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- 268 horsepower V6
- 28 MPG V6
- Serene, silent cabin at highway speed
- Reclining back seat with capricious legroom
- Comfortable leather seats
- Blue screen of irritation
- Cheap-looking base audio system
- Not suited for the driving enthusiast
Ruling: Lexus luxury, performance and quality for Toyota price.
Some call it a minor-league Lexus. Others refer to it as a bloated Camry. But no matter how you classify it, the Toyota Avalon has always fit the niche as the ultimate value-oriented luxury sedan. No other car can compete with such a wide range of cars; from premium Japanese brands like Acura, Infiniti, and it’s sibling, Lexus, to less-expensive domestic makes from Chrysler, Buick and Ford. And the folks at BMW, Mercedes and Audi will never admit they’ve lost a customer to the Toyota Avalon, but we all know the truth.
Since the early 1990′s, Toyota has quietly gone about its business of making Toyota’s flagship sedan. Everything about the Avalon is understated, including it’s advertising campaigns. When was the last time you saw a big TV or print campaign for the Avalon? Never? Me too. Even if you did see one, the Avalon has always been so outsold by the Camry and out-luxuried by Lexus, you probably didn’t even realize it was an Avalon advertisement.
But despite its soft-spoken demeanor and appearance, the Avalon has carved a niche with people who put value-oriented luxury at the top of their list. Those who are diligent in their research find how outstanding the Avalon is in the value department, and although it doesn’t have Camry sales numbers, it’s won the praise of consumers and industry experts alike as an everyman’s luxury sedan.
Our 2008 model Avalon was the Touring edition, below the Limited and XLS in accoutrements, but more accoutremented than the XL. Now according to Toyota, the Touring model is supposed to be the “sporty” Avalon, highlighting a sport-tuned sporty suspension. The phrase “sporty Avalon” may seem oxymoronic, and indeed it partially is, but still, for a large sedan, the Avalon Touring model does handle respectably well – especially considering it’s front wheel drive platform and 3,500 pound curb weight. But let’s be clear. The Avalon is not designed for driving enthusiasts in search of a sports sedan. This demographic will be disappointed in the Avalon. If that’s your bag, look elsewhere. Even though it’s got a sport-suspension, it’s akin to dressing a hockey player in a leotard and calling him a figure skater.
On the interstate is where the Avalon shines. First off, the cabin is gigantic, the leather seats are as welcoming as your living room couch and the engine is barely audible. Then add on the exceptional sound deadening qualities, and the Avalon makes a 12-hour road trip a relaxing cruise. But don’t let the barely audible engine fool you, the 3.5 liter V6 has some serious power of the horse kind. With its variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i), the Avalon’s V6 puts out 268 horsepower and 248 lb. ft. – one of the most powerful V6 engines ever dropped into a Toyota sedan. It enables the Avalon to sprint to 60 in a shade over 6 seconds and the quarter-mile in 14.6 at 100 mph – a very impressive set of numbers for a front-drive full-size sedan.
But given these respectable power output numbers, what’s even more impressive is the Avalon’s fuel economy, nursing a tank of gas to the tune of 19 miles-per-gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. Much to our surprise, in our mixed driving, we actually averaged a tick over 28. No doubt, the improvement in fuel economy is due in part the the new for 2008 6-speed automatic transmission, which delivers shifts so smooth and silky you almost forget the car even has a transmission.
Build and Safety
Although a few of the interior bits like the plastic center stack and console panels had a tinge of cheepnis (no it’s not a type-o), the overall build quality of the Avalon is impressive – as evidenced by it’s monastery-silent interior at highway speed. The Avalon comes equipped standard with safety features like four wheel disc brakes, TPMS, ABS, EBD (reference your acronym manual for more detail) and optional equipment like Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), brake assist and Traction Control. The Avalon is also outfitted with a slew of airbags from the more common front and rear-side curtain airbags to the less common and curious driver’s knee airbag. Perhaps the knee airbag helped in garnering the Avalon a five-star NHTSA front driver and passenger crash test rating.
Although our Touring model wasn’t heavily equipped, the Avalon’s interior still delivered what most people are looking for in this class of car – copious amounts of room. The leather seats were among the most comfortable and supportive we’ve ever had in a highway cruiser, and the rear seats offer something quite unique in a car like the Avalon – reclining rear seatbacks. And once you’re reclined in style, you’ll have plenty of legroom to stretch out as Toyota engineers must have used Stilts McGee as their backseat passenger model. An entire suitcase can fit in the backseat footspace of the Avalon.
Although we loved how roomy and comfortable the interior was, we were less thrilled with the electronic accoutrements. In order to reserve space for the navigation system option, non-nav equipped Avalons feature a big blue information screen – AKA – the blue screen of irritation. Although it’s less irritating in daytime, it’s overbearing presence at night makes up for its lack of daylight irritation. But we did appreciate the displayed information like outside air temperature, fuel range and average fuel economy.
At first glance, the low-end stereo system looked to disappoint. The deck was reminiscent of most older OEM Toyota stereos – very basic, very bland, very uninspiring to steal. We’re assuming the chinsy flip-down lid is more to help owners forget the unsightly appearance than it is for deterring would-be thieves. In addition, the cheap-looking silver plastic buttons made us worry how long they would last before wear marks started showing through, as silver plastic ages much faster than black. But even though many base OEM Toyota stereos have a reputation for bland appearance, the audio quality is exceptional. Although it only offers a single CD deck, there is also MP3 player integration. There is an optional 12-speaker, 360 watt JBL Synthesis 6-disc in-dash system with available voice-activated navigation and Sirius satellite radio, which might be desirable simply for the improved appearance.
The exterior appearance of the Avalon is no frills. There are no striking lines, no awe-inspiring shapes, just your simple, understated, yet still attractive exterior. The high belt line of the doors give the Avalon a bit of a stodgy look – like an old man who, with every passing year, hikes his Dockers up closer to his sagging pectorals. But more aggressive cues like the dual exhaust, 17″ alloy rims, HID headlamps and bulging taillights at the trunk reminiscent of a 7-series BMW help save the Avalon from full-blown stodgydom.
Prices on the Avalon range from $27K for the base XL model to more than $34K for the Limited. Our Touring edition came in at $29,500. The Avalon delivers a lot of car for this price range. It has the interior space of full-size luxury sedans twice its price, and offers power on par with cars in the $40K range. Fully outfitted, the Avalon Limited may as well be an ES Lexus. Except, of course, at a $5K discount.
Who should buy it?
People who don’t consider themselves driving enthusiasts, but want a car that handles well enough while delivering what they think is most important. Namely: sufficient power, impressive fuel economy, an abundance of room and luxury accommodations for thousands less than competitors.
You won’t lose sleep at night dreaming about how you can’t wait to drive your Avalon. It doesn’t evoke wild emotion or lust. It doesn’t create a longing or yearning or even a slight hankering for that matter. It’s simply not that kind of car. But, when you do wake up in the morning and head to the garage, you have a smile on your face. You’re happy. You’re content. The Avalon is such a pleasant car that sometimes you forget how great it really is. And that’s the beauty of the Avalon. It has a flair of understated excellence, which is why it’s become so wildly popular – especially with repeat Avalon buyers. And it’s Lexus-like build quality, luxury and performance with a Toyota price tag doesn’t hurt either.
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