After driving the Avalon, I came away unusually nonplussed. Toyota’s largest sedan is neither heart-racingly exciting, nor a slouch in the pants. The 2011 refresh of the Avalon is so subtle that I didn’t realize it was a revised model.
Toyota had a strong pawn when it pitched the original generations of Avalons as Japanese Buick-fighters, taking a slice of market share away from General Motors as well as Ford’s large sedans. The game has moved on. The newest Buicks, such as the Regal, show a renewed focus on the driver, and Ford’s reinvented Taurus has far more style and sportiness than the Avalon does.
As a 22-year-old, I’m not in the Avalon’s target market, but I didn’t care for the interior. The blistering white-on-white of our tester’s interior reminded me of sitting in a dentist’s chair, although I’ve sat in dentist chairs with better bolstering and lumbar support. I’m not sure about the redundant temperature controls on the steering wheel, either, when the actual controls are a pinky-length away. The typophile in me dislikes the oversize eighteen-point type on the buttons and gauges — a less-than-subtle hint at the Avalon’s intended audience. The navigation screen is angled toward the rear center passenger, not to driver or passenger, which makes it difficult to locate and operate buttons by feel alone. (Then again, if the size of the text hasn’t screamed out the button’s function FROM A MILE AWAY…)
The Avalon behaved just as I expected: like a big Camry. A really big one, at that, with the added bonus of pinky-effort steering and a surprisingly high level of road noise in the cabin. The engine has more than enough power and will rev to redline if you push it, but why would you? This sedan is a smooth operator, meant to be savored from the perch of the cavernous back seat, on a long highway trip. Skip the back roads with this one.
Jeffrey Jablansky, Associate Editor
It’s a good thing that no Avalon owner has a heavy foot, because these front tires are very easy to squeal. It amused me, however, to imagine dozens of blue-haired old ladies or socks-and-sandals grandfathers getting pulled over for peeling out hither and yon up and down the Florida peninsula. Unfortunately, that’s the only amusement I got out of driving the Toyota brand’s flagship sedan.
The Avalon is much like its smaller sibling, the Camry: it’s purely an appliance for people who care nothing about cars. At the same time, though, the Avalon is a very nice, spacious, comfortable, and luxurious automobile, especially in the Limited trim that we tested.
Toyota’s approach with this model is so conservative that it’s hard to tell that this Avalon has been updated from the car I wrote about five years ago for a comparison story for this website; one big clue, however, is that there’s no longer a cassette-tape deck in the Avalon’s center stack. Speaking of things finally put out to pasture, the Avalon might be a great taxi and airport-fleet replacement now that Ford has stopped building its hoary Crown Victoria.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Driving the Avalon was like a trip down memory lane, but I didn’t feel like I was in an old-fashioned car, since ours was equipped with one of Toyota’s excellent navigation systems, a back-up camera, and even Bluetooth for the 660-watt, 12-speaker stereo. Wait, wait, let’s say that again: a 12-speaker, 660-watt stereo? In a car that’s aimed squarely at the AARP set? Wow, what is the world coming to?
When it comes to cars like the Avalon, there’s no sense in trying to explain them to BMW drivers. There are still a lot of people who simply want a big, comfortable, reliable, cushy sedan that doesn’t ask a lot of the driver. These are the folks who were served for decades by cars like the Ford Crown Victoria. So now they get similar driving dynamics — isolated ride, lazy steering, considerable body roll — but combined with Toyota reliability and an available portfolio of modern amenities like the aforementioned navigation and stereo. That said, if my mother or aunt were thinking about buying an Avalon, I’d recommend that they also check out the Buick LaCrosse.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
2011 Toyota Avalon Limited
Base price (with destination): $36,235
Price as tested: $37,884
3.5-liter V-6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
17-inch alloy wheels
Vehicle stability control
Power moonroof with sliding sunshade
Rain sensing wipers
Dual heated outside mirrors
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
JBL synthesis AM/FM 6-disc CD changer
USB port with iPod connection
Heated and ventilated front seats
Power rear sunshade
60/40 split rear seat
Leather trimmed steering wheel and shift knob
Dual zone automatic climate control
Options on this vehicle:
Navigation & premium audio — $1450
Voice-activated touch screen
DVD navigation system
AM/FM 4-disc CD player
MP3/WMA playback capability
660-watt sound system with 12 speakers
XM satellite radio
Auxiliary audio jack
USB port with iPod connectivity
Carpet floor mats/trunk mat — $199
Key options not on vehicle:
Remote engine start — $499
20 / 29 / 23 mpg
Size: 3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 268 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Curb weight: 3616 lb
Wheels/tires: 17-inch aluminum wheels
215/55R17 Michelin Energy all-season tires