2016 Toyota Avalon Limited
At just $32,650 plus freight and dealer fees the base Avalon XLE is $1,290 less than a loaded Camry XLE V6 (yes you read that right) and $3,600 less than the base Lexus ES 350, yet it rides on the same stretched Toyota K platform architecture as the premium-badged luxury sedan, is powered by the same engine, and gets filled with even more standard and optional features.
Granted, a fully equipped Camry includes some features that you’ll need to step up in trim levels to get in the Av, and at such a point I can understand that some Camry XLE buyers won’t be able to fit more into their budgets, but right here, right now I’ll attempt to tempt you. Why? Because I believe you’ll thank me for it later. As for you ES 350 owners, I can appreciate why you love your ride. It’s a superb luxury car that delivers on all promises, but stick around for a while to hear me out as you may feel like you’re missing something after reading about the latest 2016 Avalon.
First off, Toyota has made some improvements to give the latest Av even more attitude than last year’s car. Its previously smiling chrome edged grille has been turned upside down for a much more serious near frowning demeanor. It’s a little wider and deeper too, with an extra horizontal rib plus a couple of character kinks across the bottom ledge, while the chromed strikethrough that holds Toyota’s logo just above is flatter, thinner and hovers over a narrower slot. The headlight clusters remain the same shape, which is a new multi-angle Toyota trademark design finding its way onto all sedans from the Corolla right up to this flagship four-door, although unlike the Corolla that gets standard low-beam LEDs the newest Avalon includes standard Quadrabeam halogen headlights with DRLs and optional LED headlamps with LED DRLs, as well as the separate option of HIDs in top-line trim, while just below is another new Toyota trademark styling detail, reverse canted vertical fog lamps first seen on last year’s updated Camry.
Moving around the side, my tester’s gorgeous set of 18-inch multi-spoke alloys are ideal for this car, as they underscore the Av’s sporty elegance perfectly, while Toyota doesn’t hold back on chrome trim either, dressing up the window surrounds as well as the door handles, not to mention a couple of strips across its hind end, a thinner one stretching across the bumper and a thicker more curvaceous garnish spanning the lower edge of the trunk lid between two of the most beautifully penned LED-enhanced taillights in the industry. From front to back the updated Avalon is one impressive styling statement, making use of the nicest Camry design cues while even giving the best looking ES ever a run for its money.
Of course, personal taste is personal taste, and while I personally love Lexus’ new spindle grille, and particularly the way it works on the latest ES, I believe the Av’s rear quarters are some of the prettiest in its luxury sedan ranks, although it’s the big Toyota’s interior that completely won me over back in 2012.
That was a then all-new 2013 model, which while significantly different than this version up front, appears very similar from the backside and inside. I’m glad on both counts, especially with respect to the latter as the Avalon’s interior swung way above par three years ago and continues to delight today with eye-arresting design, superb materials quality, excellent digital displays and space galore. The cabin doesn’t only get finished with the expected high-end soft touch surfacing, but goes a step further by using a luxurious French-stitched leatherette across the entire dash top that wraps around the instruments and cascades downward ahead of the front passenger, once again French-stitched at the horizontal midway point, the leatherette continuing further down until butting up against metallic edged faux woodgrain trim that actually feels quite substantive. At eye-level and above, rich dark cloth wraps down each roof pillar, while beautiful dark-chrome trim highlights key details throughout the cabin.
The primary gauges are nicely sized and very stylish, quite bright at night and trimmed with bluish gray backlit rings around each dial. Additionally there’s a clear and colorful multi-information display at center, a bit smaller than average but well laid out. It’s a very simple one, however, made up of mostly push-information telling the driver if it’s in Eco drive mode, Sport mode or not, showing graphics for the gears, odometer readouts, turn-by-turn directions and other useful info, but I don’t think most folks buying into this class really want to fidget with complex mini-computers. Instead, the buttons one would expect to use for the trip computer allow easy adjustment to features within the infotainment system over on the center stack.
