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A review of the 2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Premium: a big plush sedan without luxury pricing

The Toyota Avalon was redesigned for the 2013 model year with a bold, upscale exterior design coupled with a big, plush interior that offers many of the comforts of a large luxury sedan without the high price that comes with a luxury moniker – showing just how far the Avalon has come over the past two decades.

There was a point in time where the Toyota Avalon was little more than a bigger Camry. Mind you, offering what amounts to a bigger version of the bestselling car in America isnt necessarily a bad idea but in terms of product differentiation among the various Toyota models – the Avalon has historically not offered many advantages over the Camry shy of some extra leg room. That is no longer the case as the 2013 Avalon offers a bold exterior design and a plush interior design with features that will easily rival those of far more expensive luxury brands.

My 2013 Toyota Avalon test car was an XLE Premium trimline which is only one step above the base (XLE) model even though the trimline name sounds like it is far from base…possibly because this doesn’t look anything like your average near-base large sedan. From the copious amounts of chrome on the outside, the bevy of high tech features inside and the powerful V6 engine – the Avalon has come a very long way since it was introduced for the US market back in the 1990s.

One of the few “downsides” to the 2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Premium is that there are no option packages and very few ala carte options shy of things like wheel locks, floor mats, a cargo net, a first aid kit and a remote start system but the Avalon XLE Premium is so well equipped for the price that buyers are likely going to quickly forget that they couldn’t add any more features. Including destination, the first aid kit, the carpeted floor mats and a trunk cargo net – my Avalon XLE Premium test car carried a sticker price of $34,293.

The Exterior
In the past, Toyota has been accused of their cars being too “vanilla” but with the 2013 Avalon, the Japanese automaker developed an exterior design that proudly stands out in the US market. This comes at a time when many cars are leaning towards a more aggressive exterior so this new look is exactly what the Avalon needed to compete with the likes of the Ford Taurus or the Nissan Maxima.

Avalon front

Across the front, the most significant feature of the 2013 Avalon is the absolutely massive lower grille opening which is a massive departure from anything that we have seen on the Avalon in the past or any of the other current Toyota cars. The Avalon has traditionally included some design cues from the slightly smaller Camry and while you can still see a touch of similar design in the headlights and the upper grille area – the huge lower grille gives the new Avalon a personality all its own. This huge grille (which is trimmed in chrome) is flanked by two chrome parking light housings (these hold fog lights on the higher end trimlines) while the heavy chrome treatment is continued in the big, angular headlights and through the Camry-like upper grille. Toyota has done a very nice job adding enough chrome to distinguish the Avalon as a more upscale sedan without it being too much chrome and while some critics may not enjoy the unique lower grille opening – I applaud Toyota for having the brass to introduce such a bold front end design.

Along the sides, the 2013 Toyota Avalon has a low, slippery silhouette with a fastback sedan shape created by the long, sloping rear glass. The hood and windshield appear to sit a bit higher than other large sedans but just past standard sliding sunroof, the roofline begins a steady downward slope that literally extends all of the way to the back bumper. This sloping roofline generally reduces rear seating head room but the tall rear end of the Avalon allows for both the fastback roof design and tons of interior space for rear riding passengers (which we will address more later on). The fastback sedan form is accentuated by the blacked out mid pillars along the sides of the cabin while chrome trim around the perimeter of the side glass and chrome door handles bolster the luxury look.

Avalon rear

Out back, the Avalon has a touch of chrome running between the large taillight housings but for the most part, the rear end takes more of a sporty approach than the luxurious front end. The taillights spread from the inner portion of the trunk face all of the way out around to the quarter panels with a tapering design that makes the back end look mad. Continuing the sporty feel is a black lower fascia trim piece that plays host to the standard dual exhaust tips while a subtle molded rear spoiler in the trunk lid adds just a little extra touch of sportiness to this big sedan.

The most important feature of the entire exterior design of the 2013 Avalon is that no portion of the car has been forgotten. From the bold front end to the sleek, smooth side lines to the sporty rear end – the Avalon’s exterior design cues all come together to create a great looking large sedan.

The Interior
My 2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Premium offered an impressive list of standard interior features such as plush leather seats that look great and feel great on long rides with more soft leather across the top of the dash and along the door panels. This light grey leather treatment is joined by contrasting black trim in the carpeting, on the door panels, through the center console and up into the dash and gauge cluster while a smattering of chrome throughout the cabin gives the Avalon a very high end look. When you open the door and climb in, at no point does this look like your average $35k sedan as the basic layout of the interior looks very high end.

