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Toyota’s Full-Size Avalon Gets New Look for 2013

With the redesigned 2013 Avalon, Toyota is seeking to appeal to those who would never contemplate buying the full-size sedan.

Maybe they should have considered a new name, or at least one that doesn’t refer to the legendary island where King Arthur is buried. After all, this car has traditionally offered a similar dose of eternal serenity.

But not this time.

For the fourth generation of the Avalon, Toyota replaced last year’s dowdy duds with a sculpted body sporting distinctly dynamic lines and a long, arching roof. It’s a graceful counterpoint to the cluttered front end, which sports two grilles and bulging headlights that resemble an insect’s eyes. The back end shows much more restraint.

The visual excitement continues inside, where the asymmetrical instrument panel design, 7-inch touch screen and touch-sensitive control panel are nestled in a shape that floats above the rest of the dashboard.

This interior’s sophisticated elan is a compelling contrast to the many modern car interiors that mimic Gameboy controls.

But the Avalon has gained more than a stylish demeanor; it’s added a new power plant. In addition to the gas-powered Avalon, which uses the same 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine as last year’s car, the 2013 model is offered as a gas-electric hybrid, employing the system used in the Toyota Camry Hybrid.

The V-6 is rated at 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway. That’s pretty good for a 3,600-pound sedan with a big V-6 engine. By contrast, the gas-electric hybrid model is 56 pounds lighter than its sibling, which helps performance since the hybrid has 200 horsepower, 68 fewer ponies than the V-6.

Opting for the gas engine instead of the hybrid means a purchase price (the base model starts at $30,990) that’s $1,750 to $2,360 cheaper, depending on trim level.

But according to the EPA, the hybrid will cost $900 less to fuel annually. So, within two to three years, you’ll recover the hybrid’s price premium.

There are four trim levels. The base model, the XLE, comes only as a gas model, while XLE Premium, XLE Touring and Limited models come with either power train.

In an effort to endow it with a modicum of sporty personality, the V-6 model has a bit of an edge that the hybrid model lacks. Oddly, I prefer the hybrid model. It has the creamy smooth refinement I would expect in an Avalon. The V-6 has noticeably more power, especially in passing situations or at mid-range speed.

Then again, you may not notice due to the hybrid’s impressive off-the-line torque. And its stunning fuel economy is a welcome trade-off for the slightly slower speed.

As with the previous model, the Avalon is no sports sedan. But it’s much more nimble than its size suggests.

There’s a newfound agility that its predecessors did not possess. Credit the car’s firmer suspension. You’ll definitely notice bumps, but body motions are better controlled than before. Body lean is still in evidence in corners, but it doesn’t come on as quickly, and grip is stronger than expected. Even the car’s steering feel is improved. You still wouldn’t call it fun to drive, but it’s much livelier in feel.

Elsewhere, some things remain unchanged, like the quiet, roomy passenger compartment. Head- and legroom are plentiful. The wide seats are firm, yet comfortable and supportive during a seven-hour drive. The trunk is generous in size, despite being a hybrid. Opting for the gas engine nets an additional two cubic feet of cargo space.

One feature that younger buyers, or the young at heart, will appreciate is Toyota’s Entune multimedia system, which uses your smartphone to interface with apps such as Bing, iHeartRadio, OpenTable and Pandora. It displays them on the vehicle’s audio screen alongside such features as real-time traffic information, navigation, weather, fuel prices, sports and stock prices.

Toyota also added two welcome features this year.

One is rear cross-traffic alert, which sounds a buzzer if cars are approaching from the side and behind the vehicle while the car is in reverse. The other is a blind-spot monitor, which uses a radar to detect vehicles in the adjacent lane.

So put aside your preconceived notions. Yes, the Avalon Hybrid may seem like it’s ready for a home in the driveways of active adult communities, but younger drivers will find much to appreciate in its improved handling, punchy power plants, multimedia integration, expansive cabin and spectacular fuel economy.

The 2013 Toyota Avalon has a luxury feel and distinct demeanor that’s better than a Camry, but not quite as good as a Lexus ES 350. It’s an attractive offering for the price, as long as you don’t mind the car’s name.