That’s a pretty comprehensive system with loads of audio options including album cover graphics and/or photos found via Gracenote, a home button that repeats these items while adding other go-to prompts, an apps button that sends you over to a main menu with digital prompts for navigation, audio, phone, messages, eco, set up, and maintenance. You can reorganize these for your own preference as well. Most of the buttons are touch-sensitive and set into a very cool matte black metal interface; cool being the operative word not only due to how it looks but also because the metal surface feels cool on the fingertips.
Below this is an attractive dual auto HVAC interface with a large bright and colorful display screen, the latter an upgrade exclusive to my Limited tester. The entire panel is completely separate from the infotainment controls, but also utilizes the same unique curved cutout touch-sensitive buttons found above.
The entire center stack floats above a state-of-the-art Qi wireless charging pad in XLE Premium trim and above, making powered USBs redundant, although these are still included. Just aft of that is the shift lever, two ambient lit cupholders and a couple of rotating dials for the seat heaters when turned to the right, or coolers, standard with Limited trim, when twisted to the left. Just behind are driving mode buttons for Eco, Norm and Sport modes, the latter very useful in this surprisingly athletic luxury sedan.
That last bit actually astonished me. To be honest I never noticed the Sport button until later in my test week because when the sliding center armrest is all the way forward it blocks it, plus the Norm and Eco buttons from sight. So when I first took the Avalon for a run through a favorite curving two-lane side road I thought that setting the transmission over to manual mode, where an “S” is displayed, was all that was needed to extract full performance potential. This allowed me to fully engage the paddle shifters, and so-set the Av proved to be thoroughly enjoyable through the corners. The car stayed quite flat and its balance very neutral, while ample suspension travel allowed its amply sizeable 225/45R18 tire patches to remain exactly where needed, connected to the road. In fact, even without Sport mode engaged, default Norm mode doing what it was never meant to, it drove more confidently through the twisties than a new 2016 Nissan Maxima SR that I tested previously on the same stretch of tarmac, that “sport” sedan so firmly sprung that it was quite challenging through bumpy portions of pavement as, I’m sure you can understand, it’s quite impossible for tires to grip air and as it is cars with suspension systems that are too rigid spend a lot of valuable time aloft. This said once I engaged Sport mode the Avalon responded with even more enjoyable dynamics, once again leaving me in shock, as I certainly never expected this from a car that I once called the “automotive equivalent of a comb-over,” although to be clear that was way back in 2000 when it was as far from stylish as cars got and comb-overs weren’t all the rage with trend-setting bushy bearded young men.
While the handling is excellent, what I like best from a performance perspective is its conventional torque-converted six-speed automatic gearbox, plus of course those paddle shifters mentioned earlier. They work brilliantly, the shifts not quite as quick as experienced with the majority of today’s eight-speed automatics found in Lexus models (albeit not the ES 350) and numerous German competitors, but a lot more sporting than the aforementioned Maxima’s fun-robbing CVT. All-round the Avalon was full of wonderful surprises when the need to go fast arrived, that requirement quickly turning into a want that I chose to replicate over and over by extending my performance test driving time. Noteworthy, I found the Av’s all-round performance more engaging than the ES 350 that it shares so much with under the skin, no doubt because of those paddles I’ve probably mentioned too many times already. The Lexus, unfortunately, gets no such DIY controllers, leaving such activity to the shift lever alone, which is never as good.
Even more importantly in this segment is the Avalon’s sublime ride quality. This is a luxury car after all, and while it manages corners much better than expected it also performs smoothly, calmly and comfortably no matter the speed or surface underneath. In fact, the Av is one of the better luxury cars I’ve driven in a long time, easily as good as the ES 350. Its ride is so smooth, its high-speed maneuverability so confidence inspiring, it becomes the ideal freeway cruiser. Add to that the Limited model’s optional adaptive cruise control and the weekend is yours for the taking. Golf for four to Minnesota Valley or Olympic Hills? Well maybe not this time of the year for either locale, but you’ll enjoy the drive, your passengers will appreciate the roomy, comfortable accommodations and there’s a sizeable 16 cubic feet of bag and club caddying cargo space in the trunk, plus a center pass-through for winter months when that golf gear is more appropriately traded in for skis and a trip to Hyland Hills.
