The Camry is Toyota's heavy hitter in the intermediate sedan market, but there has been a shy sister lurking in the shadows for decades. Now, however, it's time for its coming-out party.
The 2013 Avalon has been given a total makeover and is ready to dance in the spotlight.
Previous generations of the Avalon have been given little promotion by Toyota marketers, but with this all-new fourth-generation iteration, this premium sedan is being touted as the flagship for the brand -- and the world is going to hear about it.
For starters, the new Avalon has taken on a more athletic feel in a bid to make it more appealing to younger buyers. Traditionally, the few hundred Canadian buyers of Avalons each year have been in the senior category, with an average age of 60-plus. It's a situation very similar to General Motors' Buick division, where its market pool has been aging beyond their driving years.
So, like Buick, a move is afoot to make the Avalon more attractive to a younger crowd, hopefully knocking 10 years or so off the average age of buyers. To achieve that goal, Toyota designers have strived to give the new Avalon more athleticism while still retaining the elegant feel that sets it apart from its Camry sibling.
This new iteration still shares links with the mainstream model. Its platform and suspension bits are identical and its sole engine package -- a 3.5-litre V6 -- is also shared with the Camry. The wheelbase, however, has been stretched 45 millimetres -- a move that helps improve the ride -- while the overhangs have been trimmed noticeably compared with the current model: The front is 15 mm shorter while the rear has been tucked back 45 mm.
The roofline has been lowered 25 mm, creating a dramatic profile, enhanced by the C-pillar, which has been moved rearward significantly. The overall look in the rear quarter has hints of a Jaguar sedan.
Up front, the nose has a new look, with a floating lower grille opening that sharply resembles the new Ford Fusion. Above, there's a smaller opening with a chrome bar that stretches across the front, tying together the dramatically restyled square projector headlamps.
The rear end, too, has dramatic features, including large LED taillights and twin chromed exhaust tips peeking out below the sculptured lower fascia. A strong character line stretches along the side of the car from front to rear, drawing the design together.
Designer Benjamin Jimenez, who was born in Hamilton, Ont., says the new look of the Avalon is a dramatic shift from Toyota's traditional conservative styling and reflects future design trends for the entire lineup.
"We have been somewhat reserved in our styling in the past," says Jimenez, who is the project design manager at Toyota's Calty design studio in Ann Arbor, Mich. "There are some things we haven't done that well, such as headlight treatments, for example. We know we can do better and we've worked very hard to do that with this new Avalon."
In fact, this is the first car designed entirely in North America, specifically for North American needs. The Avalon's design is a collaborative effort, with initiawl work done in the Calty studio in California, with final work and preparation for production handled by Jimenez's team in Ann Arbor.
In addition to the low, lean, sculptured look of the exterior, the Avalon's interior has taken on a fresh, upscale tone. The wide, sweeping instrument panel of the previous model has been replaced by a twin-cockpit look, dominated by a large panel that seems to float in the centre of the dash. Much attention has been given to details, including stitching on the IP cover and seats.
The flat-finished faux wood accents of the current model have been replaced by highly polished pieces, albeit still not the real thing. Capacitive switches have replaced buttons and knobs, with particular attention to their placement and sensitivity to avoid the unintentional activation that seems to plague similar systems in some competitive models. All the materials have a premium look and feel.
Driving the new Avalon demonstrated that the efforts to give it a more athletic feel without compromising the comfort and sophistication associated with the nameplate have been successful.
On the open road, it cruised along serenely, with only the slightest hint of road noise intruding from even the roughest surfaces. While its handling will never been mistaken for that of a European sport sedan, the Avalon's road manners were more than polite. It tackled corners without a fuss, exhibiting minimal body roll, while the steering was precise and provided a fair bit of feedback.
The engine's 268 horses delivered sufficient power to meet most drivers' needs, with enough boost in reserve to make passes with confidence.
Fuel consumption is rated at 9.9 litres per 100 kilometres in city driving and 6.4 on the highway.
The 2013 Avalon will be offered in three trim levels. The base XLE will start at $36,800, which is an 11-per-cent price reduction compared with the current model, yet it includes such standard features as navigation, backup camera and heated front seats.
The Limited model, which is expected to be the volume leader, starts at $38.900, while the top-of-the-line Premium package lists at $41,850.
The Avalon will arrive in dealers' showrooms in mid-December.
-- Postmedia News