2012 Toyota Avalon XLS Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Automotive release schedules are funny things sometimes, and when it comes to niche vehicles it can be a tough game for automakers. Take the full-size Toyota Avalon, for instance: While in the U.S. Toyota sells some 30,000 or so Avalons a year, here in Canada the company only sells a few hundred cars per year, so every sale counts.

Yet by the time I got my weeklong turn behind the wheel of Toyota's 2012 Avalon press car, the release date of the all-new, next-generation 2013 model was fast sneaking up, with the new car popping up at international auto shows and breathless previews already appearing on Toyota's U.S. web site. Meanwhile in Canada, news of the next-generation car was being kept much more hushed.

But it's difficult to talk about the soon-to-be-discontinued third-generation Avalon and not mention the upcoming fourth-generation car. So, with apologies to Toyota, here goes: The fourth-generation car will be based on the same platform as the Lexus ES and will have much bolder styling with sweeping lines and a big, aggressive maw of a grille. Inside it will have modern touches, like touch-panel controls instead of pushbuttons.

So if you desire a full-size Toyota and your style leans toward modern and aggressive, you might want to wait a bit for the 2013 car to appear. But if you prefer the more discrete, conservative appearance of the existing third-generation car, read on and act fast.

The Avalon traces its history back as far as 1994, when it was introduced as a replacement for the outgoing Cressida. Where the Cressida was rear-wheel drive the Avalon was a front-drive model based on the Camry. The third-generation car was introduced in 2005, giving it a seven-year production run.

It's a big, comfortable car that comes in only one trim level (the all-inclusive XLS trim) and competes with models like the Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus and Hyundai Genesis. Of those three, my opinion is that the Ford and Hyundai lean a little more toward the sporty side of the sport-luxury spectrum, while the Buick competes slightly more directly with the Toyota on the luxury side of the spectrum.

Inside, the Toyota Avalon is awesomely spacious and sublimely comfortable, with an exceptionally roomy back seat that even features adjustable reclining rear seatbacks. The trunk is good and big too, but due to the reclining rear seat design the seatbacks can't fold to expand cargo space, so all you get is a ski pass-through.

On the road the Avalon offers a comfy, smooth ride with acceptable handling, although as one might expect it tends toward being a little soft in the corners. It's very quiet riding too, and glides serenely along with nearly imperceptible amounts of road noise or wind noise, which meant that I really got to enjoy my test car's sweet-sounding JBL Synthesis audio system.

Despite the Avalon's placid road manners it's not lacking for power from its 3.5-litre V6 engine (which is mated to a 6-speed automatic), and it accelerates with surprising speed: Launches from 0-100 km/h take just under seven seconds, and there's enough power underfoot at any speed to make passing easy and relaxed. All-around visibility is good too, which makes lane changes similarly stress-free. City/highway fuel consumption is rated at 10.6 / 6.8 L/100km.

If driving the Avalon is easy, buying it is also a breeze: With only one trim level and no options packages, all you need to do is decide on a colour and plunk down your money. The 2012 Avalon XLS is listed at a suggested retail price of $41,195 plus $1,565 in delivery charges, and comes equipped with everything the full-size car buyer might want: dual-zone automatic air conditioning with a cabin air filter, tilt and telescoping wheel, voice-activated navigation, a backup camera, auto-dimming mirror, integrated garage-door opener, cruise control, 12-speaker JBL Synthesis audio with a satellite radio and the works (including Bluetooth phone connectivity), plus of course all the expected luxury touches like power-operated leather seating, power windows, power locks with keyless entry, abundant woodgrain trim, a power sunroof, nice alloy wheels, fog lights and every bit of safety equipment Toyota could possibly cram into the car. Perhaps the one thing missing, which I found rather odd, was pushbutton start - instead you get an actual key that goes into an actual ignition slot. How quaint! Still, add it all up and the Avalon really represents excellent value.

After a week with the Avalon - and despite the fact that my natural inclination leans towards compact sport sedans more than full-size luxury cars - I found myself really rather liking the big Toyota. It didn't exactly connect with me on an emotional level, but that's really not the point. What it did do is make my life a little easier, more comfortable and more relaxed for the week, and that's precisely what the Avalon is all about.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Luxury Sedan, Toyota, 2012, Avalon, $40,000 - $49,999, Luxury,

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