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2013 Toyota Avalons create mixed first impressions at our track

2013 Toyota Avalons create mixed first impressions at our track

Toyota usually leaves spacious luxury car duties to its premium Lexus brand. But Toyota dealers have many loyal customers with needs for big-car room, luxury and utility but at a non-upscale price. And for years the Avalon has been a cornerstone of that demand.

For 2013, the roomy Avalon has been redesigned and, apparently, pointed in a new direction in Toyota's latest attempt to appeal to a younger customer. And while it's still roomy, we wonder if the company has been stung with the Avalon being labeled a geriatric cruiser. If so, that might explain the car's new sleek look, inside and out. Also, one of the biggest changes is the addition of a 200-hp, four-cylinder hybrid option—a first for the Avalon. (See our hybrids buying guide.)

The standard engine remains Toyota's slick and punchy mainstay, a 268-hp, 3.5-liter V6 hooked up to a six-speed automatic.

We bought two Limited versions, one V6 and one hybrid, with prices ranging from $40,445 to $42,501, respectively.

Previous Avalons focused on comfortable, quiet cruising and rather reluctant handling. With a limo-like rear seat and simple controls, it was an easy-going, stress-free car. Whatever the Avalon lacked in panache and driving involvement it made up for by being a sensible and unobtrusive companion with commendable fuel economy.

So while the new Avalon's handling is more responsive, the ride has taken a turn for the worse. Our Limited V6, which comes with standard 18-inch tires, makes us raise our eye brows every time its suspension crashes into a bump. Luckily the hybrid version has 17-inch tires and rides considerably better.

In another attempt to appeal to a younger crowd, the Avalon has Bluetooth connectivity and Toyota's suite of built-in apps called Entune is available (standard on Limited). We think it all works very nicely. The touch screen is mostly well designed. But, for some reason, Toyota couldn't restrain themselves and threw in a few capacitive flush controls for the audio and climate systems, which can be hit inadvertently.

With the hybrid sharing its hardware with the Camry Hybrid and Lexus ES 300h, which yielded excellent 38 and 36 mpg overall in our tests, we think the Avalon hybrid is the more promising version. But will it live up to the EPA estimates of 40 mpg city and 39 highway? We'll find out.

Toyota is taking a risk with this Avalon by potentially alienating its, ahem, older buyers with a stiffer ride and more complicated controls. Stay tuned as we find out if the new car has found the path to more youthful buyers and/or has completely alienated its established (and aging) audience.

More from Consumer Reports:
2013 New Car Preview
Best & worst used cars
Complete Ratings for 200 cars and trucks

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