Not counting Lexus, the new Avalon is the ultimate Toyota. Revamped for 2005, it's bigger, plusher, and more powerful than ever.
Back in the 1960s, Toyota began marketing its Corona and Corolla lines to Americans who might have been considering Volkswagen Beetles. They were nothing like the big full-size American Fords, Chevys and Chryslers. As Toyota grew and began eating away at the big three American manufacturers' business, its model line expanded into sportier vehicles and small pickup trucks. Of course, today Toyota covers the market with a wide range of cars, trucks, SUVs and, at the top, the now full-size Avalon.
The Japanese giant now offers a direct competitor for America's big family sedans. My Titanium Metallic Avalon felt like a very nicely done Buick or Mercury. Graced with clean, modern styling, and a massive chrome grille, it offers cavernous accommodations in the rear seat, more than 14 cubic feet of golf-bag-carrying space, and even artificial wood trim inside.
As Toyotas grow and mature, they become more potent. This Avalon offers the most powerful V6 Toyota has ever offered to the American market. The all-new 3.5-liter powerplant churns out 280 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, good for a vigorous 6.6-second zero to sixty run.
Typical for Toyota, this monster engine, despite its strength, ends up with Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) status, and the EPA awards it fuel mileage numbers of 22 City, 31 Highway. The multifunction information display gave me mileage information on a "per tank" basis-I would have preferred a cumulative number-of 19.3 for the first tank and 19.6 for the second, so a real world average of 19.5 miles per gallon seems reasonable.
Every Avalon comes with a five-speed automatic transmission with sequential shifting potential. With that six-and-a-half-second zero to sixty time, you might use the manual gear selection to blow away some unsuspecting guy in an old muscle car when the light changes!
Avalons come in four levels. The XL is the lowest, but it's hardly basic. The XL is packed with the features like alloy wheels, a full palette of front, side, side curtain and driver's knee airbags, power windows with automatic up and down for driver and front passenger, cruise control, remote keyless entry, and more.
From the XL, you can go for more sportiness or more luxury. The Touring model is the driver's car, with firmer suspension tuning, along with black leather seats and more cowhide on the steering wheel and shift knob, high intensity discharge headlamps, a rear spoiler, and snazzy aluminum scuff plates. The alloy wheels jump from 16's to 17's.
The XLS upgrades the XL toward cruising luxury. That means leather seats, a power moonroof, a Homelink transceiver, in-dash six-disc CD changer, heated mirrors, and a nice anti-theft system to protect it. My tester was one of these.
The Limited is the big dog, with all the XLS goodies plus seat heaters, rain-sensing wipers, a power rear sunshade, the Smart Key system for keyless starting (just push the Start button), and a monster 360-watt, 12-speaker JBL audio system. My XLS tester carried this sound system as a $640 option, and it thrived inside the silent, insulated cabin.
You know you're riding in a substantial car when you peer across the sweeping dash and the passenger door looms way out in the distance. The dash itself is clean and orderly; it drops back towards the windshield for an extra roomy feel. It also abandons the previous generation's full-width hood look for a more driver-oriented cockpit. The harmonious tones of gray matte plastic, believable "wood-grain style" trim, and high-tech clear control buttons in my tester blended nicely, and, of course, were flawlessly assembled by the careful workers in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Besides a host of high-tech engine improvements, the Avalon boasts Toyota's first use of "in-glass" LED turn signals in the side mirrors, which also contain puddle lamps. Also debuting is a low-profile wiper blade that's quieter and, from the driver's perspective, virtually invisible when not in use.
Prices start at $26,890 for the XL and range through $29,140 for the Touring, $31,340 for the XLS, and 34,080 for the Limited. These figures include the $540 "Delivery, Processing and Handling Fee." My XLS was a bit pricier than the base XLS, because it had the aforementioned stereo enhancement as well as a package of three computer-assisted traction and braking features ($1,090). With floor mats and a glass breakage sensor, my tester stickered at $33,434.
With its mighty powerplant, the Avalon is effortless to drive, and with its pleasantly sprung suspension, it is a natural long-distance cruiser. Its looks are up to date and its reputation is solid like Gibraltar. It is not a thrill ride, but the new Avalon should deliver the kind of Toyota experience that will make every commute or road trip a good day.