Toyota's largest sedan sold in America, the Avalon, shows up on some interesting lists. It's one of the 10 "most comfortable cars" in a Kelley Blue Book ranking. At Automotive.com, the Avalon is among the top 10 "cars for seniors," and it's one of the 10 "least expensive to insure" at Insweb.com.
Buyers of the 16.5-foot-long Avalon get a roomy, full-size car with many luxury features and appealing looks that were spruced up for 2011 by a new, shiny grille and higher rear trunk lid. The Avalon is, as Kelley Blue Book reports, eminently comfortable. At the same time, it's not ostentatious or overwhelming, the way some luxury-branded sedans are.
It is, however, pricey.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, 2011 Avalon is $33,205 with 268-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission.
2011 Toyota Avalon Limited
- BASE PRICE: $32,445 for base model; $35,685 for Limited.
- AS TESTED: $38,398.
- TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, large sedan.
- ENGINE: 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 with VVT-i.
- MILEAGE: 20 mpg (city), 29 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: NA.
- LENGTH: 197.6 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 111 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,616 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Georgetown, Ky.
- OPTIONS: Navigation system and premium JBL audio $1,450; carpeted floor and trunk mat $199; VIP glass breakage sensor $165; emergency assistance kit $70; rear bumper applique $69.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $760.
Many other large, mainstream-branded sedans have lower starting prices. For example, the 2011 Ford Taurus, with 263-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission, has a starting retail price of $25,995. Even a 2011 Taurus Limited with all-wheel drive is just $34,445 to start. The Avalon is not offered with all-wheel drive. The 2011 Buick Lucerne has a $30,495 starting retail price, including MSRP and destination charge. The Lucerne comes with a 227-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission. And the 2011 Hyundai Azera starts at $26,270 with 270-horsepower V-6 and automatic transmission.
The test Avalon Limited topped out at more than $38,000, which puts it amid many luxury-brand sedans. But finding a $38,000 luxury car with the kind of spaciousness inside that the Avalon has is nigh impossible. With 58.2 inches of shoulder room, the Avalon's back seat can honestly carry three adults without much fuss. The legroom back there is nearly 41 inches and is just a tad shy of the 41.3 inches of legroom available for long-legged drivers in front.
This compares with 56.9 inches of shoulder room and 38.1 inches of legroom in the back seat of 2011 Ford Taurus. The Taurus is 5.4 inches longer, overall, than the Avalon. The two cars are pretty similar in headroom.
For 2011, the Avalon is the first in the segment to have rear seats that recline, so both legs and backs of passengers rest nicely.
I liked the seat cushions front and rear. They weren't overly firm, as in some European cars, and they weren't soft as pillows where you might sink in too low. The Avalon cushions were in between, even if they didn't have much lateral support.
Many consumers already know the Avalon is built on the front-wheel drive platform of the Camry but is bigger and laden with a lot of amenities. For example, the Camry is 8.4 inches shorter, from bumper to bumper, than the Avalon and is an inch narrower. But the Avalon looks and feels a lot bigger.
Perhaps most memorable was the quiet interior of the Avalon compared with the interior of a Camry. Driving the Avalon, I didn't hear wind noise on the highways, and barely any road noise. Even loud semi-haulers going by didn't raise a decibel inside the Avalon, though I admit I felt some wind buffeting the car when the big rigs passed on windy days.
There's only one engine for the Avalon -- the same 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6 that's the uplevel engine for the Camry. Torque peaks at a good 248 foot-pounds at 4,700 rpm, and it moved the Avalon from startup quickly. The 3,300-pound car didn't loaf around when the accelerator went down, and all the shifts in the six-speed transmission were silky smooth.
The Avalon isn't a sporty car, for sure. But it's not a big sluggish sedan, either.
One nit: I didn't care for the oddly placed notches in the gear selector. It's not a straight shot down from Park to Drive.
The Avalon's six-speed, electronically controlled transmission is a step up from the four-speed automatic that's in the 2011 Buick Lucerne and helps explain why the Avalon's fuel economy rating from the government -- 20 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway -- is higher than the Lucerne's 17/27 mpg. During the test drive, with 60 percent city driving, I managed 24.8 mpg.
Fit and finish on the test car was excellent, inside and out, and I liked how knobs and buttons are good-sized and gauges are easy to read. It seemed as if everywhere I pressed my hand -- top of dashboard and inside top of doors, top of center console storage area, etc. -- was relatively soft to the touch. The perforated leather seats had a luxury feel, too.
A flat tire was a quick, 10-minute fix as my husband and I hauled out the full-size spare -- yes they still exist -- from the 14.4-cubic-foot trunk and replaced the punctured tire.
There's a good amount of body motion in the turns and curves, and while Avalon riders don't float above the road, they don't feel many road bumps or vibrations.
Consumer Reports has suspended its "recommended" status for the Avalon and seven other Toyotas following issues with safety recalls involving Toyota vehicles.
While 2011 government crash test results aren't out yet, the 2010 Avalon, which had the same structure as the 2011 model has, earned five out of five stars in government laboratory crash test results involving both frontal and side crashes.
Perhaps the list that matters most for Avalon these days is Toyota's U.S. sales, where the Avalon is the only Toyota-branded car whose U.S. sales this year are higher than they were last year. Avalon sales through August were up 5.3 percent from what they were in the same period in 2009.