Since its launch in the mid-1990s, the Toyota Avalon has been Toyota's only full-size sedan. It has always been a solid performer, with standard V6 power, lots of interior space and a reputation for reliability and durability. The first two Avalon models were often criticized for their humdrum style, however.
That changed a few years ago when Toyota gave the Avalon a complete overhaul for the third-generation model. Inside and out, the new design looks upscale and refined. Major mechanical developments -- including a powerful new V6 and a more capable suspension -- pushed the level of performance to a higher standard. Even the base versions of the Toyota Avalon are equipped with many standard features.
Current Toyota Avalon
Engineered and built in the United States, the third-generation Toyota Avalon debuted for the 2005 model year. Developed and built with American roads in mind, it's big, stable and powerful. A 3.5-liter V6 pumps out a robust 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic transmission comes standard. The front-drive Avalon is based on a heavily modified version of the previous-generation Camry chassis.
Unlike previous Avalons, the current model cannot be had with a front bench seat. But there is ample room in the front and plenty of legroom to stretch out in back, where a nearly flat floor allows three adults to sit comfortably. The materials are all first-rate. Front seat-mounted side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are standard. Traction control, stability control and antilock brakes with brake assist are also standard on all models.
There are four trim levels: XL, Touring, XLS and Limited. Even the base XL comes loaded with standard equipment. The Touring model is the sporty Avalon, with 17-inch wheels, a more firmly tuned suspension, an all-black interior and aluminum trim detail. The XLS is more upscale with premium features, including a moonroof and a six-CD changer. The leather-lined Limited serves as the model's top-of-the-line trim.
In road tests and reviews, we've found the Toyota Avalon to be an excellent large sedan. Highway driving is luxurious. The V6 engine pulls well, is smooth and posts impressive fuel economy numbers. Although the Touring trim handles adequately, the Avalon should not be mistaken for a sport sedan. It is a full-size car with qualities that lean toward comfort over athletics. Downsides to the Avalon are few. Main complaints concern the rear seat (it doesn't fold down to expand luggage capacity) and a slightly dull persona that some buyers might find off-putting.
Changes for the third-gen Avalon have been minimal. The 3.5-liter V6 was initially rated for 280 hp, but new SAE rating procedures dropped that to the current 268 hp starting with the 2006 model year. Actual performance was unaffected.
Past Toyota Avalon models
Early generations of the Toyota Avalon were solid entries in the full-size sedan market. They were built in the U.S. also but were sometimes criticized for being too close to the Camry in look and feel.
With the second-generation Avalon, sold from 2000-'04, Toyota made a number of improvements over the first version. Again available in XL and XLS trims, the second-gen Avalon was roomier and more technologically advanced. Optional stability control (Toyota's Vehicle Skid Control) and brake assist features were added to improve safety. The 3.0-liter V6 was equipped with variable valve timing, providing a modest power increase over the previous generation with a peak of 210 hp. In road tests, we commented that the second-gen Avalon wasn't a particularly interesting car to drive, but it countered with plenty of dependability, comfort and smoothness.
The original Toyota Avalon, sold from 1995-'99, came in two trims (XL and XLS) and had a 192-hp 3.0-liter V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission. Minor engine revisions for the 1997 model year saw the output of the V6 increase to 200 hp.
For both of these previous generations, Toyota did not make many significant changes. Therefore, used-Avalon shoppers should focus more on the condition and mileage of the vehicle rather than a specific year.
Toyota Avalon is undoubtedly the best American car ever built by a Japanese manufacturer. Granted, it is front-wheel drive, and its exterior dimensions seem smaller than its American counterparts, but the Avalon is full-sized inside and full-sized in its emphasis on quiet, ease, and convenience.
The Avalon is smooth and comfortable underway, quiet and serene. The suspension is tuned for ride comfort, and it largely excels in this area. The double-overhead-cam V6 engine is smooth, quiet and powerful, while the electronically controlled five-speed automatic transmission ensures smoothness and economy. And Avalon comes with the latest in safety features.
Inside is a comfortable cabin lavished with tasteful materials and ergonomically designed controls that make the Avalon easy to operate and pleasant to drive. The front seats are roomy and comfortable, and special attention was paid to back-seat comfort. This is a car that will never annoy you.
Avalon's styling is understated, presenting a quiet look of grace and agility. Four trim variations are available, each representing slightly different priorities to broaden Avalon's appeal. Avalon was completely redesigned late in 2005. For '07, a tire pressure monitor is now standard on all models, and the navigation system is now available in the Touring trim level.
• Driving Impressions
• Summary & Specs
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Avalon benefits from Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability. And, given that it was designed in Newport Beach, California; engineered by the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan; and is built in Georgetown, Kentucky; it could be argued that the Avalon is the best American car from an American manufacturer.
The XLS ($31,325) reverts to standard headlights and suspension, keeps the fog lamps and 17-inch tire size, and adds a power moonroof, in-dash six-disc CD changer, dual heated outside mirrors (with electrochromic auto-dimming on the driver's side), an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and Homelink universal transceiver, and an anti-theft system.
The Limited ($34,065) adds a 360-watt JBL Synthesis audio system with six-disc CD changer and 12 speakers, a one-touch auto-reverse power rear sunshade, power driver's seat cushion length adjuster, the Smart Key system, unique 17-inch alloy wheels, HID headlamps, a wood-and-leather-trimmed shift knob and steering wheel, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a driver and passenger seat heater and cooling fan.
Stand-alone options include the power moonroof ($910), in-dash six-CD changer ($200), and anti-theft system ($220). Touring and above offer heated seats packaged with VSC stability control ($1,090), the JBL Synthesis sound system ($840), navigation system ($1,900), and a JBL/navigation package ($4,005). Dynamic laser cruise control ($600) is optional on Limited only.
Safety features that come standard on all models include driver and front-passenger airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for torso protection, side curtain airbags for head protection, and a driver's knee airbag. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). Optional on all Avalons is Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with Traction Control and Brake Assist ($650).
The navigation system is excellent and we recommend it. The controls to operate it are behind a panel that folds out like an ashtray in front of the shifter. It's an unconventional design, but it works and the controls are fairly easy to reach. The buttons used to control navigation, climate and audio are superb, big, clearly marked, illuminated and easy to operate.
The roominess of the cabin extends to the back seats. Rear-seat legroom is particularly generous, with three-across seating facilitated by the totally flat floor. We rode in the rear seat, directly behind a six-foot driver, with legroom to spare. In fact, there's enough room that we could imagine the Avalon as a taxi. The rear seat is comfortable, and offers 10 degrees of adjustment to create five sitting positions. Reclining the backrest effectively increases headroom, so people of varying heights and sizes can find comfort.
The trunk is family sized, with a pass-through door to the rear seat for long gear such as skis.
The Limited model comes with a Smart Key that eliminates the need to pull it out of your pocket or purse. To use it, just walk up to the car. At a touch, all four doors unlock. Climb in. Foot on the brake, touch the Start button and the car hums to life. No fumbling with keys.
Avalon's engine and transmission deliver unobtrusive performance. Fifth gear is a relaxed overdrive, allowing the engine to loaf on the highway. Driving over steep mountain passes with some determination, we appreciated all 268 horsepower, backed by an automatic that knows when to shift. In tighter sections, where our speeds were in the 30 to 50 mph range, we decided to operate the transmission in manual mode, tap-shifting from second to third gear and revving up and down through the corners.
The V6 pulls strongly at higher rpm and right up to the 6200 rpm redline, but it remains remarkably quiet in the process. It's a double overhead-cam unit with four valves per cylinder and an aluminum block and heads. A short stroke dimension means that it likes to rev, abetted by very low reciprocating mass and a very-low-friction cam gear. These are the characteristics of a long-life, efficient everyday engine with exceptional passing power. Our forays into canyon carving were not perfectly consistent with this type of design, and yet they were not frustrating, either. The horsepower is there, and the transmission will allow you to access it. Add the tighter suspension of the Touring model and the Avalon is decidedly sporty. But that's not what the Avalon is about.
The Avalon is a car that makes everyday use a pleasant experience. It's a versatile cruiser and around-town chariot that shortens long trips, thoughtfully insulating occupants from the jagged loose ends of the real world. That's been Avalon's mission since its debut in '94, and with changes since then it has only gotten better.
The V6 is a smooth power plant, and its very low levels of vibration are no accident; an active control mount cancels low-rpm engine motions. Transmission upshifts are governed by third-generation electronic software with specific engine mount tuning to reduce shift shock. Part-throttle upshifts are barely noticeable.
All this, and EPA city/highway fuel efficiency ratings of 22/31 mpg.
Optional Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, and Brake Assist are dynamic systems that remain in the background until a problem is detected. VSC helps keep a skidding vehicle on the road by instantly braking one or more wheels, individually. We were able to activate the traction control by hammering the throttle from a standing start, with one front wheel on pavement and the other on a sandy shoulder. Sure enough, no wheelspin, just a smooth departure. We're told it works on wet surfaces and snow-covered roads, anyplace with mixed friction driving surfaces.
Brake Assist steps in when you stab the brakes, as if you were in a panic stop. Very hard, sharp application of the brake pedal automatically triggers full braking response from the anti-lock brakes (ABS). Brake Assist helps the driver stop the car as quickly as possible, even if the driver mistakenly relaxes pressure on the brake pedal.