Toyota Avalon: A
Sedan for the Ages

By The Car Family

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Someone at Toyota has made a big error and left the Lexus nameplate off of the Avalon. If you hurry you can take advantage of this mistake and save yourself at least ten thousand dollars and maybe more. You see by any other name the Avalon is a Lexus. It is quiet, thrifty on gas, roomy, and its handling and looks are rather bland. In fact, I doubt anyone would notice the difference except when the payment book comes. Before we go further let it be known that this is a very impressive vehicle for the price and cannot be ignored for the traveler. On a 1000-mile trip we averaged 28 mpg on the highway with a full family onboard. What is even more notable is that the six-cylinder engine this Avalon has makes about 280 silky horses and still gets compact car gas mileage even on regular fuel. In comparison, the new Buick LaCrosse sedan we tested averaged barely 20 mpg on a similar trip with the full family onboard. Kudos to
Toyota for this accomplishment.
Just to cure our journalistic curiosity we decided to compare the Avalon with the Lexus ES 330. If you go with the base model for both the
Toyota is nearly 22 percent less expensive. The Lexus has the superior warranty and dealer reputation, although
Toyota prices are clearly less expensive.
To add weight to our argument that the Avalon is really a Lexus take a look at these figures that compare it with similarly priced Lexus ES. The Accord has 55 more horsepower, more torque, has a larger engine and yet is still more fuel efficient, has a rear seat that can adjusted, has more room everywhere, weighs nearly the same, and has a longer fuel mileage rating. Whereas the previous Avalon felt like a large Camry, this Avalon feels like a Lexus LS which costs over twenty thousand more.There simply is nothing to compare the Avalon with in its price range. The Chrysler 300 is more athletic, but lacks the interior space, quiet ride, and amenities of the Avalon. The Ford Five Hundred does offer all wheel drive and can compete in terms of space, but the engines and features can’t touch the Avalon. The Ford is less expensive. The Pontiac Grand Prix is more utilitarian, but unless you pay extra for the supercharged engine it can’t stay with the bigger Avalon. Everything else in this segment is much more expensive. Let us put it more directly, this is not the perfect car. It needs stiffer suspension, more supportive seats, and more road feel for that mark to be approached. But for the money it sets a new standard just as the first Lexus LS did in 1989 and caught the rest of the automobile world by surprise. How do we know, we bought the first LS we could get our hands on and kept it for ten years. And, truth be known, this Avalon is better and even now, 15 years later, it is priced at about half of what we paid for our full loaded Lexus. That my friends is value. Mom’s view: This is not your mother’s six seater Avalon. This only seats five, but your mom would love it. It is big, wide, unobtrusive looking, and has an engine that is the perfect blend of big and brawny while being quiet and efficient. An ideal mate, in other words. The statistics are overwhelming. There is simply nothing like it in this price range. You get a 280-hp 3.5-liter V6 and a five-speed automatic transmission with sequential shift that must have been going together for a long time because they seem capable of fulfilling each other’s wishes without being asked.There are three versions, the VXi, GXi, and top-line Grande model. We would either get the bargain priced entry level GXi or go for the better handling Touring model because we like a firmer ride. All come with antilock 4-wheel disc brakes and most have 17-inch rims. Unfortunately, the traction/antiskid system is only available for VXi and Grande models. Other safety features include front side airbags, head-protecting curtain side airbags, and a driver knee airbag, and ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist. Optional safety features for VXi and Grande are Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control.All the models have the reclining rear seatbacks and telescoping steering wheel, but if you want leather you have to order the more upscale models and if you want the heated and cooled seats and the keyless ignition the Grande model is the one. A fairly good navigation system is also available on the Grande and VXi. The system can be voice activated, but it wasn’t as easy to use as those from some manufactures. Inside, the Avalon is most attractive. There is a clean look about it, but more importantly it is a statement that this is an upscale vehicle. There isn’t any sportiness here; just an attempt to put things in order just like you would do before a visit from the in-laws. There are retracting lids that cover the audio and GPS controls that simplify the dash, but take a while to master since they are on a flat angle and difficult to read. The gauge lighting does not fatigue you while driving at night. Lexus, I mean
Toyota, calls them Optitron instruments and they are elegant. On the downside, I did find the driver’s manual font too small and I missed the double glove compartments like they have on the
LS Lexus, but that were my only concerns about the interior. Overall, this was a truly wonderful car to drive. It was accommodating, thrifty and had some equipment I wished every vehicle had such as a rear screen that you can deploy to cut down on headlight glare, especially from those raised trucks and SUVs that come up behind you at stop lights. The second item is the marvelous rear seats that have the backrests that can be slightly reclined. My only worry was that the large rounded sides of the Avalon make easy picking for door swingers in parking lots. I can see a line of dents in those door panels if you have to park in lots that were approved of by city planning commissions that were more interested in appeasing developers than providing adequate parking for customers. Dad’s view: I didn’t get much seat time in the Avalon. The grandparents and wife kept it busy gulping down large links of highways. What I did surmise is that the handling is gracious when dealing with frost heaves and bumps, but may be too accommodating when sharp maneuvers and corners come into play. Regardless, this is a bargain and one would have to be foolish not to give it a test if they enjoyed economic touring.The GXi is such a bargain that I had to call around to make sure the MSRP was accurate. For about A$31,000 you get the big and very powerful V6 engine, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo with nine speakers, dual-zone climate control, and an air filtration. Also available are the remote keyless entry, power door locks, power windows, steering-wheel-mounted audio and climate controls, multi-function information display, and trip computer. You can add laser cruise control, an engine immobilizer, a tilt and telescoping steering column, and a full sized spare tire with an alloy rim to that list. I liked that combination, but for a couple of grand more you can get the Touring version with firmer shocks and springs, special Michelin 215/55s, 17-inch wheels, leather, and -intensity-discharge headlights. This would be my choice. The more expensive VXi adds a power moonroof, four-way adjustable power passenger seat, in-dash six-disc CD changer, dual heated outside mirrors, auto-dimming electrochromic driver’s side, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and Homelink. The premier Grande, has all of that plus a better 360-watt JBL audio system with six-disc CD changer and 12 speakers, power rear sunshade, power driver’s seat cushion length adjuster, Smart Key system, and trim items. Value wise nothing can compare.The highway ride is much nicer than the previous models probably because this Avalon is five inches longer and looks much more aerodynamic. From the side the car looks similar to the Prius, but is much more powerful in appearance. However, it still has that bland styling that makes it invisible except for those in the know.
