Surely I must be seeing things. It just can’t be true. Paddle shifters and a Sport mode selector button? I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I plonked myself behind the wheel of the 2013 Avalon. Did I take delivery of the wrong car? Apparently not, as the shiny chrome nameplate on the bootlid proudly proclaims, this is indeed Toyota’s flagship saloon that has forever been associated with a typically geriatric clientele and a boat-like wallowy ride.
The transformation is dramatic. Intent on wooing a decidedly younger audience, Toyota has infused a generous dose of athleticism into the Avalon’s striking new design and its driving dynamics.
Nothing embodies these massive changes better than the car’s styling. If previous versions of the Avalon were by far the blandest in Toyota’s line-up, the new Avalon’s sculpted bodywork and muscular, hunkered down stance make it the most stylish and contemporary of the Japanese carmaker’s current models.
The C-pillar that rakes forward and the gracefully flowing roofline give the Avalon a sportback-like profile. The front-end features a Ford Focus-like lower grille and a chrome upper grille that follows the corporate design language seen in the new Camry and the RAV4. These combined with the sleeker headlights and two creases running along the sides of the bonnet, make the fascia look aggressively attractive. The rear end is also similarly styled with LED taillights stretching on to the bootlid and joined above the registration plate slot by a chrome strip.
The cabin is undoubtedly the best Toyota has ever put together, with the finest materials, impeccable build quality and driver oriented layout. Except for a couple of rotary knobs, every other control on the dashboard has flush, capacitive touch switches that are impressively responsive, and more importantly impart a cleaner look to the console.
The climate-controlled front seats are more supportive than in the previous models and are power adjustable with memory, while rear passengers get
class-leading leg- and headroom as well as plush, comfortable seats.
So Toyota wasn’t bluffing about the design and creature comforts. But what about driving dynamics? Turns out that too wasn’t mere marketing fluff. There’s absolutely nothing dull about the way the new Avalon drives. Toyota has succeeded in sharpening the suspension, stiffening the chassis and improving steering response without compromising on the Avalon’s famous ride quality. And that Sport button actually works. Press it and the steering weighs up nicely and upshifts are hastened.
However, if you’re expecting it to drive like a sports saloon, you’re looking in the wrong place. It’s not even as sporty as the Nissan Maxima, but the Avalon feels far more composed and sure-footed than before and is light years away from the squishy, bouncy barge that would squat, roll, dive and plough the road under acceleration and braking. Road- and wind-noise dampening is up to Lexus standards. The 3.5-litre engine is carried over, putting out 273bhp, but it’s smooth and refined with enough power for the Avalon to effortlessly waft about at any given speed.
Expectedly, it’s also packed with features including an 11-speaker JBL Synthesis audio system, an HDD sat-nav system with a 7in touchscreen display, vehicle stability control, traction control, and 10 airbags.
All these come at a price though. And it’s that price that will prove the biggest impediment to this attractive car from being a sales success.
Starting at Dh128,000 for the base S variant, the top-of-the-line Limited trim carries a price tag of Dh154,000, which is just a few grand shy of what the base Lexus ES350 retails for. It’s based on the same platform, has more features, and above all wears a more premium badge. Having said that, if you’re only looking for a practical, extremely comfortable full-size saloon that handles like a mid-size and is loaded with features, and if badge prestige isn’t a concern for you, then the 2013 Avalon is one of the best cars you can buy.