By Toyota's own admission, it hasn't been giving the Avalon its fair share of attention.
Since the Avalon isn't one of its "core" models, Jamie Humphries, Toyota Canada's national marketing manager, explains, it has tended to soldier on by itself, quietly selling in decent numbers, but appealing mainly to established older buyers and those who have outgrown their Camry or Corolla.
That's about to change. The 2013 edition of the company's flagship sedan is on the receiving end of a complete – well, almost – makeover and will be aimed at young and older buyers alike.
"We want to attract a younger demographic to Avalon," Humphries says, "and will be giving it more support than ever before."
Among other things, the Avalon will also be part of Toyota's new push to extol the company's emotional appeal as well as its "logical rational choice" reputation.
One way it's going to accomplish that is by making the Avalon as homegrown as possible. The 2013 model will be the "most North American Avalon" yet, designed exclusively at the company's CALTY facilities, in California and Michigan. This, the fourth-generation Avalon, features a "keen" look, according to project design manager, Benjamin Jimenez.
"We are looking for a more youthful image beyond just boomers," he said at the launch in Michigan. One of the raps against the current Avalon is that it's too bland and doesn't stand out in a crowd. The new version goes a long way to remedying that, and is a nice-looking automobile, subtly refined and more contemporary looking than its predecessor. I especially like the concave or "negatively moulded" side panels and doors.
Three trim levels will be available: SLE, Limited and full-zoot Premium. All will be powered by a 3.5-litre V-6 engine that delivers 268 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic only with paddle shifters.
There are also three drive modes: Eco, Normal, and Sport. These are accessed via a console-mounted set of buttons beside the driver. And for once, these modes actually do what they're supposed to. Punch the Sport setting while you're in Eco, for example, and the performance difference is immediate and noticeable. This setting "enhances" throttle response and recalibrates the steering, with Toyota's "dynamic rev management" system coming into play during manual downshifts. Eco, on the other hand. is all about maximizing fuel economy.
One small gripe: the mode buttons are a little hard to get at – I suppose one would get used to them eventually, but as it is, they're tucked away and would probably be better placed somewhere on the dashboard, front and centre.
Ergonomics and switchgear are arguably the most sensible and easily understandable in this corner of the market. Upscale cars are getting more and more complex – high technology at the expense of driveability. That isn't the case here.
Perhaps Toyota hasn't forgotten that, despite its purported youthful ambitions, the new Avalon will still be purchased by plenty of oldsters, who don't appreciate overly complicated buttons and knobs. The entire interior has been redesigned, possibly with this in mind. Airbag count is up, with the 2013 version getting 10 airbags, compared to seven for the '12.
Moving on, not too many changes to report with the V-6 engine. This is essentially the same unit used in the previous model and, in this application, it's more than adequate. Plenty of punch and reserve power, and fuel economy is 8.3 litres/100 km, combined rating, which is par for this kind of vehicle. It may look more up-to-date than before, but the Avalon is not a sports sedan, by any stretch.
Built on the same basic platform as the Camry, Venza and Lexus ES 350, the new Avalon has a slightly longer wheelbase than the Camry, with various chassis modifications in keeping with the vehicle's overall flavour. If you feel the urge, it can get up and go – to a point – and is flat and stable through the corners. In a word, it's competent.
Here's the best part: the price is down. Base price for the 2013 Avalon is $36,800, with the Limited starting at $38,900 and the Premium at $41,850. By way of comparison, the 2012 version starts at $41,195, and a fully loaded Camry XLE is in the $34,000 neighbourhood.
Equipment level is right up there, with heated front seats, leather interior, electronic cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering, Bluetooth and a power sunroof with shade all standard with the XLE. You can also order a blind spot warning system, back-up camera and a rear cross-traffic alert. This latter item lets you know if there's someone/something behind you as you're backing out of a parking stall, for example, and can't see oncoming traffic. Lexus utilizes a similar system on some of its models.
Look for the new Avalon in dealerships by mid-December.
2013 Toyota Avalon
Price Range: $36,800-$41,850
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 268 hp/248 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/6.4 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Buick Lacrosse, Hyundai Genesis, Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima