Toyota says that the all-new Avalon is the most-American vehicle they've produced to date, a claim that's difficult to dispute, as the car was styled in California, engineered in Michigan, and will be built in Kentucky. Speeding from final approval to production in a mere eighteen months, the Avalon boasts more power and an improved interior. Engine output is up 33 percent over the outgoing model, with the new 3.5-liter V-6 pumping out 280 hp and making 260 lb-ft of torque. The engine powers all four available models, the base XL, mid-range Touring and XLS, and top-of-the-line Limited. A five-speed automatic transmission transmits all that newfound oomph to sixteen- or seventeen-inch wheels swathed in Michelin rubber.
All models in the range feature front seat-mounted side airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags, in addition to a driver's knee airbag. A brake-assist system determines whether a driver has used the full potential of the brakes in an emergency situation; if the system intuits that more braking is required, ABS will activate until the pedal is released.
The revised interior sports reclining rear seats (up to 10 degrees), a seven-way adjustable steering column, and a nine-speaker stereo system. Prefer your Avalon a little less plain? Opt for the Limited, and some of the standard features include a JBL-sourced, twelve-speaker system (optional on the Touring and XLS), power rear sunshade, heated seats, and an everybody's-got-one-now Smart Key system, whereby drivers can start the car at the push of a button while leaving their keys in a pocket. This feature also opens the trunk when the fob is waved near the rear bumper, a la Speedpass. A nav system and laser cruise control are add-ons, and prices will start at $26,350 when the cars go on sale in February. The EPA estimates fuel economy to be a decent 22 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway.
Outside, the Avalon is undeniably more stylish. The outgoing car looked awkward-an odd mishmash of Buick, Mercedes, and traditional Japanese design. The new car has a more uniform look with much less obvious design influences. Still, we can't help but wish we could stop describing most Toyota cars as "a little of this, a little of that." While derivative and inexpressive styling fills the company coffers, something more original and inspired, paired with the company's rock-solid engineering, would fill the soul.