It's funny, over the years Toyota has aimed its Avalon at traditional Buick buyers even while Buick has gone after Lexus, Toyota's luxury division. From the moment you slide behind the steering wheel of the Avalon, it's obvious that this is a traditional car chasing traditional-sedan buyers. You know, the people who usually buy Buicks. The big Toyota is definitely geared toward older people, and there's nothing wrong with that, since there's a huge population of aging baby boomers and for many of them the Avalon is the ideal car. All of the controls are simply laid out and easy to decipher. The steering wheel rake is adjusted with a ratcheting device that reminds me of the ones in scores of GM sedans in the past. The digital displays for driver- and passenger-side interior temperature settings have digits that must be 24 points tall, for easy visibility. All of the display fonts are pretty big, actually. Hey, I'm only 45 years old but I already wear bifocals, so I am the last person to complain about big type fonts! The cowl is low, so you can see the hood sloping down in front of you. There's good visibility in all directions. Our tester had cooled seats, a welcome touch in the July heat. The front seats are flat and wide and easy to slide into but not particularly supportive.
The back seat is huge. Associate web editor Jake Holmes and I sat on either side of summer intern Greg Fink, while road-test editor Chris Nelson handled chauffeur duties, and we all enjoyed the impressive leg, hip, and shoulder room. It's a very comfortable ride back there as well; even when Chris nailed the gas, we weren't at all unsettled.
Nail the gas, you say, in an Avalon? Well, yes. Although the Avalon is no sport sedan, its silky smooth V-6 delivers nice, strong, linear acceleration, especially if you shove the gearshift lever into S for Sport. (Yes, we agree, it's pretty incongruous to even see a Sport setting in an Avalon.) If you're late for church or rushing to make the early-bird dinner special, the Avalon can easily pass the slowpokes impeding your progress. This Toyota V-6 sounds better at high revs than similar V-6 engines from both Nissan and Honda, in fact.
That praise aside, the Avalon was pretty soggy when I had to swerve to avoid a dead raccoon on a two-lane road, and I was driving the Toyota for some panning-shot photos and managed to pretty much fry the brakes after three or four successive stops from 80 or 90 mph. The front rotors were a-smokin' and a-stinkin' something fierce. Like I said, this is not a sport sedan. But it's a perfectly nice, traditional full-size sedan for the folks who want one.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The Avalon is a pleasantly surprising car. The expectation is that it will be the marshmallow ride that every octogenarian dreams of; the reality is that it is a creamy sedan in both comfort and power. The 3.5-liter V-6 is responsive, but not neck-snappingly so, and pulls smoothly and silently off the line. The hushed cabin means that speed is accumulated much more quickly than you realize from behind the wheel. The plush seats are comfortable, every button is dampened, and road noise is generally suppressed. However, the interior's luxury trimmings are not equal to those found in a Lexus, and show some cost-cutting in the dash, door, and center-console trim.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Having received the keys to the Avalon, I hopped into the driver's seat, put on some chill-out music, and expected to waft home. When presented with some slow-moving, dim-witted traffic at an intersection in downtown Ann Arbor, my first idea was to slow to a crawl and wait for everything to work itself out. But I didn't do that: I stabbed the accelerator and sprinted away.
As I roared down Ashley Street, I wondered one thing: who the heck attached a rocket booster to this queen-size bed? I turned off the chill-out and turned up the trip-hop on the suspiciously loud stereo (thanks, JBL). That afternoon I blasted home both very quickly and very smoothly.
In its segment, there's no arguing that the Avalon is the most boring choice. It is supremely comfortable, eminently capable in a straight line, and it's reliable, even at the expense of any character. When compared with, say, the Chrysler 300 or the Hyundai Genesis, it's seriously outclassed in curb-appeal.
Will an Avalon buyer care that the flaccid steering is so uncommunicative and the front end is so vague. Nope -- it's easy to grip and turn the wheel, and it requires little effort to drive. The seats may be made out of the worst material ever called "leather," but they're leather, they're heated and cooled, and they're comfortable. When it rains, the wipers turn on. When it gets dark, the headlamps illuminate. Nice.
For me, the powertrain doesn't make up for the dullsville styling, the utter lack of driver involvement, or the cheesy leather seats -- I really don't like the car. I do get why it works, however.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor