All-new 2014 Avalon signals a new direction for Toyota

By Lary Coppola
Decreeing that Toyota, “…will build no more boring cars,” the company’s recently ascended President and CEO Akio Toyoda has called upon his employees to design and build cars with renewed passion and enthusiasm. And nowhere is that spirit more evident than in the all-new 2014 Toyota Avalon — the first in what Toyota says will be a long line of much more stylish cars, departing from the staid vehicles of the past four decades. While long recognized as mechanically bulletproof, no one has ever accused Toyota of being a trend-setting style leader. However, the Avalon is a game changer — the first new design and build under Toyoda’s reign.

Originally launched in 1995, and built on the same platform as the popular Camry, the Avalon replaced the Cressida as Toyota’s flagship vehicle. Debuting at the 2012 New York Auto Show, the 2014 version is the fourth generation Avalon.

In a review of the 2000 Avalon, I termed it, “a bargain Lexus.” Having driven the 2014 Lexus LS just a week prior to the Avalon, I believe that statement is even more true today than it was then.

Toyota execs are quick to stress the new Avalon is as American as cars get, noting it was designed and engineered by teams in California and Michigan, and built at Toyota’s Georgetown, Kentucky assembly plant.

The new Avalon originated as a sketch drawn by a 20-something designer at Toyota’s Ann Arbor, Michigan-based studio. When CEO Toyoda saw it, his words were, “Don’t change a thing.” Having the seen the sketch, the designers stayed true to the vision.

The 2014 Avalon also debuts technology new for Toyota, starting with the Quadrabeam headlights. The Avalon is also the first Toyota with a Rear Cross Traffic Warning system, which warns the driver of oncoming vehicles when in reverse.

Model Lineup: There are four versions of the new Avalon — the base XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring, and the Limited. All are available as both standard gas models and as a hybrid, using Toyota’s proven Hybrid Synergy Drive system.

The Base XLE comes pretty well-equipped, with a standard 2-door smart key; soft touch materials; leather seats, steering wheel, and shift knob; 17” wheels and tires, LED brake and taillights; with standard audio controlled by a touch-screen display, as well as knobs.

The XLE Premium upgrades the smart key to 3-door; adds heated driver and passenger seats and outside mirrors; power moonroof; and rear-view camera.

The Touring version adds 18” wheels and tires; Sport and ECO driving modes; paddle shifters; memory seats and mirrors; wide angle fog lamps; and Toyota’s Entune system, which pairs with smartphones to activate features.

Finally, the top-of-the-line Limited comes with all the above as well as blind-spot monitor and rear cross traffic warning system; HID headlamps and LED DRL, and puddle lamps, There’s also rain sensing wipers; auto high-beams; 10-way power driver’s seat and 8-way passenger’s; heated and cooled front seats; rear HVAC controls; and optional radar cruise control, and pre-crash detection system.

Walkaround: In a world where cars — like many of the people who drive them — are getting wider, the 2014 Avalon bucks the trend. It’s more than two inches shorter, slightly narrower and lower, with shorter front and rear overhangs, and more than 100 pounds lighter than the previous model.

But styling is the big news here. The aggressive look puts a younger buyer directly in its crosshairs, with the Avalon appearing as a merger of many popular, competing full and midsize sedans. For example, it utilizes popular styling cues such as wraparound headlamps and taillights — the first non-round projector headlamp units on an Avalon — along with LED lighting.

The hood line flows downwards to the two-tiered fascia featuring a sweeping chrome strip with an integrated Toyota badge, with a large oval-shaped lower front grille reminiscent of Aston Martin.
Gone are the staid, straight up and down slab-like sides of the last generation Avalon, replaced by smoothly aggressive sheet metal curves so deeply contoured that Toyota had to work with suppliers to ensure the steel stampings could actually be mass-produced. The steeply raked C-pillar is also a very trendy feature in current automotive design.

The rear end is a bit more traditional, with a 16.0 cubic feet trunk (14.4 in the hybrid, due to the location of the battery pack), flanked by two-tiered tail lamps and dual exhaust outlets.