Avalon interior

Once inside of the Avalon, you are greeted by a unique infotainment system that features a small touch screen flanked by touch sensitive buttons for both the stereo system and the dual zone climate control. The sound system and hands free phone system both work with the upper touch screen while the HVAC system works with a smaller, non-touch screen mounted lower in the dash but all of the controls (with the exception of the two large knobs for the stereo volume and tuning) are touch sensitive buttons. This gives the center stack are a very upscale, clean look that I would love to see spread across other Toyota vehicles in the coming years. Best of all, these touch sensitive buttons in the center stack all have some sort of texture – either lines cut into the surface or bumps protruding out of the surface to allow the driver to be able to feel the button when he or she doesn’t want to take their eyes off of the road to make an adjustment. Also, the steering wheel offers controls for the sound system, the hands free phone system and the driver information center on the side spokes so many adjustments don’t require the driver to remove his or her hands from the wheel. The one negative is that the XLE Premium does not include navigation – buyers will have to step up to the XLE Touring for Navigation as part of the higher end Display Audio system.

Gadgets aside, the one great feature of the 2013 Toyota Avalon is interior space…tons and tons of interior space. Whether you are seated in the front or rear seat, you get the ample head, elbow, leg and knee space that you would expect from a car of this size and the plush leather surfaces allow all of that space to be enjoyed comfortably. The front seats are heated with deep rib bolsters that sort of cradle the body while the base of the front seats are wider and flatter to comfortably accommodate all sizes of drivers. The rear seats offer two outer seating positions that will very easily keep two 6 foot tall passengers comfortable on a long ride with a fold-down center armrest (with cup holders) but if the need arises to add another person in the middle, this seat will accommodate a child comfortably. The center rear seat is a bit narrow for an adult but this third seating position does offer more room than many competitors so if you spend much time with someone seated in the rear mid position – the Avalon provides more comfort for that person than many sedans.

Avalon seats

The interior of the 2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Premium is a testament to just how far the Toyota brand has come in the last two decades. This is an interior layout fit for a much more expensive luxury sedan featuring items such as touch sensitive controls, roomy heated power seats, a big bright sunroof and leather just about everywhere – but at a price point in the mid $30k range.

The Drive
The 2013 Toyota Avalon XLE Premium (like all new non-hybrid Avalon sedans) is powered by a 3.5L V6 mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission; sending 268 horsepower and 248lb-ft of torque to the front wheels and offering expected fuel economy figures of 21mpg around town, 31mpg on the highway and an average of 25 miles per gallon over the course of a tank of gas. I was not able to meet that average, falling just short with a combined figure of 24.8 miles per gallon but I spent far more time driving around town than I did on the highway. By using the on board fuel economy meter, the Avalon seemed very capable of reaching the 31mpg figure on the highway and I expect that someone who spent less time sitting in Detroit traffic and more time on the open highway would easily be able to hit that 25mpg mark confirmed by the EPA.

Avalon Side

The 268 horsepower V6 under the hood of the 2014 Avalon provides this roomy sedan with an impressive amount of get-up-and-go whether you are quickly pulling away from a stop light or attempting to get somewhere in a hurry on the highway. The Avalon felt very comfortable cruising at 75 miles per hour on the highway and the engine didn’t seem to be working very hard – a fact which was confirmed by the impressive fuel economy numbers on the open road even at those higher speeds. The ride quality is very impressive, with the suspension doing a great job of absorbing any harshness in the road surface but Toyota is able to offer this smooth ride while still giving the driver a great feel for the road. While I don’t imagine that many new Avalon owners are going to do much road racing, this is a car that cuts through the corners very confidently so in addition to offering a nice, smooth ride – it offers impressive handling for a car of this size. Most importantly, the Avalon achieves this smooth ride without giving you that boat-like feeling that you get from some other large sedans. Also, the quiet cabin of the Avalon cuts down on the vast majority of both road noise and wind noise which is another very high end quality offered by this large Toyota sedan.

The new Avalon certainly isnt a “driver’s car” like the Scion FR-S but it a car that is very comfortable to drive while also offering impressive handling for a big sedan and more than enough power to speed away from a stop light or to merge into fast moving traffic. It also has no qualms about easily eclipsing the 100 mark or smoking the front tires…or so I’ve been told. In the end, the Avalon is a big, roomy sedan that doesn’t feel big and bulky on the road so there is very little compromise in drive quality in exchange for roominess and a smooth ride.

The Final Word
If you are in the market for a big, roomy sedan with lots of luxury appeal but without the luxury price tag – the 2013 Toyota Avalon is definitely a vehicle that you should drive before making your next purchase. The bold exterior design, plush interior layout with tons of passenger space and a powerful yet efficient drivetrain allow the Avalon to compete with a great many entry level full size luxury sedans on the market but with a price just over $34,000, the Avalon XLE Premium offers the look and feel of a luxury sedan with a bargain price.