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2014 Avalon Limited: Very nice premium mid-size sedan for under $40,000

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The mid-size Toyota Avalon five-passenger sedan was significantly upgraded with the 2013 model year, moving it more solidly into the premium segment for mid-size cars with attributes and characteristics more typical of a large-size car costing more. The consumer responded positively with sales of the Avalon more than doubling in 2013 from 2012.

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The 2014 Toyota Avalon has been tweaked a bit more across several areas and in particular, at the top-of-the-line Limited trim level to offer more value and a solidly performing drive experience coupled with excellent ride comfort and passenger convenience in a very roomy premium cabin – all for a MSRP just under $40,000. If sales in 2014 to date are an indicator, the Avalon is continuing to satisfy consumer demand for a very good premium mid-size sedan that is reasonably priced.

Our recent ride-drive opportunity for the new Avalon was in a 2014 Toyota Avalon Limited with a base MSRP of $39,650 not including delivery. Our test Avalon came in Moulin Rouge Mica with a Black interior riding on its standard 18-inch 10-spoke Alloy Wheels and P225/45 R18 All Season tires. It was exceptionally well equipped with standard equipment and features plus it included the only optional package available – the Technology for $1,750. Adding a couple more standalone options including the Qi Wireless Charging feature for $200, the delivered price totaled just $43,014.

The 2014 Avalon Limited exterior styling does not get in your face as some competitor vehicles do. Toyota has chosen a more refined long and flowing roofline with a lower beltline that gives it more of coupe look on a platform that is an inch lower than before suggesting a sporty performance experience awaits the driver. The front fascia is more expressive with a larger grille than previous versions. The Avalon features the Toyota Quadrabeam headlight cluster that uses a double-eye PES headlight design with halogen and high intensity discharge (HID) bulbs available for the low beams.

Its daytime running lights (DRLs) using six high-performance LED bulbs give the front a distinctive current image. The sculpted taillights use LED lamps for high visibility and the power side mirrors integrate a host of key features including turn signal lamp, mirror heater, memory positioning, a puddle lamp, and Blind Spot Monitor indicator. For 2014, all Avalon models now come with a backup camera as standard equipment with the Limited camera including dynamic guidelines superimposed on the display to aid in monitoring vehicle position. Our Avalon Limited also included fog lamps and rain sensing windshield wipers as standard.

The 2014 Avalon Limited is equipped with a very capable and efficient power train. Our gas-powered Avalon Limited came with a 3.5L DOHC V6 features Dual VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. It produces 268 horsepower with 248 lb.-ft. of torque at and can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than seven seconds according to Toyota (we did not confirm that). The Avalon Limited is EPA-rated at 21/31 mpg City/Highway and 24 mpg combined.

Additionally, the 2014 Avalon is equipped with a Drive Selection Mode that has three levels, Eco, Normal and Sport. Eco Mode prioritizes fuel efficiency by balancing driving performance, air conditioning function and fuel efficiency. Sport mode helps create a more aggressive driving experience by adjusting throttle response and by increasing the Electric Power Steering effort for a more direct, responsive feel. The transmission can be shifted from D mode into S mode on the shift gate and with the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters included on the Limited - the Sport Mode shifts can be controlled with the levers.

Standard equipment and features include a very responsive platform that is long (111-inch wheelbase) without significant weight (curb weight of only 3,461 pounds) due to a very rigid lightweight steel body. The tuning of the front Macpherson strut suspension and dual-link rear suspension take advantage of that unibody structure both front and rear. The electric power steering system (EPS) assist has been optimized in response to vehicle speed to create a lighter effort sensation at lower speeds and increased effort and on-center feel at higher speeds to improve performance.

The interior offers a premium ambience that begins with the quietness of the cabin which is the result of significant use of sound-absorbing and sound-insulating materials used throughout the car’s structure including acoustic-type glass in the windshield and side glass. The extensive use of premium soft-touch materials throughout including smoke chrome trim surrounding the center panel and glossy panel trim around the shifter accent the premium appeal of the interior.

The cabin is large and very comfortable for five passengers with front headroom of 38.5-inches and a surprising (given the coupe-like slope of the roofline) 37.9-inches in the rear. Legroom in front is 42.1-inches with 39.3-inches in the rear. Even with the large cabin volume, the trunk space was still a very respectable 16.0 cubic feet.

Our Limited’s front seats were heated and cooled with 10-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat, and 8-way for the passenger seat. The Limited’s driver seat had a seat-cushion length extender which is very nice for the taller or longer legged driver. The rear seats were heated. All seating surfaces were covered with fine grain premium leather.

The three-zone climatic climate control system is standard on the Limited with zone controls for driver and passenger plus an independent temperature control for the rear seat. The system is managed by Intelligent Touch controls (capacitive touch) have been tuned to operate conveniently with a light touch, and can even be operated by hands with gloves or longer fingernails. We would note that this feature works much better than last year’s model.

The Avalon Limited has many distinctive luxury appearance and functional features including its Optitron-type gauges and a 3.5-inch thin-film transistor (TFT) color multi-information display on the instrument panel, LED lighting illuminating the door panel’s controls, dash area and glove box plus the chrome-trimmed cup holders in the center console are lit by LED ambient lighting that can be adjusted in three levels. Other luxury touches include the rear window power shade that blocks sunrays for the rear passengers and a large-capacity rear console that includes cup holders plus a box big enough to store a tissue box, a detachable sliding tray to store smaller items plus containing a 12-volt DC outlet.

One of the features we really liked was the eBin electronics storage tray beneath the climate controls in the center console that provides storage for two devices (like cellphones or iPod) side-by-side on a high-grip surface with charging jacks located below the tray. They can be opened and closed with cables passing neatly through a slot. The tray is also illuminated by LED light for improved night visibility. Beneath this tray is an electronics storage box where devices can also be stored completely out of sight while charging. Two DC 12v power outlets, an AUX and a USB jack are accessible in the storage box. And, as we noted already, our Limited included the optional Qi Wireless Charging Station as part of this feature.

Other technology included in this Avalon Limited included the Premium HDD Navigation system with Entune App Suite and JBL Synthesis 7.1 channel matrix sound system. The Premium HDD system uses a 12-channel external JBL Synthesis amplifier and 11 speakers, including two subwoofers. It also included the seven-inch, high-resolution touchscreen display with voice enabled search for iPod or USB connected device. The split-screen capability of the system allows for things like audio information or vehicle information to be displayed together with a map on the main navigation screen. Also included was Toyota’s Entune App Suite, which functions through a smartphone interface.

Some other convenience technology included was the multi-function steering wheel which integrates a four-direction audio switch, in addition to a cruise control switch, DISP (Display) and TEL (Telephone switch). The wheel also offers buttons for available voice recognition and a vehicle-to-vehicle distance switch for Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. Our Limited also featured remote access, remote start and push button start with the key fob.

From a safety perspective the Avalon Limited was equipped with the Toyota STAR Safety System, which includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), and Smart Stop brake-override Technology (SST). Also included were Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and a pre-collision system that helps mitigate the effects of a frontal vehicle impact along with the previously mentioned Dynamic Radar Cruise Control for both convenience and safety.

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