Toyota's all-American flagship sedan acquires a passion for fashion
Plymouth, Mich. — I once knew a woman who claimed to be a devout vegetarian, except for one kind of meat she did occasionally eat. Roast beef. Just as long as it was really rare and bloody ...

A similar incongruity applies to my feelings about the Toyota Avalon. My automotive tastes usually lean towards agility and fuel efficiency — attributes that usually come together in small, sporty machinery. Yet I've always had a soft spot for Toyota's big, cushy "Japanese Buick."

On the one hand, my rational left brain appreciates the Avalon because it actually is a surprisingly efficient car. Not just fuel-efficient relative to its size and performance, but also space-efficient, packing loads of useable inside into a not-overly-large outside.

At the same time my pleasure-seeking right brain is happy to occasionally just lay back and luxuriate in a cream-puff ride when agility is not an option (though even on that point, the Avalon was better than it's usually given credit for). Then there's the Avalon's surprising hidden talent: it's really quite a go-er. The last one we tested did 0-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds. Surprised the heck out of that punk in the GTI, eh, grampa!

Built in the U.S., almost entirely for the U.S.

2013 Toyota Avalon(Photo: Toyota)

None of the above, however, seems to strike much of a chord with Canadians. Presumably Americans buy enough Avalons to justify their continued production, but in Canada the current third-generation Avalon is a wallflower, averaging about 500 sales annually in recent years. You almost wonder why Toyota keeps it on the roster here.

As it is, Canada won't be getting the most newsworthy version of the all-new 2013 Avalon. Back in June we told you about the upcoming Avalon Hybrid, but it turns out the electrified Avalon is not coming north. The Hybrid elevates that whole fuel-and-space-efficiency equation to a higher plane, but only Americans (since when did they ever care about fuel economy?) can buy it. Toyota Canada figures that between the Camry and the Lexus ES Hybrids it has the large-car hybrid market covered.

Still, even the regular Avalon will be more fuel-efficient than its predecessor. The 3.5-litre V6 carries over essentially unchanged, still rated at 268 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft., but some tinkering with the transmission (including a longer-legged final drive ratio) contributes to a 10.6 per cent fuel-economy gain (based on U.S. figures). Also contributing to that cause is a 54-kg reduction in vehicle mass.

No longer a full-sizer

2013 Toyota Avalon(Photo: Toyota)

Not just lighter, the new car is also smaller — by 60 mm in length and 15 mm in width, though tread dimensions widen slightly. As a result the 2013's combined cabin and trunk volumes have demoted it from the large to midsize category: although trunk volume has expanded from 14.4 to 16.0 cu. ft. (in part because the rear seats are no longer reclineable), passenger volume shrinks by a greater amount, from 106.9 to 103.6 cubic feet (only 0.9 more than a Camry).

Toyota officials say the dimensions that matter are up, though the only gain cited in the specs is 0.4 inch more rear headroom. In practical terms, we're told, a seat that can power down further increases available driver headroom. Tape-measure quibbling aside, this is still a very roomy car — and after all, according to Toyota research, even an Avalon's rear seats are unoccupied 92 per cent of the time.

Somewhat ironically, this archetypal retiree's car is one of the first redesigns to emerge from Toyota's promised new era of more exciting vehicles. "We're really passionate about design now," said Kevin Hunter, who heads up Toyota's Calty design studio. The basic shape — which in its final form has diverged remarkably little, apparently, from the original sketches — was the work of a 20something designer, Miljan Jevremovic. The design goal: to look powerful (but in an athletic, kinetic way, not brutish) and intelligent. None of which has compromised the car's very creditable 0.276 coefficient of drag.