No offense meant to current and previous Avalon owners. Hell, I like big, cushy, quiet cars – and the ’95-’12 Avalon was that in spades. Best Buick ever built by the Japanese – and right here in America, too.
Nothing wrong with any of it. Except for one thing: Time passes. 1990s-2000s-era 40 and 50-somethings are now well into their 60s – and beginning to do the inevitable MacArthurian fading away. They’re not going to be buying many more new cars – Avalons or otherwise. It’s today’s 40 and 50s who are the Avalon’s future. And today’s 40 and 50-somethings are younger-feeling/thinking/acting – and buying.
They don’t want an Oldmobile – and the 2013 is anything but.
The Avalon is Toyota’s largest sedan – significantly larger than Camry and also larger than every Lexus passenger car except the top-of-the-line LS, which (in standard wheelbase form) is only a few inches longer overall. It’s a big car – for a not-so-big (or at least, not as big) price. In fact, the all-new 2013 model is priced $2,205 less than the 2012:
$30,990 for the base 2013 XLE vs. $33,195 last year.
A top-of-the-line Avalon Limited comes in just under $40k at $39,650.
There is also an all-new hybrid version of the 2013 Avalon capable of 40 MPG in city driving – and 39 on the highway.
Base price for this model is $35,555.
Historically, competition has been other large and elder-oriented sedans such as the Buick LaCrosse and the recently retired Ford Crown Vic/Mercury Grand Marquis, among others. The 2013 reboot, however, is clearly aimed at a younger crowd interested in big – but not old.
The 2013 Avalon gets a new body, new interior – and a new attitude. No longer just a big car, it is now a sporty (looking and driving) big car as well as a car that could pass for a luxury car.
In fact, Toyota may have made the Avalon a bit too appealing for its own good. Lexus shoppers may shop Toyota now – and aspirational Toyota buyers may see no reason to shop Lexus. Other than being FWD (all Lexus models except the ES350 are RWD-based) the new Avalon could pass for a Lexus.
Oh, except for the price.
No AARP sticker on the bumper.
Nicer new car – for $2k less than the Old Man old car.
Better mileage – and performance
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
No AWD option (several competitors, including the Buick LaCrosse and the Chrysler 300, offer AWD).
One of the few things that hasn’t changed radically is the Avalon’s powertrain. The same basic 3.5 liter, 268 hp V-6 engine and six-speed automatic carryover. However, the six-speed now comes with multiple driver-selectable settings – including a fairly aggressive Sport mode (with rev-matching/throttle blipping downshifts) and a mileage-minded ECO mode – and the new car is about 111 lbs. lighter than the old car (3,461 for the ’13 vs. 3,572 for the ’12). That plus a much less boxy – and so more aerodynamically advantageous – body shape noticeably improve the car’s 0-60 time, which is in the 6.6-6.7 second range now vs. 6.8 before.
Fuel economy is also improved: 21 city, 31 highway vs. the 2012’s 19 city, 28 highway.
Power-performance-economy-wise, the Avalon stacks up well against the slightly more powerful (292-300 hp) but several hundred pounds heavier (3,999 lb.) and so slightly less quick (6.9 seconds to 60) V-6 Chrysler 300, which also registers 19 city, 31 highway (with RWD).
It also looks pretty solid when you stack it up against some of its Lexus brethren. Last week I had a new (2013) GS350. This car does zero to 60 in about 6 seconds flat. That’s only about half a second behind the Avalon – a larger (and roomier inside) car that costs about $17k less to start than the $47,250 GS350.
And the Avalon is almost two full seconds quicker to 60 than the IS250 “sport” sedan!
It – the Avalon – gets better gas mileage, too. Speaking of which:
You can buy a hybrid version of the new Avalon – and it’s priced only slightly higher to start ($35,555) than the base price of last year’s regular Avalon ($33,195). This model is propelled by a gas-electric powertrain and CVT automatic transmission that’s capable of returning 40 MPG in city driving and 39 MPG on the highway. For some historical perspective, that’s on par with what the first generation Prius delivered back in the early 2000s (42 city, 41 highway).
The hybrid Avalon is also much more fuel-efficient than the mild-hybrid “eAssist” version of the Buick LaCrosse, which only manages 25 city, 36 highway – just a handful of MPGs better than the non-hybrid and much better-performing V-6 Avalon.
