When you think about cars that get your heart racing, we bet the Toyota Avalon isn't at the top of your mind. The Avalon drives like a boat on the road, with a soft ride, uninspired driving dynamics, numb steering and the kind of exterior design that hardly elicits a second glance unless you are clutching an AARP card as you head out to  play canasta with your retired friends.

But clearly, some people like that kind of drive. The Avalon has been consistently popular, especially with the older crowd. But with the rest of the large sedan category – and the industry, really – moving towards sleeker, more inspired cars both inside and out, Toyota found that the Avalon was in pretty desperate need of a redesign.

With this newest iteration, Toyota is trying to shake the Avalon's vanilla reputation. Coming now in two versions – the standard Avalon and Avalon Hybrid – Toyota says that this big sedan is lighter, sportier, comfier, greener and comes with some much-improved aesthetics, both inside and out. All in all, the Japanese automaker seems to finally be giving the Avalon the tools it needs to compete with the newer Ford Taurus, Nissan Maxima, Hyundai Azera, Chrysler 300 and Chevrolet Impala, all of which have been geared towards a younger, or younger-minded, crowd in recent years.

So did Toyota deliver and recreate the Avalon as a premium and sporty ride? I headed up to Northern California wine country to find out.

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How Much? (Avalon; Avalon Hybrid)

How Much? (Avalon; Avalon Hybrid)

MSRP: $30,990 - $39,650; $35,555 - $41,400

Invoice: $27,892 - $35,686; $32,000 - $37,260

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Key Stats (Avalon; Avalon Hybrid)

Key Stats (Avalon; Avalon Hybrid)

Engine: 3.5L V6; 2.5L I4

Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission; 2-speed CVT

Performance: 268 hp, 248 lb-ft of torque; 156 hp, 156 lb-ft of torque

Fuel Economy: 21 mpg City, 31 mpg Highway; 40 mpg City, 39 mpg Highway

Seating: 5

Cargo: 16.0 cu. ft.; 14.0 cu. ft.

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The Competition

The Competition

The Avalon most directly competes with the Nissan Maxima, Ford Taurus (pictured), Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300 and Hyundai Azera.

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What We Like

What We Like

Michael: The exterior aesthetics of the 2013 Avalon are fantastic. Toyota completely changed up the look of this big sedan to the point where it is basically unrecognizable as an Avalon. And that's a good thing. Swooping lines, an aggressive stance, great colors and a new grille combine to make this one of Toyota's best looking cars. The new design struck a great balance, which results in the car being both eye catching yet understated on the road. I think it all just works really well.

Additionally, although it's no Porsche, the Avalon is pretty fun to drive. You'll find some disagreement on that point from other reviewers (see next slide), but for such a large sedan, the Avalon proved to be quite nimble on the road. The car's acceleration, braking and steering – especially with the V6 – made tackling a mountain road in Napa Valley rather enjoyable. Compared to the Avalon's previous iterations, driving dynamics have been massively improved.

Autoblog: If you're looking for a large sedan with the best possible fuel economy, look no further than the 2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid. The new model shares engine and transmission componentry with the Camry, but it's recalibrated for use in this new application. Total system output is rated at 200 horsepower; 156 hp and 156 pound-feet from the engine with the rest offered up by the electric motor. While that doesn't sound like a lot for a big car, to its credit, Toyota has been able to keep weight down to 3,458 pounds (base trim), which is within spitting distance of the smaller Camry. Here are the noteworthy details: 40 miles per gallon in the city, 39 on the highway and 40 combined; 680-mile range with a full tank; electric-only mode at speeds less than 25 miles per hour.

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What We Don't Like

What We Don't Like

Michael: The interior is so close to being really, really good. The seats are great, interior space is superb, road and wind noise is minimal and the audio system is solid. But the infotainment cluster just doesn't make the cut. Though Toyota included its latest iteration of Entune, which works pretty well save some lagginess, the entire ensemble just doesn't go with the rest of this great interior, both aesthetically and functionally.

The capacitive switches – which replace conventional buttons for things like controlling the temperature and radio – are neat in theory, but they look out of place and frankly don't work that well. In fact, fumbling around trying to make sure you're hitting the right "touch" area with your finger can be rather distracting while driving (you'll find similar complaints from me about capacitive switches on cars from Ford and Chevrolet as well).

All in all, everything down to the font and coloring Toyota chose to go with on the infotainment just doesn't feel right – a blemish on this otherwise refined and beautiful interior. Nitpicky? Perhaps a little. But Toyota wanted to give this car a truly premium feel on the inside and the reality is the overall infotainment experience is holding it back from truly succeeding in doing so.

Autoblog: When it comes to the actual act of driving, we have to call a spade a spade ... and this not-so-spade-shaped people mover still drives like the cushy fullsize sedan that it is. Toyota has made huge strides in stiffening the structure of this new Avalon, going so far as to add a bunch of robots to the assembly line for additional spot welds and bracing. Toyota claims to have also placed a specific emphasis on steering response and agility, tuning the Electric Power Steering system for good straight-line stability. The chassis does indeed feel commendably stiff, though the suspension bits holding it up are tuned with comfort in mind.

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Bottom Line

Bottom Line

The 2013 Toyota Avalon is a surprisingly good large sedan. Massively improved in exterior and interior aesthetics, driving dynamics and fuel economy, the Avalon provides an engaging and comfortable ride, which should be desirable to a wide range of drivers.

Infotainment needs some work and the interface may prove to be frustrating for users who prefer a more conventional mode of interacting with the radio and climate control, but all in all, the Avalon is a solid car that big sedan shoppers – and even luxury car shoppers -- should take a look at.

AOL Autos Score:

3.5/5 Stars


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