Peter was at a Toyota dealer not long after the redesigned 2013 Avalon hit showrooms. He recalls a salesperson telling him that some traditional (read: older) Avalon buyers weren't in love with its modern redesign. That about summed up Toyota's full-size sedan, which, before this new model, looked bland yet had a loyal following. Our tester was the '13 model, but there were minimal changes for 2014.
Appearance: The previous-generation Avalon seemed to go out of its way not to be noticed. Now it has a modern — dare we even say youthful? — vibe. The operative word here is sleek. The roof is rounded and tapers gently to the trunk. The body and hood have character lines that complement the roof's arc. The wide, narrow grille is swept back and sits above a large trapezoidal lower intake. The headlights also are slender, and in our Limited tester had LED running lights. This new Avalon is shorter and has less overhang. Our Avalon had the 18-inch silver-painted alloy wheels and integrated chrome exhaust tips.
Performance: The Avalon's ride quality has changed significantly. It's no longer floaty; it's more taut and composed. The suspension is stiffer, resulting is better handling and cornering, but that also translates into feeling rough roads a little more. Lyra points out that the steering feel is now slightly weightier, which also is an upgrade. The 3.5-liter V-6 puts out 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, which provide strong acceleration and steady power. It's mated to a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. For a full-size sedan, the mpg is a good at 21 city/31 highway.
Interior: The cabin is spacious, comfortable and quiet. Lyra calls it "Lexus quality at Toyota prices." The perforated leather-trimmed seats are well-cushioned, with good side bolstering. Even the rear seats are comfortable, with good leg- and headroom for adults. The dash has a quirky asymmetrical design and is at a driver-friendly angle. This Avalon is up on tech. Most notable is the eBin that has charging ports and a non-slip surface for smartphones. In the Limited trim, the eBin also has a built-in wireless charging pad ($200) for Qi-compatible devices. The console controls are a combination of buttons and dials as well as capacitive-touch controls. Lyra is usually not a fan of these finicky touch controls, because you have to take your eyes off the road to use them. But she found the Avalon's to be responsive. She especially liked the slide-touch fan control that has an indentation so you can feel it without looking down. Peter had a different experience, finding the touch controls too easy to hit accidentally when you're reaching for the dial controls. Our tester also came with the premium navigation system with the Entune app suite and JBL premium sound system. The optional Technology Package ($1,750) added Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. A backup camera and blind-spot monitoring are standard features in the Limited.
Our 3 favorites
Steering feel: The electric power steering has two modes: normal and sport.
Design: It no longer looks like Granddad's cruiser.
Details: The Limited trim comes with a power rear sun shade and ambient lighting.
eBin: Best gadget tray, especially if you have a Qi-compatible phone.
Sound of silence: Quiet ride thanks to sound insulation and an acoustic noise-reducing windshield.
Comfort: Plush front leather seats. Ahhhh.
The bottom line: The elegant new Avalon should appeal to a wider range of buyers — even younger ones. If you're looking at the top-of-the-line Limited trim, it might be worth it to check out the Avalon Hybrid Limited for its fuel efficiency (40 city/39 highway) as the price difference is less than $2,000.