2011 Toyota Avalon Road Test Review

John Birchard - CAP staff
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I think of the Toyota Avalon as a Japanese Buick. If you've driven a Buick lately, you know I'm not casting aspersions on the Avalon. The company refers to it as their "premier sedan." It is without question a luxurious automobile that is priced right when compared with luxury brands.

It will come as no surprise that it is not a young person's car. Toyota's Wade Hoyt tells me that the median age of an Avalon buyer is 67. Says Hoyt: "As ever, we are aiming for a somewhat younger buyer with the new generation car."  The EPA classifies Avalon as a large car. It has an overall length of 502 cm (197.6 inches). Cargo volume is 408 litres (14.4 cubic feet). The doors, front and rear, open wide for easy entry and exit. There's more legroom in the back seat than in the Buick LaCrosse and what's more, the Avalon's rear seatbacks recline. On the Limited model, the eight-way power front seats feature lumbar support as well as a power seat cushion extension to provide further support for the occupants' thighs, a nice touch.

As GM has striven to make Buicks quieter, Toyota has succeeded in quieting even small noises in the Avalon using special sound-dampening materials. Toyota engineers chose suspension settings that would deliver a compliant yet composed ride. The 268-horsepower V6 is nearly inaudible. A smooth, six-speed automatic transmission transfers that power to the pavement.  In short, the Avalon is a dignified means of transport.

Toyota sees the Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus Limited and Hyundai Genesis 3.8 as direct competitors to the Avalon. With EPA-estimated metric-equivalent fuel economy figures of 11.7 L/100km in the city and 8.1 on the highway, Avalon leads the pack. That could be attributed to the Toyota being 56.7 kilos (125 pounds) lighter than the Ford, 59.9 kilograms (132 pounds) slimmer than the Hyundai and 194.6 kg (429 pounds) leaner than the Buick. The Avalon also operates happily on regular-grade gas.

The Avalon Limited (my test car, driven in the U.S.) is not available in Canada, but many of that top model's features can be had on the $41,100 Canadian-spec XLS, the only model available north of the 49th. For instance, the JBL audio system, eight-way powered passenger seat with lumbar, and woodgrain and leather-wrapped steering wheel are included in the base model. Not included, or even available, is Smart Key proximity-sensing access with push-button start (ironically available in the Corolla), HID headlamps, chrome door handles, rain-sensing wipers, perforated leather seats with ventilation, a power-sliding driver's seat cushion extension, and a power rear sunshade.

The test car also featured the following options standard on the Canadian-spec XLS: a navigation system with integrated back-up camera and premium JBL audio system with a dozen speakers, USB port with iPod connectivity, hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology. Carpeted floor mats and a trunk mat are also included.

The test car was turned out in a handsome "Sizzling Crimson Mica" (which translates to a brownish-dark red) and the leather interior was Ivory. Seen from the front, rear and side, the Avalon is generic-modern. The body's lines are uncomplicated and inoffensive. It's a car that won't go out of style in the next couple of years, but its "wow" factor is quite limited.

Inside, the dashboard has been updated. Gauges are legible day or night. The positioning of major controls is logical and their operation is reasonably simple. Sound system and HVAC controls are mounted high on the dash for easier use. There are touches of faux wood around the interior that do little to impress. It's better to use high-grade plastics that don't pretend they are anything else. But overall, the Avalon cabin is a pleasant capsule in which to while away the rush hour.

Toyota calls their collection of safety-related items the "Star Safety System." It features vehicle stability control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, driver and front passenger airbags, front seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. The front seat head restraints move up and forward toward the occupants' heads if a crash is imminent. Avalon scored well in government crash tests and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated it a "top pick."

If I were setting out on a cross-country motor trip, I can't think of a better vehicle than the Avalon for the long haul. It clicks off the miles in impressive quiet and comfort. The JBL sound system presents a crisp, clear accompaniment.

If, however, the trip involved extensive use of two-lane roads that wind through mountain country, the Avalon would be left in the garage. It's not a car that revels in decreasing radius turns or reverse-camber corners. The suspension is too soft, the steering too vague for athletic achievements. It's not scary-bad, mind you, it's just not designed for sporty cut-and-thrust.

In the Nit-Picking Department: the steering wheel tilts-and-telescopes, which is admirable, but Toyota has designed separate controls for each function. It's an awkward arrangement. There are lots of places to store small items in the cabin, but the covers for these cubbies don't always open or close when you press the buttons.

On the plus side, the spare tire is full-size, not one of those dinky tricycle wheels.

The Toyota Avalon has been – and continues to be – successful in North America. It meets the needs and desires of those who place a premium on comfortable, quiet, reliable transportation.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Luxury Sedan, Toyota, 2011, Avalon, $40,000 - $49,999,

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