Test Drive: Toyota Avalon

As your family and friends get larger and you don?t want to succumb to the typical ?move in size? up to a crossover, SUV or minivan, a good option is a full-size sedan.? Toyota has just the car — the Avalon.

?The Avalon has long been appreciated by smart, conscientious consumers who recognize quality materials and the beauty of detailed craftsmanship,? said Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.? ?The changes made for 2011 will allow us to build on our position in the premium large car segment.? The competition does not stand still, and neither do we.?

Refreshed for 2011, Toyota?s flagship sedan gets an exterior and interior restyling, courtesy of Toyota?s Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, Calif.? The new grille and headlight housings give the Avalon a wider, lower appearance with a distinctive nighttime look from ?light pipes? that house the halogen or HID low beam headlights.

More chrome accents, a new rocker panel and new mirror finish10-spoke wheels (on the Limited model) highlight the profile revisions. The rear gets similar enhancements with more streamline taillights and LED light to create a more contemporary look.

The spacious interior changes include a new instrument panel with Lexus-like Optitron electroluminescent gauges. The gauges, which are set inside smoked lenses and deep chrome rings, use graduated white illumination with white pointers.? Steering wheel controls include switches for Bluetooth hands-free phones, the audio system, climate control system and the vehicle information center.

Using part of the old Sears catalog terminology, the Avalon is available in two trim levels, ?Better? and ?Best?, or in this case Avalon and Avalon Limited.? That?s especially appropriate because the base model Avalon has an extensive standard equipment list boasting features like leather seating, backup camera, moonroof, 17-inch alloy wheels and dual zone climate control with air filtration at the base price of $33,355.

Stepping up to the ?Best?, the Limited trim level has features much like the upscale Toyota sibling models of the Lexus.? The Avalon Limited includes cooled leather seating, a driver?s seat cushion extension, rain-sensing wipers, HID headlights, Smart Key with push-button start plus many other luxury style features for $36,595.

With one of the largest interiors available, the Avalon has more interior space than the Lexus LS 460L.? It is one of the few sedans that comfortably holds three adults in the rear seat with plenty of legroom and even has reclining rear seats, a feature unique to the Avalon. ?It made we want to sit in the back seat and be chauffeured. ?There?s also a power rear sunshade to filter unwanted light and heat in the rear compartment.? The sunshade retracts automatically when the car is shifted into reverse to provide a better rear view for the driver.

A 268-hp, 3.5-liter engine powers the luxurious Avalon producing a good balance between performance and economy.? The super smooth engine is very fast for a car of this type accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds and it still gets an EPA fuel economy rating of 20 mpg for city driving and 29 mpg on the highway.? ?I actually averaged 28.5 mpg on while driving on a trip to California to visit grandkids.? The sophisticated V-6 is equipped with the dual VVT-i electronic valve-control system that ensures a broad powerband while sipping fuel.? The engine powers the front wheels through Toyota?s smooth and efficient six-speed manual transmission.

Ride quality is maintained by a front and rear MacPherson struts, with the rear struts getting extra control from a multilink system, or so I?m told.

The Avalon gets a full safety treatment including the Toyota Star Safety System?, which includes stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist.? In addition it also has seven airbags, including a driver?s knee airbag.

The Avalon is enjoyable to drive.? The handling is a little on the soft side for my taste with a little body lean, but it?s not a sport sedan, it?s a near luxury sedan which provides a spacious comfortable ride carrying up to five adults in comfort.

If your family is starting get squeezed by the limits of your Camry, Accord or other mid-size sedan, try the Avalon on for size.

Barbara Schaffer

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