Toyota reinvents itself with the new Avalon

2013 AvalonToyotas are boring cars. Many people buy them, but not because they are interesting. Toyotas have many fine qualities, such as great fuel economy and apocalypse-proof reliability, but they’re about as desirable as a manila envelope. Even CEO Akio Toyoda had to admit that this was a problem; he recently demanded that the company build “more exciting vehicles.” The first Toyota-branded vehicle to come out of the new regime is the redesigned Avalon, which debuted at the 2012 New York Auto Show.

The current Avalon is pretty bland, so Toyota tried to liven up the styling of this 2013 model. The new Avalon is a bit smaller, but that is because of a faster roofline and shorter overhangs. The gaping grille looks much more aggressive, as does the Lexus GS-like rear end. The fenders also get some muscular flares. The reskin is courtesy of Toyota’s California design studio, Calty. It’s not the prettiest sedan in the world, but it is a huge departure from the old Avalon. Toyota was so sure that no one would guess what car they were showing that company spokesmen waited until the end of the unveiling to announce it’s name.

Sporty styling or not, the Avalon is still Toyota’s flagship, so the interior needed to have the “premium feel” carmakers like to talk about. To achieve that feel, the dashboard’s leather trim is hand assembled; the rest of the car will be built alongside Camrys at Toyota’s Georgetwon, Kentucky plant. According to Toyota, the Avalon has more interior space than a BMW 5-Series, thanks to its 111-inch wheelbase.

Other carmakers, like Chevy and Acura, work hard to impart a sophisticated, luxurious feel to their flagship cars. With the Avalon, Toyota had the opposite problem. The Japanese company is good at making smooth riding sensory-deprivation tanks, what it needed was more, well, excitement. The 2013 Avalon has steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and a sport mode for the electric power steering and throttle. These are common features on other cars, but unheard of on a full-size Toyota.

Toyota promises firmer on-center steering feel and confidence-inspiring off-center feel. The company also said that the Avalon is also more rigid, thanks to extra structural bracing and welds. That should improve handling, but how will the Avalon get going in the first place? “V6 power and excellent mileage,” was all Toyota said.

Executives are the only people who can make things happen quickly at large corporations. Toyoda’s new philosophy has already been applied to the Scion FR-S and a few Lexus models. However, the Avalon is the first mainstream model (and the first to get a Toyota badge) that Toyota has made “more exciting.” A full-size sedan is never really a paradigm of excitement, but Toyota’s effort on the Avalon bodes well for its future models. New Supra, anyone?