That’s when your outboard passengers will enjoy warming up to heatable rear seats if, once again, you choose Limited trim, whereas all Avalon owners will appreciate standard 21 mpg city, 31 highway and 24 combined fuel economy anytime of the year. That’s brought about by the aforementioned powertrain, a low base XLE Plus curb weight of just 3,461 lbs and not much heavier as-tested Limited weight of 3,538 lbs that also benefits performance, plus a very slick 0.28 coefficient of drag that also helps maintain that nice quiet cabin noted earlier.
According to Toyota’s sales brochure (the most reliable source, although I added a few additional items after researching) standard XLE features include 17-inch alloys, auto on/off Quadrabeam halogen headlights with DRLs, heatable powered side mirrors with integrated turn signals, variable intermittent wipers, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, leather upholstery, an eight-way powered driver’s seat that also includes four-way lumbar, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, heatable front seats, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with paddle shifters, a leather-wrapped shift knob, cruise control, powered windows with auto up/down all-round, dual-zone auto HVAC, a full-color high-resolution seven-inch infotainment touchscreen with a reverse camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, SMS- and email-to-speech, advanced voice recognition, phonebook download, display of artist, song and album art for a connected smartphone, HD traffic and weather, Siri Eyes Free, and eight-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with aux and USB ports plus satellite and HD radio, as well as a comprehensive set of standard safety features that even include dual front knee blocker airbags and rear seat side-impact bags.
A $34,400 XLE Plus upgrade adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror with an integrated compass, a powered moonroof, a universal garage door opener and map lights, while $35,850 XLE Premium trim adds premium audio with integrated navigation and App Suite, the aforementioned wireless phone charger, memory for the driver’s seat and side mirrors, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Next in line is $37,050
Touring trim that adds dark-painted 18-inch alloys, a sport-tuned suspension, a piano black grille insert, LED headlamps and LED DRLs, a premium leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, and black woodgrain interior inlays, whereas as my top-line (non-Hybrid) $40,450 Limited tester added the unique set of 18-inch rims noted earlier, auto-dimming side mirrors with puddle lamps, rain-sensing wipers, aluminum doorsill scuff plates, “White Ice” ambient lighting, variable cushion length for the driver’s seat that adds more or less seat squab below the hamstrings, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, ventilated front cushions, those heatable rear seats mentioned a moment ago, upgraded premium perforated leather upholstery, the TFT LCD color climate control panel I noted before, tri-zone climate control with rear seat switchgear, a great sounding JBL audio upgrade with 11 speakers including a sub, a powered rear sunshade, and the $500 as-tested option of Toyota Safety Sense P that includes auto high beam assist, dynamic adaptive cruise control, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and lane departure alert with steering assist, enough to give the Avalon Limited an IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating.
I must confess that I turned one of the heatable rear seats on before I moved into the back to check out its spaciousness, taking the chill off the leather during a subzero night. It’s a comfortable rear seat with good lower back support and a nice large center armrest that flips down to expose dual cupholders. Rear passengers are surrounded with the same high quality detailing as those up front, while it’s also nice to have full control of the rear climate. A set of overhead reading lights finishes off the roomy rear quarters, and it truly is expansive back there with at least eight inches of air between my knees and the front seatbacks when the driver’s seat was set for my admittedly more compact than average five-foot-eight frame, plus plenty of room from side to side and about four inches left over above my head. The only feature missing was a rear button for the previously noted powered sunshade, but I suppose doing such mundane tasks is James’ job after all.
Chauffeur driven luxury in mind, I don’t think Toyota is trying to sway any Lexus customers towards the Avalon, and despite the more engaging paddle shifters and other added features over the ES 350 I’m guessing most will stay with their premium-badged sedans, but I hope a few of you Camry XLE V6 buyers have taken note as this Avalon is aimed at you. Next time you’re in for service ask for a set of keys, whereas anyone else looking for a stylish, luxurious, strong performing full-size four-door that still delivers good fuel economy and comes backed by Toyota’s legendary quality, dependability and high safety standards should take a closer look at a car that’s come a long way since it debuted one mid-cycle refresh, four generations and 22 years ago. The latest Avalon typifies Toyota’s new focus on style, performance and upscale premium quality, and is certainly worthy of its flagship status and your consideration.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press