CARMEL VALLEY, CALIFORNIA "Older people need cars, too"-an obvious fact, perhaps, but a shocking public admission from an auto executive (in this case, Don Esmond, Toyota Division's senior vice president and general manager). Most car companies pursue younger buyers so determinedly you'd imagine they tell their dealers to lock their doors and dive under the desk at the sight of an approaching retiree. But Toyota has managed to keep kids interested in Scions and the Matrix, so the Avalon, its flagship sedan, is comfortably aimed at the generation that still thinks a dub is something you rub in a tub.The Avalon is the first Toyota that is not only styled and built in the United States but is also completely engineered here. The all-new platform and 3.5-liter, 280-hp V-6 were designed in our backyard in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the Toyota Technical Center, and they'll make their way into many future Toyota and Lexus vehicles.
Toyota devotees needn't fear; vehicle development on American soil can yield an unassailably refined and well-wrought vehicle. The Avalon glides along like American sedans of yore, but it never quakes or rattles, and its brakes and handling are adequate and safe. In typical Toyota fashion, switches and controls are exactly where you'd expect them, and the interior is cavernous and modern without trying to be avant-garde. Power is ample and smooth, although a bit of torque steer is inevitable in a front-wheel-drive car with 260 lb-ft of torque.
The Avalon comes well equipped. Side, curtain, and knee air bags are standard, although traction and stability control are available only on the upscale XLS and Limited models. A fully loaded Avalon Limited with leather, heated and cooled seats, laser adaptive cruise control, satellite navigation, and stability control will cost about $35,000.
Ironically, the Avalon is more old-school American than its newest U.S.-badged competitors. The Avalon's steering is overboosted, and early terminal understeer rewards any enthusiastic input. A new Avalon Touring model with stiffer dampers and springs improves things somewhat, but no Avalon is a challenge for a Chrysler 300-or even a Ford Five Hundred-on a twisty road.
But that's really beside the point. The people who buy the Avalon will continue to love it for its value, space, and lack of pretense. As for us, we'll hold out for a livelier car that makes use of this excellent new V-6.