The one criteria where the Avalon may come up short vis-a-vis the competition is that it’s only offered with FWD. The Buick LaCrosse and Chrysler 300 can both be ordered with AWD. Ditto the in-house competition (Lexus GS, etc.).
However, bear in mind that without ground clearance and tires made for inclement weather, AWD isn’t going to do all that much for you in the snow. And many AWD-equipped sedans don’t have the ground clearance – or the right tires – for snow driving. The fulsome scurvy truth is a FWD car with good snow tires will do better in snow than an AWD car with “sport” tires.
Also keep in mind that AWD adds weight – which slows the car down and also cuts down its fuel efficiency. The AWD-equipped Chrysler 300, for example, dips to 18 city, 27 highway – vs. the RWD version’s 19 city, 31 highway.
The previous Avalon never lacked for power (standard V-6 approaching 300 hp, etc.) but then, neither did Titanic. Both got going well enough – but neither had what you might call quick reaction times.
Much has changed.
First, notice the newly available 18 inch wheels – and 225/45-series tires wrapped around them. No Avalon to date has ever offered more than seventeens – shod with granny panty all-season tires. The ’13 Avalon’s optional eighteen-inchers (standard on Touring and Limited trims) with their wider footprint and shorter/stiffer sidewalls, would have made the old Avalon handle better and steer more adroitly. But they’re even more effective on the new car, because its suspension was specifically calibrated to make the most of them – with new-design control arms and (out back) changes to the geometry designed to reduce toe-in angle during turning and braking.
Next, check out the adjustable drive modes – Sport, Normal and Eco. The old Avalon had just one drive mode…. put the gear shift lever into Drive.
Sport mode increases the effort of the electrically-boosted power steering as well as dials in more aggressive throttle response, which makes the car feels snappier when you depress the gas pedal. That plus rev-matching throttle blips on the downshifts puts some much needed lead in the Avalon’s pencil.
But not so much lead that the car’s a stiffy. Even in Sport mode – and even with those eighteens underneath you – the car remains compliant and quiet. Acoustic glass for the windshield and side glass, more insulation (including foam injected into the A and B pillar cavities) no doubt helps here – along with the revisions to the chassis (which is 12 percent stiffer overall).
The only thing that’s been dialed out is the old car’s sloppiness in the corners. Though Toyota is not using the word in its marketing, the new Avalon is a sporty car.
And when you want the old Avalon back, just push Normal. Steering effort returns to one-finger-easy and the powertrain’s demeanor returns to quiescent. The new Avalon is still as mom-friendly as ever – but now dad will like it, too.
ECO mode is a mixed bag.
Toyota says when engaged it “balances driving performance, air conditioning function and fuel efficiency.” Translation: The AC blows tepid – and the seat heaters become warmers. There were no exact figures available as to how much fuel you save as your reward for schwitzing in summer – but my guess is not much. The ECO setting is more about appearances than meaningful increases. If you really want to save gas, look into the hybrid Avalon. It’s a pretty good deal: Gen. I Prius fuel economy – 40 city, 39 highway – for a relatively small price premium over the non-hybrid Avalon.
Size absolutely matters. It has been perhaps the single biggest “sell” for the Avalon over the years. And not merely size. What made the Avalon so appealing is that it was both big and affordable. Big cars have – to a great extent – become rich people’s cars. This is even more true today – now that modestly priced big cars like the Ford Crown Vic (and its higher-trim Mercury twin, the Grand Marquis) have been cancelled and replaced by mid-sized cars like the Taurus.
Avalon gave you more car – physically, outside and inside – than a Benz E-Class, for $20k less. The catch was the Avalon was an Oldmobile. Boring to look at, boring to be seen in. Boring to drive.
Was being the word.
Because the new car isn’t. Hell, they may have gone too far – with the Jag XF-looking rear clip and sail panels. From the side, it could be a new Lexus – or at least, you could park this car in the Lexus showroom next to other new Lexi and it would not be as out of place as Piers Morgan in a biker bar.
Unlike the old Avalon.
Ditto the interior – which has a pretty wild asymmetric (and multi-sectioned) dash, with individually fitted ans stitched leather trim covers abounding.
Definitely not an Oldmobile.
The new car’s proportions have been tightened – it’s about two inches shorter overall now (195.3 inches vs. 197.6 before) and the roofline has been cut down by an inch (57.5 inches vs. 58.5 before) but the same limo-like 111-inch wheelbase remains – and there’s slightly more front seat legroom now (42.1 inches vs. 41.3 inches previously) as well as a much larger 16 cubic foot trunk (vs. 14 cubic feet before).
