Techiest Cars of 2013

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Best high-tech family sedan: Toyota Avalon

The new 2013 Avalon sedan is available with the full-featured version of Toyota’s Entune suite of on-board applications that display data retrieved by smartphones on a large screen in the car’s dash. All the usual tech connections are also available, but one of the best things the Avalon has going for it is the “eBin” that’s in front of the shifter on the center console. It’s a nook for a smartphone and includes a grippy rubberized surface. This simple feature keeps the cup holders free for actual cups.

Check out the bumper-to-bumper review on Edmunds.com.

The test-drive

Toyota is clearly trying to court younger car buyers by loading up the Avalon with high-tech features. The Avalon line, which usually sells to an older demographic, starts at $31,000 and comes in both traditional and hybrid models with multiple trims. The Limited comes packed with technology, including three-color TFT screens in the cabin, capacitive touch-sensitive buttons on the head unit, and blind spot and cross-traffic monitoring.

The first thing you’ll notice when you get into the Avalon Limited is its slick, futuristic-looking dashboard control area, which houses two of the aforementioned color screens.

The Avalon's dash features two color touchscreens.

The main screen is a 7-inch, matte-finish touchscreen flanked by capacitive touch buttons. While I’m not usually a big fan of touch buttons, these are actually quite responsive and usable. They’re also nicely placed, for the most part. I really like that the audio, media, and volume controls are located to the left of the touchscreen, close to the steering wheel, because this makes changing the radio station a breeze. The buttons to the right of the screen are a little less convenient, however, and it’s quite a stretch to reach them if you’re sitting in the driver’s seat.

The main screen

Most of the action happens on the main screen. Here, you’ll find car settings, apps, media and audio, navigation, and phone settings. Though the main screen is a touchscreen, it’s not entirely controlled by touch: To get to each of these main areas, you’ll need to use a combination of the capacitive buttons and the touchscreen. This is why the reach for those buttons is such a problem.

The big thing in the new Avalon Limited is apps. The Limited comes with two different types of apps: built-in Sirius XM apps (for sports, stocks, and weather), which require a Sirius XM subscription, and Entune apps. Entune is Toyota’s in-vehicle multimedia system that works in conjunction with your smartphone.

The touch button controls on the dash's secondary screen are used to control apps.

To use Entune, you’ll need to first download the app on your smartphone. Then, you can connect your phone to the Avalon Limited to use the built-in apps: Bing, iHeartRadio, MovieTickets, OpenTable, and Pandora. Bing lets you search for destinations, MovieTickets and OpenTable let you find movie times and make restaurant reservations, and iHeartRadio and Pandora let you stream music through your car. Entune uses your phone’s (not the car’s) data connection, which means you do have to be a little cautious, as streaming music can quickly eat through a limited data plan.

Navigation: a mixed bag

On one hand, the Avalon Limited’s turn-by-turn directions and route guidance are accurate and easy to follow, especially with turn-by-turn directions being pushed to the small instrument cluster screen. Plus, the Limited is equipped with NavTraffic, which offers real-time traffic alerts and updates to help you avoid traffic jams and accidents.

On the other hand, the navigation can be a bit confusing. For example, I couldn't find a way to enter an address using just the touchscreen—you either need to press the capacitive “Destination” button, or you have to do it using voice-recognition commands.  You can’t leave the navigation screen for more than a couple minutes (to change the radio station, use your phone, etc.) before the system kicks you back. What you can do is split the screen in half to see both your radio station and the map at the same time.

The Avalon Limited actually has some neat features to enhance your phone experience, aside from the basic Bluetooth-connected calling. Below the floating center stack, there’s a small, non-slip cradle designed to hold your mobile device. If you push the cradle up, you’ll reveal a lit-up compartment called the eBin, complete with two 12-volt power outlets, an auxiliary audio jack, and a USB port for wired charging.

The Avalon sports a wireless charging surface for your phone.

But wait—there’s more. If you happen to have a device that’s compatible with Qi wireless charging (or if your device has a Qi-compatible case), you can just drop your phone on the non-slip surface in the eBin. That’s right, the Avalon Limited is the first car to have built-in wireless charging. Of course, if you don’t have a wireless-charging-enabled device, then the eBin is just a convenient non-slip cradle.

Other screens and features

There are two other color screens in the Avalon Limited. Below the main screen, on the center stack, there’s a slim screen that displays a clock and climate settings. Capacitive buttons situated around the screen are used to control the climate (there are separate climate zones for the driver and the passenger). Below this screen is a capacitive slider for controlling fan speed. The Limited also has heated and cooled front seats, though these controls are located on the console between the seats.

The last screen is located in the car’s instrument cluster, between the tachometer and the speedometer. Initially, this screen just shows what gear you’re in, unless you switch it up using the steering wheel controls. You can also customize this screen to show various stats, including fuel economy, speed, trip meter, and turn-by-turn directions.

You can program the instrument cluster screen to display fuel economy, speed, trip meter, and turn-by-turn directions.

Though we mostly focus on the consumer tech in our reviews, it’s worth noting that the Avalon Limited is also full of safety tech. This includes blind spot and cross-traffic monitoring, an automatic backup camera that shows the space behind the car, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. The Limited also has automatic cruise control, which uses sensors and radars to maintain a preset distance between you and the car in front of you, and automatic high beams, which uses a forward-facing camera to detect oncoming traffic and automatically dim your lights.

Bottom line

Toyota has done a nice job of adding hip technology, such as Entune-compatibility, multiple screens, and capacitive buttons to its 2013 Avalon Limited. The new Avalon Limited will be best received by somewhat tech-savvy suburban parents because of its cool tech and because its got the biggest trunk I’ve ever seen. My only gripe is that the new technology inside the car might not be intuitive enough to appeal to older drivers.

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