New Toyota Avalon Hybrid Speaks to a More Youthful Crowd

The challenge ahead was clear when Toyota set out to design the all-new 2013 Avalon: With the median Avalon buyer’s age about 64 and a goal of drawing a much younger crowd from the 35 to 50 age group, it needed to come up with an elegant, well-sculpted, and sportier model that would attract this younger crowd while retaining the model’s traditional buyers.

Toyota’s competitors have been making more vehicles with a quiet, comfortable, and yet somewhat sporty driving feel. The Volkswagen Passat and new Ford Fusion are good examples of this trend. That said, given its class, the Avalon’s primary competition is likely the Chrysler 300, Hyundai Azera, Buick LaCrosse, and Ford Taurus. The new Avalon stacks up well against these.

Designers have done a good job of making the new Avalon more attractive, more aggressive, and yet still elegant while also lending that feeling of being ‘cool.’ The c-pillar is pushed back toward the rear, the roofline is flattened, and the overall design looks leaner and more modern compared with the previous generation. It is part Lexus ES and part Camry, with its own flair. Aggressive lines like a larger front intake and body panels with sharp creases – one running from the front wheel arch and above the door handles to the tail lights – reinforce the Avalon’s new styling direction.

The 2013 Avalon boasts a lower 0.28 drag coefficient through the use of flat under-body panels, more aerodynamic wipers and side mirrors, and other measures. At 3,461 pounds, the new iteration is 120 pounds lighter than the version it replaces and about 500 pounds lighter than its Detroit rivals, making it the lightest weight vehicle in its segment. Even so, the lighter weight Avalon is even more Lexus-quiet on the road than its predecessor.

The new Avalon is available with the latest version of Toyota’s 200 horsepower Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain and its quick 268 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The hybrid drive is derived from the existing HSD powerplant found in the Camry and Lexus hybrid models, which uses a 2.5-liter Atkinson cycle, four-cylinder engine with an electronic constantly variable transmission (CVT). Power is supplied by a nickel-metal-hydride battery.

We found both the hybrid and V-6 Avalon variants to be responsive during drives on the back roads of Northern California, although the hybrid whined loudly in protest at times on uphill jaunts and during aggressive throttle inputs, with the usual rubber-band CVT effect exhibited during sporty driving. That said, given the Avalon’s size and weight the hybrid was enjoyable in almost all driving conditions, plus we managed a real-life 41.3 mpg on a 20 mile suburban driving route. Both variants do fine driving in Normal mode, but selecting Sport mode provides better throttle tip-in and lends a more buttoned-down feel overall.

From multi-position lumbar support to double sealed glass, capacitive touch buttons, aggressively modernized dash, comfortable rear seat, and roomy trunk, the new Avalon really has a ton going on in comfort, modern technology, and true ease-of-use. Seats are leather across the board, with nicer perforated leather coming with the Limited trim level. Lumbar adjustment really is notable and we were able to find a few good setting that would comfortably accommodate a 6 foot, five inch frame for long trips.

We found the Avalon’s uplevel JBL GreenEdge sound system to be excellent, with the model’s standard audio system also providing very satisfying sound quality. The instrument panel’s capacitive buttons have ‘hockey stick’ indentations so they’re easy to use at just a glance. We also found it straightforward to manipulate settings in the Entune menus, find and use music apps, and also use the navigation screen. There’s been a genuine effort made to make the system easy to learn and use for those unaccustomed to such nifty technology.

Did Toyota get it right with its all-new Avalon? We feel the answer is ‘yes,’ though the focus feels more skewed toward luxury than the sportiness Toyota talks about. Really, that’s what the Avalon should be about – luxury all the time with a sporty nature when you need it. The previous generation Avalon, while extremely comfortable, reliable, and smooth, really lacked in driving dynamics.

Frankly, the previous model was also a bit boring with the feel of a big soft couch. The new Avalon is more like a favored Scandinavian-designed, birch wood accented, orthopedically-correct recliner. In short, it’s a huge step toward bringing an exciting, elegant, and appealing luxury sedan to a younger crowd.