As a frequent business traveler and car lover, I always get a little anxiety over the make and model of my rental cars. Thankfully, companies like Hertz and National have gradually gotten more flexible in recent years by allowing renters to choose their own cars within their reserved car class. When I landed in sunny Los Angeles last week, I took advantage of this flexibility and elected to spend the week with the all-new, 2013 Toyota Avalon XLE.
Since first seeing the 2013 Avalon at the New York Auto Show back in 2012, I knew Toyota definitely did something right from an exterior design perspective. The previous generation Avalon was long overdue for a makeover and the all-new styling on the 2013 model is just what it needed. The Avalon, at an overall length of just over 193 inches, is not exactly a small vehicle, yet the seamlessly integrated, free flowing lines do a nice job of tying the car together without making it look like a boat. The front headlights, chrome grille accents, and ventilated bumper give the Avalon a smart, friendly appearance. The rear of the vehicle boasts a chrome accent across the trunk which is nicely spaced from the Toyota emblem to properly emphasize the two, unlike the integrated approach designers took on the Camry XLE. In addition, the chrome accent perfectly bridges the gap between the two LED, wrap-around taillights.
Upon settling into the driver's seat, I was literally blown away by the quality of the cavernous interior. There is absolutely no cheap looking hard plastic or fake stitching to be found anywhere. High quality, soft touch materials are neatly stitched into the dash and then accented with chrome and wood inserts. Cover up the Toyota emblem on the steering wheel, and you could have convinced me I was in a Lexus. Rear seat passengers don't have to make sacrifices either with ample legroom and optional climate controls.
All Avalons are equipped with an 8-way power driver seat and 4-way power passenger seat fittingly trimmed in leather. As a tall driver, I had plenty of room. With the seat moved all the way back, I had plenty of room to pull out my laptop and use the center console arm rest as a mobile workstation. However, when driving, the seat could have provided better thigh support, especially for a vehicle with such a large interior. If there is one thing Toyota could improve on with the interior, more support in the front seats should be top on the list. Also a car of this size could definitely benefit from a sky-view roof.
After adjusting my seat and mirrors, my attention then focused on pairing my iPhone with Avalon's Bluetooth audio and phone system, a must for any business traveler taking calls on the road. Some manufacturers really make you guess when it comes to this process and many renters don't even bother, but Toyota's system provides a fairly intuitive interface and pairing my iPhone took no more than 20 seconds. Only one pair was needed for my entire week with the vehicle; each time I started the car, my phone was recognized almost immediately.
Driving the Avalon was a treat. The 3.5L V6 engine provided enough get-up-and-go to squeal the tires on the onramp of the 405, and that's WITH 4 passengers and their luggage. The ride was appropriately soft, yet predictable, and the car always behaved itself even under full load on the winding roads of Topanga Canyon. One of the best parts about driving the Avalon is it feels like you are not driving an Avalon at all, but rather a car much smaller. Kudos to the Toyota engineers for providing a commanding driving position with no blind spots. The only time the car felt really big is when parallel parking. My rental Avalon wasn't equipped with a backup camera. If I were purchasing this vehicle, I would definitely opt for one.
My experience with the 2013 Toyota Avalon was overwhelmingly positive. While it wouldn't be my first choice for a vacation rental, it's hands down one of the best options when travelling with coworkers. For those in the market for a large car, or for those roaming the rental lots, Toyota definitely does not disappoint.
Pros: Interior quality, front and rear seat legroom, touch screen controls, acceleration, and exterior design
Cons: Front seat thigh support, no sky-view roof offering
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