2011 Toyota Avalon
Base price: $32,595 – $35,835
As tested: $35,894
MPG: 20 city/29 highway
- Nearly a Lexus at a Toyota price
- Large, safe, quiet, comfortable seating for five adults
- Even base model comes very well equipped
- Navigation woes
- Even new design looks staid, dated
- Not the vehicle for driving "enthusiasts"
By Jim Prueter
Redesigned Avalon Remains Large, Safe, Comfortable, and Above All, Conservative
It has been a while since we last drove and tested a Toyota Avalon, February 2005 to be exact. Toyota had just introduced its all-American designed and Kentucky-built sedan. “Developed by Americans, for Americans,” said Ernest Bastien, who at the time was vice president of Toyota’s operations group.
Thoughtful and well-engineered, we thought the largest of Toyota’s sedans was more “Lexus” than Toyota and definitely aimed for those carrying AARP membership cards.
Fast-forward to 2011 and Toyota has an all-new fourth-generation Avalon available in a choice of base or limited-trim levels.
The Avalon actually looks like a sedan version of the Toyota Venza, a five-door hatchback station wagon built alongside the Avalon and Camry in Georgetown, Ky.
Might I also suggest that, like the Venza and Camry for that matter, Avalon will not set the heart aflutter for its design or driving thrills, nor will it turn any heads. It’s about as thrilling as watching paint dry. Now don’t get me wrong, Avalon is a perfectly serviceable and safe vehicle capable of moving its occupants between points A and B in a remarkably roomy, quiet, and comfortable manner. Moreover, the Avalon is priced right: $32,595 for the front-wheel-drive base model with a 3.5-liter 268-horsepower six-cylinder and six-speed automatic transmission.
If you really love the Avalon and want more pampering, you can go all out with the Limited model. Beginning at $35,835, the Limited adds a Lexus-like wood-grain steering wheel and shift knob, perforated leather-trimmed power front seats that are also heated and ventilated, and include a driver’s seat cushion extension.
Inside, the Avalon cabin is larger with better materials than Camry, yet Toyota continues to fall behind competition in this area with overuse of less gratifying plastics and vinyl trim. Our base-model test car featured an ample amount of unconvincing faux wood trim on the steering wheel, shift knob, center console, dash, and door panels. We have seen worse though.
Thankfully, operating instruments and audio controls are easy to use, avoiding unnecessary complexity that seems to be a trend in upscale luxury sedans. Thanks to an incredible amount of consumer input, Toyota got it right. BMW, Acura, and Audi can take a lesson here.
The $2,350 optional navigation and premium JBL Synthesis audio system is easy to use and intuitive. However, the navigation software repeatedly made significant routing errors, proving to be unreliable.
Avalon seats up to five adults — second-row seats recline for extra room and comfort. There’s a locking glove box and two cup holders on the center console. A fold-down armrest in back includes cup holders, and there’s a pass-through to the trunk. Seats feel extra wide, perhaps to accommodate larger American bottoms, and rear doors open extra wide to aid ingress and egress.
Toyota doesn’t shy away from the fact that Avalon is designed for a mature audience, so driving and handling is certainly not adventurous. It feels heavy and detached, with noticeable body roll and epic cornering push, but most owners will praise the quiet, comfortable “floating” ride Avalon delivers.
For 2011, the grille on the Avalon is wider, reminding us of the Toyota Venza. There are also new projector beam halogen headlamps and fog lamps with chrome trim. Out back, the Avalon’s taillights have been redesigned for a smoother, more aerodynamic look. Both models come with a standard sunroof and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Standard safety gear includes Toyota’s star safety system, which integrates antilock braking, brake assist, traction, and stability control. There are seven airbags, active front headrests, rear backup camera, compass and HomeLink, remote keyless entry, and heated outside mirrors. The 2011 Avalon received the highest “good” rating in front, side rollover, and rear crash tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It has not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Overall Avalon remains pleasant, conservative, and purposeful. Its target senior market will embrace the Avalon as Toyota’s most “American” vehicle. But for anyone under the age of 50, driving an Avalon will pretty much guarantee an end to his/her social life.