First Drive: 2011 Toyota Avalon

Is that the engine I hear?
The Avalon's 3.5-liter V-6 is identical to that in the Camry-and lots of other Toyota products. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission that is a paragon of smoothness, the V-6 is barely audible as it goes about its work. With 268 horsepower (the same horsepower rating as in the Camry), it has no problem accelerating the Avalon, and it's EPA rated at 20 mpg city and an impressive 29 mpg on the highway. The 248 pound-feet of torque may not seem like a lot, but given the way the softly sprung suspension unloads the front wheels during acceleration, it is enough torque to twitch the steering wheel in your hands.

The upside of that soft suspension, though, is a smooth but not offensively floaty ride. There is no pretense of the Avalon being some kind of sporting machine-at least there isn't any more, as the former Touring package with its stiffer suspension has been quietly dropped-so you'll want to slow down for those curves. And, naturally, the steering prioritizes parking ease over road feel.

Embracing its inner fogey
Unlike many big sedans, the Avalon is all about room and comfort. The chunky, thick-waisted design extracts no concessions in rear-seat space. The mellow chassis tuning doesn't sacrifice bump isolation on the altar of high-speed handling. The easy-to-use controls aren't hidden beneath a veneer of austere modernism. The Avalon is a relaxed-fit car, and that earns it an old-man's-car rap (not entirely undeservedly, since the median age of buyers is 64 years old). But for sedan shoppers who are secure enough to ignore that image-or old enough to embrace it-the Avalon is a comfy ride.

2011 Toyota Avalon

Base price (with destination): $33,205

Body style: 4-door sedan
Accommodation: 5-passenger
Construction: Steel unibody

Engine: 24-valve, DOHC V-6
Displacement: 3.5 liters
Power: 268 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel
Fuel economy: 20/29/23 mpg (city/highway/combined)

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