2013 Toyota Avalon: First Drive

October 30, 2012
Youthful readers: This is your father's Avalon.

There's nothing shameful or denigrating about this declaration. If you're old enough to be shopping for an Avalon, you might recall that Olds once advertised its products as “not your father's Oldsmobile.” After going after the grandpas (and grandmas) for nearly a couple of decades, Toyota is shamelessly going after the fathers—reaching out to the 40-to-60-year-old crowd, and maybe even the kind who are empty-nesters and polishing up their image, post-minivans.

To understand how it's going to pull that transformation off, you need only take a quick look at the 2013 Toyota Avalon, inside and out. It's gone modern; with a full redesign, the Avalon has found a sheen of sophistication in everything from its control interface to the way it drives. It's no longer the exclusive domain of those who don't mind looking conservative, and simply want the cushiest, most hemorrhoid-placating ride possible.

In fact, the Avalon is such a good car—with a real personality, this time—that we're surprised Toyota didn't bring back another name for it: The Cressida had always been more of a fashion-forward, sporty rival in step with the Nissan Maxima, and we can see the new Avalon, with its graceful, curvaceous rear fender sheetmetal and just-right silhouette striking some of that same sporty-yet-elegant ground.

As American as Toyotas get

Avalon has always been a Toyota model intended mostly for the U.S. market, so it's not surprising that Toyota is calling this latest Avalon it's most American vehicle yet. From design to engineering and manufacture, it's all been done in U.S. facilities. The original design for it was penned at Toyota's Newport Beach (CALTY) design studio, and when Akio Toyoda first saw sketches of the new Avalon, he reportedly said, “It looks cool; don't change a thing.”

Toyoda's sensibilities were right in line with what Toyota needed. For a company that has in recent years seen a number of homely designs (like the current Camry, Highlander, and Corolla), the Avalon's design feels like a revelation.

That impression carries over into the way it drives. Quite simply, engineers have aced the difficult task of preserving the Avalon's quiet, isolated, comfortable ride, but improving handling—and thankfully, all of the Avalon's bounding, wallowing, and pillowy softness has been quelled. Thanks to some tricks borrowed from the Lexus playbook, like rebound springs, somewhat firmer spring rates, and digressive damper valving—plus a reconfigured suspension geometry—there's no longer a cartoonish level of body motion at times.

Body control: now in check

If you're heading down a curvy road and you're the driver, you feel remarkably well-connected to the road; and if you're the passenger, there's no longer an urgent need to dose up on Dramamine if you're in the passenger seat. And the precise, natural steering feel actually makes this large car easy to place on choppy-surfaced narrow backroads.

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