Toyota has introduced the second generation of its flagship sedan, the Avalon. The full-size model has been likened to a Japanese version of a Buick , and there is more than a little truth to that analogy. Buyers will also find that the new model features outstanding comfort and interior room, with more than a touch of Lexus luxury.
The Avalon was introduced a few years ago as a slightly larger version of a Camry and positioned to compete with the family-sized American mid-market models, such as the Buick LeSabre. Now Toyota is striving to give the sedan a more defined character of its own, while retaining its place in the market.
When I first caught a glimpse of the new Avalon, its styling came as something of a visual shock. When viewed from the side and the rear, the aesthetics of the new model seem particularly Japanese. I recently spent some time in Japan, and became aware of a number of more formal Japanese sedan models that have never been imported to North America. These Nissan and Toyota products have a peculiar upright stance with higher waistlines, higher roofs and larger window areas than are usually seen on contemporary models from the United States and Europe.
When I read the name badge on the new model, I wasn’t surprised to see its Toyota heritage. What later emerged as a real eye-opener, though, is that the new Avalon was styled in Toyota’s forward-looking design center in Southern California and is exclusively manufactured in Georgetown, Ky. So much for national character.
The new Avalon has a number of features that have defined the traditional American full-sized automobile. Due to its higher and wider profile, the new Avalon delivers more interior room. It is perhaps the only import that features a front bench seat. Remember the bench seat? Your father’s or perhaps grandmother’s Oldsmobile 88 probably featured a continuous three-across seat. Front bucket seats are the industry norm from sporty luxury models to tiny compacts.
The Avalon is also reminiscent of the full-size American sedan in terms of its ride and driving characteristics. The Avalon features the softest suspension I have ever encountered in an import automobile. This translates into a cushy ride to the extent that the car almost seems to float over closely spaced bumps. Floating over road imperfections may seem good in theory, but it comes at the expense of vehicle control.
The other consequence of the Avalon’s very forgiving suspension is the car’s handling. The Avalon is not particularly responsive to steering input and deprives the driver of feedback. And while the owners of BMWs and Saabs may decry the Avalon’s handling dynamics, drivers of large domestic cars have thrived in this territory.
Now that we’ve described the Avalon’s relationship to a Buick, what about its Lexus connection? Simply put, the interior of the Avalon is very luxurious. And even more than the quality of leather seats, is the fact that the dashboard , particularly the center console , looks as if it was directly lifted from a late-model Lexus.
The interior design of Lexus models has been first-rate since the line was first introduced and one of their defining characteristics has been a unique treatment of the center console that incorporates the audio and climate control functions. The console extends slightly forward into the passenger space and features controls that are highly visible and easy to use. And the frosting on the cake is that the Lexus dashboard treatment, which is extremely attractive by luxury car standards, is now available in the Avalon at a lower price.
Of course, the Lexus brand has long been considered the industry benchmark in terms of smooth, quiet operation. And on the highway in the new Avalon, you experience almost a complete elimination of any mechanical or wind noise , or any noxious vibration for that matter. You can pay more, but you won’t experience a much more refined road experience at any price.
There’s one more piece to the Avalon’s componentry that has Lexus associations, the engine and transmission. The Avalon sports a smooth Camry-derived V-6 engine that is closely akin to the power plant in the Lexus ES300 sedan and the Lexus RX300 sport-utility vehicle. This engine is responsive and a paragon of smooth, quiet operation.
Toyota Avalon XLS
Price as tested: $32,000 estimated
Type: 3.0L V-6
Horsepower: 210 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 220 ft. lbs. @ 4,400 rpm
Fuel economy, automatic transmission:
City – 21 mpg
Highway – 29 mpg
Curb Weight: 3,428 lbs.