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