2014 Toyota Avalon Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2014 Toyota Avalon

New Car Test Drive
© 2014 NewCarTestDrive.com

The Toyota Avalon was completely redesigned for the 2013 model year, offering more responsive handling while maintaining excellent ride quality. A smooth, powerful V6 engine comes standard, while a hybrid gas-electric powertrain is optional for better fuel economy and extremely low emissions. The Avalon is fairly easy to operate, and the standard leather interior is comfortable and attractive. It's very easy to live with.

The Avalon is designed in Southern California, engineered in Detroit, and built at Toyota's plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. It's the most American-made car that Toyota has ever offered.

With Toyota being known for vanilla design, the striking Avalon is almost shocking. But it's precisely what Toyota's top executive, President Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the founder, had in mind when he promised to pump new passion into the brand.

The Avalon has an expensive look and feel, muscular and refined, with styling you might expect from the latest Ford or Hyundai. The profile could be mistaken for a Ford Fusion, or the coupe-like roofline for an Audi A7. The interior boasts a near-luxury level of refinement, including hand-stitched leather. The large touchscreen adapts the latest version of Toyota's EnTune infotainment system, and the LCD screen atop the center stack replaces many knobs and buttons.

Avalon is available with two powertrains, mainly the 3.5-liter, 90-degree V6 engine with Variable Valve Timing with Intelligence that produces 268 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 248 pound-feet of torque. It delivers excellent fuel economy for its horsepower and 3400-plus pounds, EPA rated at 21/31 city/highway mpg. Toyota says it does 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds, quite quick. It's smooth getting there.

The Avalon Hybrid will draw buyers wanting the best fuel mileage they can get in a big sedan. It uses a four-cylinder engine and an electric motor that make a combined 200 horsepower. It uses the latest Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive, and is EPA rated at 40 combined mpg, eye-popping numbers for a full-size sedan. It accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in around 8 seconds, quite decent. Avalon is the first full-size Toyota sedan to offer a hybrid gas-electric powertrain.

Model Lineup

Toyota Avalon XLE ($31,340), XLE Premium ($33,195), XLE Touring ($35,000), Limited ($39,650); Avalon XLE Hybrid ($35,555), XLE Touring Hybrid ($36,750), XLE Limited Hybrid ($41,400)

Walk Around

The Avalon looks wide and aggressive, at least when compared to the previous generation that we'd gotten used to, from 2005 to 2112. There's a sense of kinetic energy that no other Toyota sedan has. It feels compact and tight, one inch lower than before, and with overhangs cut by 0.6 inch in front and 1.8 inches in rear. Still, there's 4.6 inches more total overhang on the Avalon than there is on the Ford Fusion.

The Avalon's face is really a face. It bears similarity to the Fusion, which itself came from Aston Martin, but it's not as good-looking because the big trapezoidal grille with chrome bars is lower, under the traditional graceful Toyota swept-back wing-like grille, now a mere moustache over a gaping mouth full of braces. The selfie is framed by lights, at the top corners there are wraparound projector headlamps, and at the bottom sharply swoopy foglamps.

The body is sculpted with character lines stretching through the hood and from the front wheelwells to the tips of the taillights. There are half-windows at the back of the sloping roof to give rear seat passengers a broader view of the world passing by so quietly and smoothly. Toyota succeeds in making form and function partners in the new Avalon.

Interior

With some sedans having a coupe roofline, function is lost. But Toyota's California designers used the 111-inch wheelbase to sculpt a curvaceous exterior while providing excellent room for heads, legs, hips and shoulders. The seats are firm, maybe too firm. Rear seat passengers have 39.2 inches of legroom, which is 0.9 inch more than the Fusion.

The Avalon is fairly lavishly outfitted, with hand-stitched leather and no cheap plastic like that drawing criticism in other models, namely the Camry. Unfortunately the wood trim looks too much like plastic. Elegant ambient lighting is standard on the Limited, for 2014.

The layout is almost cockpit-like. Things are in correct positions, including the large touchscreen used for the EnTune infotainment system with navigation, audio and Bluetooth. It also enables access to smartphone-based apps such as Pandora, Bing, iHeartRadio, and services like fuel pricing, stock reports, traffic and weather data.

Without navigation, the same screen is used for audio and other features such as the rearview camera. On this screen, the image is big and crisp. A second screen with capacitive touch operates the climate control system.

Cargo capacity is good: 16 cubic feet of trunk space, 14.4 cubic feet for Avalon Hybrid models. Folding down the back seats provides more cargo space and room for longer items.

Driving an Avalon Limited for three days in spring in the dark and damp Pacific Northwest, we quickly grew to love the automatic high beams, that come with the $1750 Technology Package. We can't recall one time where the eye went wrong, unlike other systems we've experienced. The package also includes Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (which we also relied on, worry-free), and Pre-Collision System (which we didn't test and hope we never do).

Driving Impressions

We first drove the Avalon on Toyota's suburban Detroit test track, where we discovered how much of an improvement it was over the soft boulevard cruiser that defined prior generations. In fact, now it might be too firm, at least for the old buyers, if not everyone. The ride definitely makes you aware of dips and uneven spots on the freeway, especially with the firm seats.

Toyota took significant steps to firm things up, in the redesign. More braces and welds to increase chassis rigidity for sharp handling and a smooth ride, along with new springs and stabilizer bars. There's very little body roll (lean), and virtually no torque steer on this front-wheel-drive car, not even with aggressive launches. (Torque steer is the tendency of the front wheels to turn under hard acceleration, felt as a tug on the steering wheel.) Stand on the Avalon accelerator, and it takes off in a straight line.

The electric power-assisted steering system errs on the power side, making it a bit light, although Sport mode tightens it up. The suspension gets no firmer in Sport mode, however, and for canyon-carving or sport-sedan pretending, it needs it. But we liked the Dynamic Rev Management, which is particularly useful with paddle-shift models (Touring and Limited).

At 268 horsepower, the 3.5-liter V6 provides excellent power. It's mated to a 6-speed automatic. The shifts are almost completely transparent and there's no hunting even under aggressive driving. With powertrains like this, who needs 8-speed automatics?

At an EPA-estimated 21/31 mpg City/Highway, or 25 mpg Combined, the Avalon gets great mileage for a full-size sedan. The Avalon Hybrid, at 40 mpg Combined, is awesome. Those are the numbers of tiny subcompacts with tiny engines.

The Avalon Hybrid package teams a four-cylinder engine with a pair of electric motors using essentially the same Toyota Synergy Hybrid drive found in the Camry. It's about a second-and-a-half slower than the V6 Avalon from 0-60 mph but it still delivers enough power to give the driver confidence passing or getting onto a freeway.

Avalon Hybrid's 2.5-liter inline-4, for the technically minded, uses the fuel-saving Atkinson Cycle and itself develops 156 horsepower and 156 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor brings that up to an even 200 hp. Toyota claims the Avalon can operate on battery power alone. But this is no plug-in. You'll be lucky to get a full mile if the battery is fully charged. While the Avalon Hybrid can technically operate in electric mode at speeds up to 25 mph, that's rare. It'll usually fire the four-cylinder engine up well before then, especially if you've got a heavy throttle foot. A neat trick with the Hybrid is the ability to maintain climate control even when the gas engine is shut off.

The Toyota Avalon brings fresh design to a full-size sedan. Handling is taut and ride quality high. The 3.5-liter V6 is smooth and powerful, while the Hybrid boasts 40 mpg. The Avalon is an easy car to own.

Paul Eisenstein filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Avalon in Detroit. Sam Moses contributed to this report.

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