In short, the Avalon’s appearance is a radical departure from Grandpa’s dowdy, 80’s era, Buick-like sedans of years passed. It’s now a very strikingly attractive car — inside and out.

Interior: Inside, you’ll find a well-designed, superbly quiet cabin offering a cockpit-like feel for the driver. The wraparound dash is all about high-tech attention to detail, while offering a clear view of the climate, infotainment and audio controls to passengers as well as the driver.

Instrumentation consists of a high-tech gauge cluster with a color LCD screen between the speedometer and tach, with MID graphics and centrally located two-level information screen in the center stack, featuring capacative touch buttons — a first for Toyota. The display screen does double duty as an energy flow readout on the hybrid, and the clock face also offers a choice of analog or digital readouts.

The latest version of Toyota’s Entune technology features Bluetooth, plus a suite of apps including Pandora, Bing, iHeartRadio and Local fuel prices, stock prices, sports, traffic and weather data are also available, along with navigation on the XLE Touring and Limited models.

There’s adequate storage space and cuphoders, along with a coin box. There’s also a new eBin, which houses small electronics — like your smartphone — and hides the connection cords. All Avalons come with two 12-volt power outlets, USB and AUX ports.

Besides the abundance of room to accommodate five passengers — over 40 inches of front legroom and 39.2 inches in the rear — there’s also a new hand-stitching process used on the dashboard trim and steering wheel.

Under The Hood: The front-wheel drive Avalon features Toyota’s workhorse 3.5-liter V6 (the same engine as the previous Avalon) that puts 268 horses to the highway, with 248 ft.lbs of torque. It’s married to a smooth, 6-speed automatic with a manual shift mode, and paddle shifters on the XLE Premium and Limited editions. There are also three drive modes, controlled by a console-mounted spring-loaded knob — Normal, Sport, and ECO.

The hybrid has a new 2AR-FXE 2.5-Liter powerplant, putting down 154 horses and 153 ft.lbs of torque. The 200 horsepower electric motor is powered by a Nickel-Hydride 244.8-volt battery pack The system is coupled with the same 6-speed automatic as the gas engine, but offers three different drive modes — EV, ECO, and Sport.

The gas version does the 0-60 drill in a respectable 6.7 seconds, while it takes the hybrid 8.2.

Behind The Wheel: The 2014 Toyota Avalon is certainly a pleasant departure from the previous model. One drive in the Limited version took us from the Santa Barbara/Goleta area, through the mountains leading to Santa Ynez, thru Solvang, and then down the 101 along the ocean back to Santa Barbara.

We found the new Avalon an absolute pleasure to drive. It was exceptionally quiet, and comfortable, but when called on, acceleration is more than adequate. It effortlessly topped 100 mph on a couple of short stretches of the 101, with no complaints from the powerplant. Cruising at a pretty steady 80, was like taking a Sunday drive.

The retuned electric steering, along with a much stiffer body structure, have increased agility and reduced body roll. There are McPherson struts at all four corners featuring rebound springs — a nice improvement over past Avalon models. One notable feature included in Sport mode is Dynamic Rev Management. This blips the throttle when downshifting and is useful when using the paddle shifters.

Whines: The obviously plastic-wood trim detracts somewhat from an otherwise gorgeous interior.

Bottom Line: The base price is $30,990 – $2,200 less than the previous Avalon XLE — while the Hybrid starts at $35,555. Meanwhile, the V6 Limited stickers at $39,650 and a Limited Hybrid $41,400.

Toyota is specifically targeting men and women in the 55-year-old age bracket – 10 years younger than the average buyer of the last Avalon. With expressive styling and new technology, the 2014 Avalon measures up well against competitors like the Chrysler 300, Buick LaCrosse, and Hyundai Azera. So if you’re looking for a large, stylish sedan, with plenty of room, and great fuel economy, you owe it to yourself to check out both the gas and hybrid 2014 Toyota Avalon.