EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 16, 2013

Toyota Avalon steps up to new luxury

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — We already know that Toyota can build a top-level luxury car. Toyota makes and markets Lexus cars, the prestige brand that recently reigned as the most coveted luxury line in America.

Meanwhile, the company’s main, Toyota brand embeds itself deeply into every far-roaming nook of the mainstream auto market. Standing on a reputation for sturdy, faithful and long-lasting vehicles, Toyota sells pickups and SUVs, wagons, sedans, small cars, passenger vans, sports cars and a whole family of fuel-saving hybrids.

In the new, 2013 Toyota Avalon, the car maker unites its two identities in a single vehicle. The new Avalon is undeniably luxurious, with a posh interior, pampering road manners, a rich supply of equipment, and a luminous, stand-out appearance. But Avalon isn’t a Lexus. The large, five-passenger, front-drive sedan is sold by Toyota dealers alongside mass-appeal models like the economical and practical Toyota Corolla, the best-selling Toyota Camry, and the brawny Toyota Tundra pickup truck.

This year’s Avalon is a redesigned and re-engineered, next-generation version of Toyota’s largest sedan. The new model was launched in the fall. It is such a stunning departure from the prior Avalon that public awareness is still catching up with the car, stated Emmett Horgan, owner of Rockingham Toyota Scion Honda in Salem, N.H. It’s almost like the 2013 Toyota Avalon is a totally new arrival on the auto scene, without a predecessor to place it in public consciousness.

“The awareness level is rising, but right now there’s still a lot of people almost bumping into the car,” without prior knowledge of it, said Horgan.

The new model’s bold and distinctive exterior makes it easy to notice. In press material describing the 2013 Avalon, Toyota writes that designers strove “to communicate a greater sense of performance and agility.” The model is lower, trimmer and more streamlined than its predecessor, sculpted into an athletic posture that a wide, forward-striving grille and prominent side creases enhance. At the same time, the car’s stretched silhouette, aided by a long, gracefully flowing roofline, creates an unmistakable aura of ease and luxury.

That sense is reinforced inside the Avalon. The cabin is artfully styled, with features like an expansive dashboard trimmed with high-grade, hand-stitched materials, inset with shaped and polished wood panels and accented by bright silver beads surrounding instruments, controls and storage openings. The new Avalon comes with leather upholstery and heated front seats, 10 airbags, remote locking and push-button start, and two-zone automatic climate adjustment with a user-friendly control system Toyota calls IntelliTouch (which also controls the eight-speaker, multi-mode entertainment and communication system)

“When people sit down in the car and look around the cockpit, they see the quality and the high-end, Lexus-type luxury,” said Horgan. “They’re definitely impressed.”

During a test drive, they feel impressed again by the model’s commanding, yet sedate and settled road manners, the dealer stated. Toyota emphasizes that the new Avalon is tuned for precise and responsive control, with an athletic edge that makes the model more engaging. Horgan noted that the aspect of the ride people appear to notice most is the comfort.

“People comment on how smooth and quiet the car is,” he said.

The government classification system – which groups cars according to their cabin volume – ranks the Avalon as a mid-size car, same as the Toyota Camry. But the model’s body dimensions and its airy, open interior give it a large-car character. Therefore the Avalon traditionally attracted large-car fans, which includes a lot of mature drivers.

The remade Avalon retains that big and roomy appeal, but it adds so much splash, dazzle and style that the car’s new character is expanding the model’s appeal beyond its traditional stronghold, said Horgan.

“We’re seeing more buyers now who are younger,” he stated.

A standard Avalon uses a 268-horsepower V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission that enable the car to keep its place in traffic with unfluttered ease, whether at freeway speeds, passing on a two-lane road, or launching from a stop light.

For the first time, Avalon is also available with hybrid drive, combining gasoline and electric power to optimize fuel conservation. The Avalon Hybrid starts at a list price of $36,360, about $2,360 more than gasoline-powered version with the same features and amenities. The big pay back comes from Avalon Hybrid’s fuel economy. It’s combined, city/highway fuel-use rating is 40 miles per gallon, compared to 25 mpg for a gasoline-fueled Avalon.

Horgan explained that the bold and expressive passion displayed in the new Avalon, along with its upgrade in richness and elegance, show the influence of Toyota’s recently appointed top executive in Japan, Akio Toyoda, who is grandson of the company’s founder. Toyoda has pledged to inject higher levels of passion and a new, more dramatic sensibility into Toyota models, while preserving the company’s traditional emphasis on quality and durability.

That new spirit arrives next in the redesigned, next-generation Toyota Corolla, due this fall as a 2014 model. Toyota worked up excitement about the car when it unveiled the new version in California last week.

While the large size and luxury leanings of the Avalon elevate its price and restrict it to a smaller slice of the car market, the Toyota Corolla is a populous mainstream model with a 47-year history. Therefore Horgan expects the updated Corolla to land with greater impact than this year’s Avalon.

But from the look of the Avalon, that impact will be something to see.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2013 Toyota Avalon Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan Price range: $31,785 to $42,195 (plus options) Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/unlimited corrosion warranty; 2 years/25,000 miles free scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance Engine: 3.5-liter V6 Power: 268 horsepower at 6,200 rpm; 248 lb.-ft. torque at 4,700 rpm Transmission: six-speed automatic Fuel economy: 21 mpg city; 31 mpg highway Wheelbase: 111 inches Length: 195 inches Width: 72 inches Height: 58 inches Weight: 3,461 pounds Fuel capacity: 17.0 gallons Turning circle: 37.4 feet