Yes, Ben, the Toyota Avalon is fast. The same engine that smoothly propels the Lotus Evora to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds makes the Avalon a predator on the highway, should you desire to be so. It wafts down the road at 80 mph with the smoothness and effortlessness of a bygone era. A bygone American era, that is. Joe DeMatio mentioned its similarity to GM sedans of yore. I'm specifically reminded of my grandparents' late-1990s Oldsmobile Aurora. Smooth-as-creamy-peanut-butter ride, amply proportioned leather seats, ergonomically friendly controls. Of course, that Aurora, built during GM's bad old days, broke very often and very expensively. That's not a concern for the Avalon, making it the perfect car for the many people who don't really like to devote much thought to their car. Does the car float? Yes. Does it understeer? You bet - I had the front tires howling like a Werewolf through a decreasing-radius highway off-ramp. Would this matter to my grandparents? No. And guess which of us actually has $38,884 to spend on a car?
As others have noted, the only real shortcoming is the quality of the interior materials. The not-quite-luxury-grade plastics undermine what is actually one of Toyota's more attractive cabins.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Like Toyota's Camry, the Avalon offers little in the way of driving excitement. It's not meant to please or satisfy the desires of automotive enthusiasts or even those of anyone under the age of 50. Objectively, though, the Avalon is a supremely smooth, comfortable, and quiet vehicle that, despite its totally bland design, has managed to find enough buyers to keep Toyota from dropping it. I guess that shows how much we know.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
The Toyota Avalon is not thrilling or interesting in the least, but it does exactly what it's supposed to do -- it provides a perfect step up in the Toyota lineup from the brand's similarly businesslike, purposeful, but unexciting Camry and Corolla -- and it conveniently avoids the potential expense and flashiness of a Lexus-branded product.
There's lots of room in the back seats, which recline. Acceleration is surprisingly abrupt when you step on it, although the front tires are too anxious to squeal. This car seems hardly changed from the Avalon I drove for an autumn weekend in 2005 while writing this comparison test. In the half dozen years since, however, the cassette-tape deck has disappeared from the Avalon's cabin. Ah, glorious progress!
Its anodyne looks impress no one, but the Avalon transports driver and passengers in comfort -- and at a decent price. For me, though, I can think of at least a dozen $39,000 five-seat automobiles that I'd rather own.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
The Toyota Avalon has never been an exciting car to drive, and the 2011 model is no exception. It does benefit, however, from a redesign that makes it look somewhat more modern than its immediate predecessor, with a more pronounced grille treatment, new headlights, and chrome trim around the side windows and on the door sills. The interior was also redesigned, although calling it more modern might be a bit of a stretch. The wood on the dash and the steering wheel is so highly glossed that it looks fake. The parts of the steering wheel that aren't done in wood are covered in leather, which could have a nicer feel. In a nod to yesteryear, the rear seats are designed to comfortably seat three across. Not to say that this car will actually put you to sleep, but if you're a little drowsy, you can also recline the rear seats and take a nice nap. The nav system works pretty well and is easy to use, but it could also use some updating, as the graphics look like they come from a five-year-old Garmin system.
As is typical with Toyota, the powertrain is silky smooth, and even at 80 mph, extra power comes on immediately. The steering is odd, however, as it feels overassisted and keeps wanting to spring back to the center. The brakes are fine for sedate motoring (which is all this car is likely to see), but feel as if they might become overwhelmed if pushed too hard.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Is this an exciting car? Not at all. But it is one of the smoothest, quietest, and most comfortable vehicles I've driven, shy of some six-figure luxury cars. Some bemoan the death of traditional American barges like the Ford Crown Victoria, but their spirit lives on in the Avalon. It's roomy, cushy, and surprisingly quick -- at least in a straight line.
From a dynamic and NVH perspective, the Avalon reminds me quite a bit of the Lexus ES, despite costing some $4000 less. I don't see much need to completely reinvent the Avalon formula since its older demographic seems keen on it, but some refining of the interior materials -- particularly those applied to the upper dash and the steering wheel -- would go a long way in helping the car look as nice as it feels.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor