Saturday June 1, 2013

BENNINGTON -- Toyota’s flagship full-size sedan received a redesign for 2013 as sharp as King Arthur’s Excalibur.

A touch firmer suspension makes the big tourer no slouch to drive, either. Steering is quick and, while not racy, there’s no worry of falling asleep behind the wheel for a too-dull ride.

Differentiating the big Avalon from the mid-size Camry (which Toyota sells some 10-times as many, making it America’s top-selling vehicle most years) is appreciably more room for rear passengers and a little more space in the trunk. The Avalon is also stuffed with luxury appointments, making it a suitable match cross-shopping up-market marquees like Lexus.

Inside and out, the 2013 Toyota Avalon sheds yesterday’s dowdy image conjured by descriptors like "full-size," "luxury," and "competition for Buick." In its fourth iteration, the Avalon’s newly sculpted lines pull a magic trick with an outward appearance of less mass.

But it’s not magic: The redesign is marginally smaller than the outgoing 2012 in width and height, the latter definitely contributing to a sleeker image. (This hasn’t impacted interior room, which is up.) Depending on options, the 2013 also weighs about 100 pounds less than last year’s model, helping to eke out fuel economy in the standard 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6.


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(There’s a hybrid gasoline-electric version available using Toyota’s latest Hybrid Synergy Drive power train cribbed from the Camry Hybrid.)

Carried over from last year, the smooth as-tested V6 feels an appropriate match to the chassis and ostensibly returns good mileage with a light right foot. The on-board computer on my trip was reading optimistically in the upper ranges of or exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates of 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. The hybrid meanwhile is rated at 40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway -- and a small price difference means you may want to give it a try.

The sweeping chrome exterior cues carry over to the matching carved interior, where nearly everything is chrome-trimmed and leather-clad. A looker on the outside, the inside cabin is the real standout point in the Avalon given its quality materials, layout, and construction. It’s quiet and exudes comfort at every turn, with leather seats and a vinyl dashboard detailed enough to resemble real hide.

The test vehicle -- a top-of-the-line Limited -- had three-zone climate control, a 10-way power driver’s seat and eight-way power passenger’s seat, and multimedia navigation system with Toyota Entune (allowing you access to the internet and smartphone applications, weather, traffic, and navigation via the 7-inch touchscreen display).

Is my seat moving?

The driver’s seat inches backward when you shut the vehicle off for easy egress.

In the name of safety there’s a backup camera, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. (The latter system lets you know about oncoming vehicles in situations like backing out of a spot in a parking lot.)

Controls along the center dash are "tap touch technology" instead of buttons. Considering you’re apt to brush them with your finger and adjust settings by mistake, I question whether this is a feature, but either way -- it’s cool.

Speaking of cool, have we mentioned heated seats all around for the colder months and ventilated front seats for the hot summer months? Yes, your posterior never has to be outside its normal comfort range riding in the Avalon.

The Avalon in XLE trim begins with a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of $30,990. The Limited starts at $39,650, while as-optioned mine arrived at $41,218, not including delivery.

As tested in Magnetic Gray Metallic, the 2013 Avalon looks like a shark. A big, smooth shark with a gaping maw ready for attack.

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