction issue that that will be fixed in the production car before launch.

Other audio systems include a nine-speaker setup for the lower of the two Entune systems and an eight-speaker rig for the basic display audio system.

Performance and power train
A peek into the engine bay of 2013 Avalon models will reveal the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine that lives in the Toyota Camry's engine bay. Output is rated at 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque.

Avalon drivers looking to improve on the V-6 engine's EPA-estimated 25 combined mpg can opt for one of the 2.5-liter Hybrid Synergy Drive models that averages an EPA-estimated 40 mpg combined.

2013 Toyota Avalon
The Avalon Hybrid hides its NiMH battery behind a panel in the trunk, losing its storage pass-through in the process. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Both engines mate to a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode and put power to front wheels only. Toyota stated that there would not be an AWD model available due to the constraints of the platform. Personally, I don't think the Avalon needs it.

The Avalon features three drive modes, Sport, Normal, and Eco, which adjust the throttle response and shift program to give the driver the requested blend of performance and economy. Hybrid models feature a fourth EV mode that attempts to use only battery-electric power for low-speed cruising at neighborhood or parking-lot speeds of up to 20 mph. Upper Touring and Limited trim levels of the V-6 powered Avalon add paddle shifters to the steering wheel, continuing the sporty theme of the exterior.

While it's not too much of a stretch to call the 2013 Avalon's appearance "sporty," I hesitate to apply the same term to the car's performance. Sure, this Avalon's handling is predictable and its engine feels potent, this is still a comfortable ride first and foremost. The steering is light and comfortable; the suspension soaks up the bumps, but thankfully feels far from being boatlike; and the cabin is quite quiet. (However, it's not the same level of tomblike silence that you'd get from stepping up to, for example, the much more expensive Lexus LS.)

2013 Toyota Avalon
I enjoyed piloting the Avalon around a curvy back road, but I hesitate to call it "sporty." Antuan Goodwin/CNET

This is the sort of inoffensive, unobtrusive ride that is the hallmark of a modern Toyota sedan. Enthusiasts won't get excited about it, but it's exactly what I'd be looking for in a large premium sedan were I in the market for one.

Safety tech
The Avalon can also be equipped with quite a bit of driver aid and safety tech. For example, the Adaptive Cruise Control system can slow the vehicle to maintain a safe driving distance behind a lead car, resuming the set cruising speed when the road clears up. The same forward radar array is used in the collision mitigation system, which can alert an inattentive driver to an imminent collision and even apply the brakes and pre-tense the seatbelts to minimize damage to the driver and vehicle if the alert is ignored.

Nighttime driving is augmented by an Active High Beams system that automatically dims the high-beam headlamps when another vehicle is recognized by the system's camera to avoid dazzling your fellow drivers. Toyota hopes this system will make drivers more likely to actually use the high beams, which can more than double their visual range at night and improve their reaction time to road hazards.

Watching the other end of the vehicle is a Blind Spot Monitoring system that works at highway speeds and a Cross Traffic Alert system that notifies the driver of vehicles approaching from the side when reversing out of a parking spot. There's also a rearview camera that gives the driver visual feedback when reversing.

In sum
The 2013 Toyota Avalon will start at $30,990 for the base XLE V-6 model with the entry-point display audio tech package when it pulls into dealerships later this year. Stepping up to the $33,195 XLE Premium model gets you smart keyless entry and start, a power moon roof, and the rearview camera. $35,500 for the XLE Touring model adds Entune, premium leather, Blind Spot Monitoring with Cross Traffic Alert, fog lights, paddle shifters, and larger 18-inch wheels.

At the top is the Avalon Limited which, for $39,650, gets HID headlamps with LED daytime-running lamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, three-zone climate controls, the 7-inch premium Entune setup, and even more leather trim on the interior and seats. All Avalon models feature heated front seats, but all four of the Limited's seating positions can be warmed and its front buckets are also ventilated (cooled). The automatic highbeams, adaptive cruise control, and pre-collision system aren't standard, but are optional at the Limited trim level.

2013 Toyota Avalon
Externally, the Avalon models only really vary in wheel size. Extra money for upper trim levels is spent mostly in the cabin. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The Avalon Hybrid follows roughly the same trim-level structure, starting with the Hybrid XLE Premium for $35,555 (there is no base model) and moving up to the Hybrid XLE Touring for $37,250 before maxing out with the Hybrid Limited for $41,400 before options. That places the Hybrid at a $1,750-to-$2,360 premium over the V-6 model, depending on the trim level. When you consider the 15-mpg advantage that the extra dough nets you, I'd say it's worth considering.

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2013 Toyota Avalon

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About The Author

Antuan Goodwin gained most of his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and performance to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable. Email Antuan, follow him on Twitter, or like him on Facebook. Antuan