You dont realize how many Toyota Avalons are on the road until you drive one. Drive an Avalon around Hartford for a week, as Paula and I did, and you'll start seeing the car everywhere.
I would say it's Toyota's best-kept secret when it comes to a fine riding luxury car," says Terry Schnurr, general sales manager at Middletown Toyota.
"It's a Lexus," one Avalon owner told me, "but without the label and for $10,000 less." The Avalon does share a great deal in its body structure and drivetrain with the Lexus ES, but backseat riders in the Avalon enjoy noticeably more room.
The current Avalon is the third generation of the vehicle, and it is undeniably the best of the series, which started its run in 1994 as a 1995 model.
The last major redesign occurred in 2005, with a mild styling update for the 2008 models. Currently, the Avalon comes in two series, base and Limited. All versions are powered by an exceptionally smooth 3.5-liter V-6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. Power reaches the road through the front wheels.
Even base versions are nicely outfitted, as our review car demonstrated. Leather upholstery is standard. So are all the power assists luxury car buyers expect; power windows, mirrors, remote-control locks and power front seats are all standard. So are dual-zone automatic climate control, a trip computer and a host of additional comfort and convenience items.
Limited buyers enjoy heated and ventilated front seats, which are optional on the base model, a JBL audio system upgrade and HID lighting, among other enhancements.
"The Limited is the most popular model,”Schnurr said. "Buyers get all the extras, but it is still thousands less than comparable luxury cars.”
Driving the Avalon is an interesting experience. The engine is a champion, capable of effortlessly pushing the car to 60 miles per hour in 6.8 seconds. Once there, the ride is smooth and absorbent; this car coddles its passengers shamelessly.
Handling is competent, though there is little about the way the car drives that will stoke the fires of passion in a driving enthusiast. The Avalon has had no sporting aspirations since the demise of the Touring trim level, and even in this model, its claim to sports sedan status was tenuous.
Still, the Avalon is a delightful automobile. It is perfect for people who want to enjoy ample doses of comfort and luxury, yet don't want to make a splash. They could spend $10,000 more on another model, yet not enjoy it any more.
"People who own them come back, again and again," Schnurr says.
Engine: 3.5 liter V-6
Starts at: $32,595, plus $760 for destination charges.