2013 Toyota Avalon

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — We give Toyota designers a standing ovation for their work with the 2013 Toyota Avalon, which turned a predominately senior citizen's entry-level-luxury sedan into a vehicle that should appeal to a wider — and younger — audience. Toyota officials say this is their new design direction for the entire fleet.

“The 2013 Avalon showcases Toyota car building prowess and infuses the Avalon nameplate with new levels of excitement, dynamic capability, and refinement,” said Rick LoFaso, corporate car marketing manager for Toyota.

“The point of the new Avalon is to show the market that ‘Toyota is Back.’ It will lead the charge for great styling, great handling performance, and the highest and best level of tech- nologies” said Randy Stephens, chief engineer of Avalon.

The exterior design in on target.

The in thing these days seems to be the wide-mouth grille, which is used throughout the industry in numerous sizes and configurations. And the 2013 Avalon sports an intriguing interpretation under the new signature chrome bar with the Toyota emblem hanging from it. Narrow headlight lenses give the new sedan a more aggressive look and the nicely sculpted sides and the pulled-in-tight rear end give the newest Toyota an overall modern persona.

Not only did Toyota ring the bell with its sleek exterior treatment, it styled an appealing interior with a modern, useable dashboard layout. Every Avalon gets leather seating and the dashboard, with some first-class stitching, carries the leather theme with some high-quality soft-touch vinyl.

The front wheel drive Avalon still rides atop a 111-inch wheelbase, but overall it's slightly shorter and wider than the current model. A slightly stiffer body and revised suspension settings yield an improved ride and perhaps slightly better handling. After cruising through hill country around San Antonio we concluded that the new Avalon feels much like the old one, but with a bit more road feel — less power boost to the steering wheel — especially in sport mode, which can be dialed in via a button between the seats for those wanting a more athletic feel.

The interior is adorned with high-quality materials and the fit and finish is superb. The color schemes available are attractive, and ambient lighting glows in the night on the Limited model.

Although the Avalon has lost 1.7 inches of rear-seat legroom, we couldn't detect it during a stint in the back seat. Stretch-out room consistent with a true passenger sedan is evident. In fact, Toyota feels so good about interior space, it will offer a special Livery Package for fleets seeking to replace the discontinued Lincoln Town Car.

We had no problem with the performance of the outgoing Avalon, and apparently Toyota felt its customers were of the same opinion, because the 3.5-liter V-6 is carried over with 268 horsepower and a 0-to-60 estimated time in the upper reaches of six seconds.

Some tweaking of the engine and the shedding of a few pounds has resulted in improved gas mileage to the tune of 21 city and 31 highway. The outgoing Avalon was rated at 19/28.

While the car hits the mark, we have a problem with Toyota's feature lineup. To simplify the purchasing decision, Toyota officials say options have been kept to a minimum, and the base XLE model is mono-spec — it comes the way it is, no options available.

This may pose a problem for some people because the bottom two trim levels, XLE and XLE Premium, come relatively well equipped for $30,990 and $33,195, but Toyota scrimped in some rather surprising and inexplicable ways. For instance, satellite-ready radio is not offered for any price on the lower trims. The customer has to move up two trim levels and nearly $5,000 to listen to SiriusXM music. Note to Toyota — every Chevrolet sold comes with a satellite-equipped radio, even the $13,000 models.

Even more outrageous, buyers of the lower trims do not get what we consider the best new safety feature on the market —blind spot monitoring — even as an option. Again, you need to move on up. Ditto for a backup camera, not offered on the $31,000 XLE, but a standard feature on many cars for thousands less.

Those complaints aside, the Avalon leaves the overall impression of a solid, well-built contemporary sedan, certainly not just an upgraded Camry, and a clear step ahead of the outgoing model.

Prices start at $30,990 (not including destination charge) and top out at $39,650.

We think the Avalon will continue to draw as many retirement-age buyers as before, but it should also appeal to a younger segment (which is Toyota's goal) and compete quite nicely with the likes of the Ford Taurus, Hyundai Azera and Chevrolet Impala.

— Jim Meachen