There has been a slight reduction in headroom due to the sexier, lower-cut roofline – it’s now 38.5 inches in front vs. 38.9 inches in the ’12 – but rearseat headroom is actually slightly improved (37.9 inches now vs. 37.5 inches previously).
Still, this is a big car – with more space inside than high-priced luxury sedans like a Benz E (or a Lexus GS) and now, in addition to the utilitarian appeal, aesthetic appeal as well.
The secondary controls are set before you almost iPad style on a forward canted and slightly upturned center stack – with “tap and touch” sensitive buttons. This type of control interface is becoming common (I had a Cadillac ATS with similar a few weeks back) and has several advantages, including no worries about dust or spilled stuff getting into the cracks – because there aren’t any. Just a single sheet of plastic with touch-sensitive pads. The only thing I worry about is down-the-road repair costs.
Neat features in the new Avalon include a lockable glovebox – a feature that has become fairly uncommon, for reasons that escape me. Luxury car features such as a rear power sunshade and three zone climate control are available (back seaters can adjust temperature and fan settings to their individual liking). The seat heaters are superb – as in, they actually heat up as opposed to merely warming up. Unfortunately, Toyota didn’t go one step farther and offer a heated steering wheel. Probably because that would have pushed this car that much closer to Lexus turf.
And that may prove to be this car’s biggest problem.
Well, Toyota’s problem.
Up to now, the interesting stuff – the good looking stuff – the really nice stuff – has always been Lexus stuff.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is not your father’s Oldmobile.
Throw it in the Woods?
Eric did you ever see this review of your book on Amazon?
“Honestly, I enjoyed the book and it was fun, but it not very comprehensive in its research and in many areas, irritating, having owned at least 5 of the cars featured in this book. For example, repeatedly he rates all cars on horse power and quarter miles numbers, even small economy cars and diesel attempts at high fuel economy. It becomes clear that he has no real general first hand experience and most of these cars are given quite an unfair shot here; several times there ARE real problems with the cars, but they are not mentioned. Also he fails to bring up WHY many of these cars come to market in the first place, aside from complaints about emissions. Overall, if you know anything about these specific cars, or the history, you quickly get the feeling that he does NOT, and failed to educate himself fully before producing this book.
A couple of examples-
1- He bashes the lincoln continental diesel- why? horse power and quarter mile. Also he alludes to ford dropping the concept after two years because it was though to be bad and would not sell. Wrong. The real story is that Ford bought a set number of crated diesel motors from BMW, and installed them in a select number of their high dollar cars. After that two year trial, Ford then made a deal with Mazda, and instead used Mazda diesels in their lighter vehicles, (escort, Topaz, tempo, ranger). The positives of the continental diesel (having owned one)- 30 plus mpg while cruising at 80 mph. Acceleration was decent. It was by no means a V8, but exactly what they attempted, a large comfortable air suspension sedan that got great fuel economy. Also, Ford SOLD every one they produced. There are only several thousand in existence.
2- He bashes the Mercedes 300D and Rabbit diesel- again, horsepower, and acceleration. He fails to mention that the rabbit gets 40-50 mpg and the mercedes gets high 20s to low 30s. More importantly there are thousands and thousands of these cars still on the road 30 years later. They are some of the most reliable vehicles on the planet that still get fuel economy better than most new cars, and most have well over 200,000 miles on them. Pretty good for a little econo box like the VW, and a luxury car that will remain in good condition with minimal maintenance for 30 years, and I might add, represents probably half of the worlds taxi population today (the last of that model mercedes was produced in 1985). A legitimate complaint about the mercedes would certainly have been the price (which he mentions) and about the rabbit could have been its absolutely apalling lack of safety, especially released in an environment of heavy chrome laden american cars.
3. He bashes the Escort GT. His complaint here seems generally to be that they are ugly or cheap. My biggest single complaint with the early GTs was that the carburator was made of a substandard material and they required complete replacement in short periods of time. He does not mention this, though it was a relatively big complaint from most owners. Fortunately, its not to hard to work on them. When It went to fuel injection, it was a fun little car to drive. I owned a 91 model that had a 137 HP mazda DOHC engine.
