Avalon is low on flash, big on value
With its 2011 Avalon Limited, Toyota has created a Japanese Buick.
That’s to say Toyota has created what Buicks had been for years – a substantial large car with a well-cushioned ride, smooth power and a near luxury feel that is comfortable and comforting to the 55 and older crowd.
And the styling is so sedate you might just nod off.For the life of me, I can’t figure out why auto executives think us 50+ folks want bland sedans to carry us into retirement and beyond. Boomers haven’t exactly been status quo, take-no-chances types all these years. Why start now?
Despite its yawn-inducing looks, the Avalon is mostly a delight to drive and ride in. It’s a near luxury sedan that is about as luxurious as most of us could ever imagine. Plus, it’ll carry five full-size adults and make them thank you for giving them a lift.
Its 3.5-liter V6 features Toyota’s fine variable valve timing system that delivers a smooth power band of torque along with 268 horsepower. Accelerate down a highway entry ramp and the car’s six-speed automatic slips through the gears with barely a hesitation at the shift points. While not a neck snapper, the Avalon is quick to highway speeds. You just won’t feel it.
Part of that quickness comes from its moderate weight of 3,616 pounds. Compare that with 4,026 pounds for a Buick LaCrosse, or 3,850 pounds for a Mercedes-Benz E350 sedan. This is 197.6 inches long and rides on a 111.0-inch wheelbase, nearly identical to the LaCrosse. However, the Toyota is longer than the Mercedes by almost 6 inches, while riding on a two-inch shorter wheelbase.
The Toyota’s long wheelbase and independent suspension at all four corners help give the Avalon a silky ride. Bumps are barely noticed, but you don’t feel the car is floating down the road. It’s just well-controlled and cushioned from sharp road imperfections.Handling is less thrilling, with much of the usual large car vagueness in the wheel. The steering feel is fairly heavy, so you don’t feel a need to adjust the wheel much on a highway cruise. Cornering is good, with only a slight lean.
Braking is fine, too, with four-wheel discs along with traction and stability control.
Inside, the Avalon is comforting and comfortable. It’s extremely quiet, and the dark metallic maroon test car offered a tasteful gray and black interior. The dash top was black with the facing gray along with some matte fake wood trim on the dash, doors, console and top and bottom of the steering wheel.
The leather trim on the doors and center armrest is soft and no doubt such touches, along with excellent sound deadening, add to the quiet, supple feel of the interior.
Avalon’s seats are perforated leather and fairly flat, but they are powered and include a power lumbar support and front seat edge adjustment. Toyota includes a small dial to cool and heat the seats, which was welcome on some scorching days. The seats also have two memory functions.
Avalon’s rear seats are comfortable, too. They feature a lever that allows you to partially recline the rear seats – great for naps on a long trip.
I’d like to see some flashier gauges, but the dash is not complicated. The two main gauges have black and gray facing and numbers, not too inspired or inspiring. I also don’t care for the two levers needed to adjust the tilt and telescope features of the steering wheel separately.The wheel includes radio, phone and climate controls on its hub. There’s also a tiny button that lets you adjust the trip computer.
I like the inside trunk and fuel release buttons on the dash’s left side, along with a button to deploy a rear sun shield for the back window. By the way, it automatically lowers when you put the car in reverse. At the same time the navigation and radio screen displays a back-up camera.
While there are a lot of buttons around the navigation screen, they’re all obvious and easy to figure out. The test car also added a $1,450 package that gives you a voice-activated navigation system and a super 660-watt JBL stereo with satellite radio, NavTraffic, the back-up camera and other audio technology.
With those features and carpeted floor mats, the test Avalon Limited hit $37,884 after starting at $35,485. A base Avalon starts at $32,245, which is a good value. The Limited does add some extras though, including high-intensity headlights, puddle lights to the outside mirrors, chrome door handles, rain-sensing wipers and fancier five-spoke chrome wheels.
Both models feature the same engine and decent 14 cubic foot trunk. Also standard are a sunroof, push-button start, HomeLink, and thick visors that slide to block side sun.
Gas mileage is the same on both models, the EPA putting it at 20 mpg city and 29 highway. I got 23.2 mpg, close to the trip computer’s estimate, in about 60% city driving. And the Avalon is happy with regular fuel.
If you want flash, look elsewhere, but if you want comfort, power and a near Lexus experience, the Avalon could be just the ticket.