Toyota is not going to sell these to new consumers based on its looks, but once they drive the Avalon it is a sure bet they are going to create another headache for domestic manufactures. In fact, this is about as an Americanized vehicle that
Toyota offers right down to the fake dual-exhaust, a first from this company.
My overall impression of the Avalon was that here is finally a vehicle that bridges the gap between luxury and the middle class paycheck. You can get to 60 mph in less than seven seconds, a range that the six cylinder BMW and Mercedes models occupy, and yet it comes in under the average new car transaction price. I didn’t like the seats because I prefer those that hold you rather than just accommodate you, but they were comfortable. Our test car had the heated and cooled seats and they worked. What was nicer was that the fan noise when they were running was not as loud as on other models. I take pleasure in such small comforts. The heater and air conditioning units were easy to operate and moderate.One option we never grew to love, but to appreciate was the Smart Key. The Avalon can sense this key when it is in your possession and automatically opens the doors once you touch the handle. Once inside all you have to do to ignite the 3.5-liter engine is touch the Start button. No key is needed, but one is provided just in case. Pressing the same button also stops the engine.Since it is a front-wheel-drive there is a lot of weight on the front wheels, which distracts from its tossability. The front struts and L-shaped lower control arms combine with the multi-link and strut suspension in the back are set for balance rather than performance. The rack-and-pinion steering does not provide the feedback I like, as it is clear that comfort and quiet are what this Avalon is all about. The five speed automatic transmission does it transmitting with quiet efficiency. Until the car shifts into fifth, or overdrive, there is very little drop in rpms as the car accelerates through the gears. On the open road relaxed is the word that comes to mind in describing the Avalon. In town its bulk and reduced rear vision caused by the high trunk make it more of a handful, but its nothing that an owner cannot learn to accept after a week or two. Young working woman’s view: My first impression was that this was a really big car. I was not enamored of its looks. I rode in the backseat for a while and it didn’t take long to notice that this was something special. It was like being in the living room. Everything was nice; plenty of space, and you could carry on a conversation easily. When I did finally rankle the Smart Key from the old folks I took it for a ride and was won over. Although the 38 feet turning radius isn’t great, it still did not make parking the Avalon a problem. The engine was trustworthy and I found you could easily manual shift it by just tapping the lever. It really wasn’t necessary though, as the transmission does such a fine job itself. The lack of vibration is due in fact to the active control engine mount that help to cancel the motions of the engine at idle. The engine pulls nearly silently, shifting just below the 6200 rpm redline. The four valves per cylinder, double overhead-cam engine with extensive aluminum portions, is nothing short of a engineering masterpiece giving you 280 horsepower while getting EPA figures of 22 /30 mpg. Around town I got close to 22 and on the highway it stayed close to 27. If I used the laser cruise control it rose to 30 at times. That cruise control system uses the laser to detect vehicles in front of the Avalon and automatically slows the car to retain a safe distance. If you travel the highways frequently, this is a must have option.Young working male’s view: Since this is clearly not my type of machine I am turning over the remainder of my review space to grandpa. Grandpa’s view: I was very impressed. There was plenty of room in the backseat and there is space for a couple of girlfriends to sit besides you, too. The floor is flat, which is something I had never seen before. All my previous vehicles were rear wheel drive and had the tunnel for the driveshaft. I believe that Ford Five Hundred has more room, but I liked the feel of this car better. Of course, it was more expensive. The large rear doors made it easy for me to get in and out. If you use a walker you don’t have to put in the trunk and hold onto the car as you walk around to the door. There is plenty of room for it in the back seat. Also, since every day seems to bring a new backache I liked the fact that you could fiddle with the seats to create five sitting positions because the rear cushion declines ten degrees. And, if I want to keep my hat on in the cold weather, I can do so just by adjusting the seats to give me more headroom. Since I don’t drive any longer I can’t comment on the performance of the Avalon, but I can tell you that it was quiet and respectful of those of us who like to take an occasional nap. This is quite a pleaser and I would call it a car for the ages because it seemed to suit everyone to a Tee.My last car was a Dodge and before that it was a Dodge and before that…you get the idea. Well, I would buy this one in a second, especially when I found out it was built in the good old
USA. Of course, since it costs more than my first house by a considerable amount I can’t comment on its value, but I’ve learning over the years that it you don’t take care of yourself no one else is going to do it for you.
Family conference: If you need a large sedan this is a must drive.
Toyota has created what we call a price peg. That means that competitive vehicles must either meet the MSRP of the Avalon and offer similar attributes or lose potential sales. When we bought our first
Lexus LS and RX they were price-pegged cars, and so we knew that the resale was going to be high for this model and we were right. After ten years our LS sold for nearly 35 percent of what we paid for it. Our RX 300 resale value after seven years still is resides at 50 percent of its value. We expect this Avalon to do as well. As for this
Toyota, it could well be a car for the ages for as it name implies, Avalon is the paradise to which Arthur was carried.