Bottom line, the writer is clearly a car enthusiast, but you wont really learn anything about these cars and the book is really more of a personal rant from an opinionated guy whose knowledge is of a surface nature. I get the feeling he loves cars, but does not work on them, and spends more time telling others about what he knows. Its like talking to a guy at a cocktail party about his personal mods versus speaking to his mechanic who actually does the work. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. On the plus side, the layout is something I enjoyed, and I wholeheatedly agreed with most of the muscle car complaints he made, I just wished for a little more research and maybe a lot more cars that should have certainly been in the book.”
Yeah – the guy missed the point entirely…
It wasn’t intended to be a serious book. It was meant to be a book-length rant!
I loved this part:
“I get the feeling he loves cars, but does not work on them, and spends more time telling others about what he knows. Its like talking to a guy at a cocktail party about his personal mods versus speaking to his mechanic who actually does the work”
You can’t please everyone – and lord knows, I don’t try to!
I bet that guy is selling his own book. I bet his book meets every qualification he says Eric’s book lacks. Still, he is an informative critic to read, good find.
One of us could do the same thing for the cause. Review a competing book and say you wish there was more humor and ranting in the book, make sure to do it with links to your account with glowing reviews of Road Hogs and Automotive Atrocities.
Mobbery isn’t universally bad. Look at what Alex Jones, David Icke, & Ron Paul mobs accomplish. Where are the Lewrockers?
I’ve always been a sort of Freegan, but maybe the time has come to pay some freight and haul some loads.
Anyone inclined to automotive Schadenfreude should read Eric’s books.
Fourmilab Switzerland – John Walker
Summit Racing Books
John Walker says:
“Oh my, oh my, there really were some awful automobiles on the road in the 1970s and 1980s, weren’t there? Those born too late to experience them may not be fully able to grasp the bumper to bumper shoddiness of such rolling excrescences as the diesel Chevette, the exploding Pinto, Le Car, the Maserati Biturbo, the Cadillac V-8-6-4 and even worse diesel; bogus hamster-powered muscle cars (“now with a black stripe and fake hood scoop, for only $5000 more!”); the Yugo, the DeLorean, and the Bricklin—remember that one?
They’re all here, along with many more vehicles which, like so many things of that era, can only elicit in those who didn’t live through it, the puzzled response, “What were they thinking?” Hey, I lived through it, and that’s what I used to think when blowing past multi-ton wheezing early 80s Thunderbirds (by then, barely disguised Ford Fairmonts) in my 1972 VW bus!
Anybody inclined toward automotive Schadenfreude will find this book enormously entertaining, as long as you weren’t one of the people who spent your hard-earned, rapidly-inflating greenbacks for one of these regrettable rolling rustbuckets. Unlike many automotive books, this one is well-produced and printed, has few if any typographical errors, and includes many excerpts from the contemporary sales material which recall just how slimy and manipulative were the campaigns used to foist this junk off onto customers who, one suspects, the people selling it referred to in the boardroom as “the rubes”.
It is amazing to recall that almost a generation exists whose entire adult experience has been with products which, with relatively rare exceptions, work as advertised, don’t break as soon as you take them home, and rapidly improve from year to year. Those of us who remember the 1970s took a while to twig to the fact that things had really changed once the Asian manufacturers raised the quality bar a couple of orders of magnitude above where the U.S. companies thought they had optimised their return.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will confess that I once drove a 1966 MGB, but I didn’t buy it new! To grasp what awaited the seventies denizen after they parked the disco-mobile and boogied into the house, see Interior Desecrations (December 2004).”
The most impressive thing to me is how they have transformed this car’s appearance. The Camry, from which it springs, is ugly. This Avalon’s looks, while not quite “awesome,” are pretty nice.
I’d still rather be “seen” in the Chrysler 300. But the Avalon’s quality and durability would make it the one I’d buy.
Interesting anomaly here, Eric. Although you constantly rant about mandated safety equipment making each generation of new cars more heavy (and thus more slow, ponderous and uneconomical,) it seems that this new Avalon is 111 pounds “lighter” than its predecessor. Gosh, how did that happen? 😉
My understanding is the weight savings is mostly in the suspension (lighter alloy components). Also, the car is slightly smaller overall (outside) so there’s probably a bit less metal in the body.
This is a really nice car. In all seriousness, I’d rather have it than the GS350 I had a week prior. The GS was only slightly more sporty feeling (in terms of handling/acceleration) but noticeably less roomy inside and much thirstier in day-to-day driving.