It's still primarily an American car, as most design and engineering work was done by various Toyota divisions here and assembly is at the Georgetown, KY plant. But where previous Avalons were ultra-conservative in styling, the new one is bold and distinctive. It's an inch lower, with shorter front and rear overhangs and less clearance between the tires and wheel arches. Track is up slightly, all the better to improve stability and handling.

And it is chassis tuning that is most strikingly different attribute compared to any previous Avalon. Gone is the nostalgic softness of the past, replaced by a firm yet supple tuning that compares well with any European luxury sedan. The new Avalon is a car that is as at home on the scenic route as on the highway.
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Which, of course, turned out to be a Limited with the Technology Package of Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, automatic high beams, and the Pre-Collision System suite of safety equipment. With standard blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, HID headlamps, power front seats, upgraded leather (leather is standard in all models), and both heating and cooling in front and heat in the rear seat cushions plus a premium navigation system, JBL audio system, and the Entune suite of connectivity applications in its spacious, contemporary, upscale interior, this Avalon treads very closely to Lexus territory. Despite a 68 horsepower "deficiency" and around 130 pounds more weight compared to a comparably-equipped V6 Limited, the hybrid was quick enough to easily deal with all merging and passing situations -- and got an average of 37 mpg for the week, with one 100-mile mixed highway and mountain road trip seeing over 40.

If you crave anonymity, this is no longer your car. Even though it's slightly smaller, the new Avalon has much more presence on the road. Without the Camry-like chromed crossbar Toyota grille, it wouldn't be readily identifiable as a Toyota. Looking at the front, one's eyes are alternately drawn to that or the ovalish lower grille as the dominant styling element. It's sportier-looking than any previous Avalon, with moderately-flared wheel arches, strong, angular shoulders, and semi-flared rocker panels on the body and a long, near-fastback passenger cabin.

Chrome implies luxury, and there is no shortage, with the upper and lower grilles at the front, the window surrounds and door handle trim at the sides, and the trim piece between the oversized wrap-around LED taillights at the rear most apparent. Hybrid models are distinguished by the blue highlights in the Toyota emblems on the hood and trunk, "hybrid" badges at the lower front of the front doors, and a "Hybrid Synergy Drive" badge on the trunk.

Other than the logo on the steering wheel hub, there is not much difference in appointment and comfort between this Toyota and a Lexus inside. The chromed plastic trim looks more plastic-like than does its counterpart in the "more upscale" Toyota brand, but the design, build quality, and materials are very, very close. Soft-touch materials are used for the top part of the instrument panel and doors, offset by thin chrome trim, woodgrain, and textured plastic in the center stack and console areas.

IntelliTouch capacitive switches on the center stack are a high-tech touch. Form, as good as it is, doesn't trump function, and the Optitron electroluminescent instruments are bright and easy to see in all lighting. An energy-use gauge replaces the tachometer in the hybrid. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has manual tilt and telescope adjustment. Audio and phone controls are on the horizontal spokes; lights, wipers, and cruise control are on stalks. Front seats are power-adjustable, with two memory positions for the driver's.

Standard safety equipment includes Toyota's Star Safety System, with ten airbags, whiplash-reducing front seats, front and rear crumple zones, side-impact door beams, and energy-absorbing steering column, an anti-theft system with engine immobilizer, and daytime running lights in all models. Touring and Limited grades have the blind-spot system, and Limiteds get LED DRLs and the Safety Connect telematics system, with the Pre-Collision System optional. More information about the program is available on the web site at www.hmhid.com.

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