2011 AVALON, EVERY OTHER CAR A DIMINISHING RETURN

Written by gary on August 9th, 2010
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2011 Toyota Avalon…It’s Roomy and Comfortable, Effortless to drive and Luxurious with a number of significant updates.Avalon-4-10

The Avalon succeeds at transporting people in complete comfort and surrounding them with a host of luxury trappings. In short, it’s the modern reincarnation of the classic American sedan.

The 2011 Avalon is offered in base and Limited trim levels. Here is a test on  a Limited model with an as-tested price of $37,884.

The Styling is long and low, and the Avalon stretches to 197.6 inches overall, making it about 8 inches longer than a Toyota Camry. For 2011, the Avalon receives some subtle styling changes to its front and rear. The headlights, grille and front bumper are new, but because the overall look closely resembles the prior version, the changes could easily go unnoticed. The same goes for the rear, which has new but familiar-looking LED taillights and a license plate holder that’s been moved from the bumper to the restyled trunklid. A significant Lexus-like side chrome detail along each side below the doors adds a needed touch of class.

Comfort reigns supreme in the Avalon, and this has some pretty positive aspects. On the plus side, the sedan’s soft suspension tuning provides excellent ride quality. The Avalon floats smoothly down the road, the cabin undisturbed by rougher stretches of pavement. It’s one of those things that give the Avalon a sense of luxury beyond its price. A quick dip in the road makes the nose bob up and down briefly, but the motion is quickly controlled. Larger bumps, however, depending on how they are hit, can be felt.

The steering is another area where the Avalon upholds its comfort mantra. The wheel turns easily with a light touch; it feels like it’s attached to a giant ball bearing that’s been lathered in WD-40. Despite the light effort at lower speeds, which makes maneuvering a parking garage a cinch, there isn’t any unwanted twitchiness on the highway, just confident and predictable transitions when changing lanes.

“Effortless” is the best word to describe the Avalon’s drivetrain. Like the 2010 model, the 2011 Avalon is powered by a 268 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The car pulls strongly away from stoplights, and the V-6 still has plenty of energy on the highway for a quick pass. Floor the gas pedal around 70 mph, and the transmission quickly kicks down, engine rpm jumps and the hood noticeably rises as the Avalon squats down and surges forward. This engine’s high-speed power is truly impressive, and not all that common among mainstream full-size sedans. All disc antilock brakes are standard on the Avalon.

You might think this kind of performance would make your local gas station owner rich, but the Avalon gets surprisingly good mileage for its size. Its EPA-estimated 20/29 mpg city/highway rating beats the most efficient versions of large front-wheel-drive sedans like the 2011 Ford Taurus (18/28 mpg), 2011 Hyundai Azera (20/28) and 2011 Chevrolet Impala (19/29). The Avalon’s V-6 takes regular gas. Higher gas mileage performance is achievable and many owners report highway mileage in the low 30’s per gallon and city performance in the mid 20’s..

The new Avalon’s cabin interior is a noteworthy aesthetic improvement over the prior model’s interior and gives the Avalon a luxury-car feel.

The 2011 Avalon’s dashboard, center control panel and center console are new, and unlike the prior model all the areas feature premium materials, with the dash and many of the door panels finished in a nicely grained, low-gloss surface that looks great. Gone is the blue-screened display that used to sit to the right of the instruments, as well as the many silver-colored doors covering things like the stereo and cupholders. Instead, the car’s console has covers finished in nicer-looking simulated wood and gray-silver trim.  The seating feels thicker than recent previous models. Overall, the interior is nice enough that no one would question it if there were a Lexus L badge on the steering wheel instead of the Toyota T — certainly in the Limited.

If you haven’t experienced the backseat of an Avalon, I guarantee you’ll be impressed by the amount of room the car offers. There’s an enormous amount of space for passengers to stretch out, including loads of legroom for taller folks. Even with the front seats in their rearmost position, there’s still decent legroom in back. To top it off, the Avalon has standard reclining rear backrests — an uncommon feature in a non-luxury sedan. Their overall comfort is enough to make you toss the keys to your spouse, slide into the backseat and say “Wake me when we’re there” — as long as you aren’t worried about the repercussions of such a move.

The Avalon’s trunk measures 14.4 cubic feet,  less than some of its main competitors offer but plenty ample. (The Impala’s trunk is 18.6 cubic feet, the Azera’s 16.6 and the Taurus’ a sizable 20.1.)

The cargo area is deep but not particularly tall, and there’s a full-size spare tire on an alloy wheel underneath the cargo floor.  A locking pass-through between the outboard rear seats is standard.

The 2011 Avalon received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick designation, which is given to models that offer a stability system and achieve Good overall ratings in the agency’s frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, its roof-strength test and its whiplash-injury test.

Standard safety features include a stability system, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags for both rows, active front head restaints and a knee airbag for the driver.

You can look at the Avalon in one of two ways: Either it’s a non-luxury car with a luxury-car price tag, or a luxury car without the luxury badge. Regardless of where you come down on that debate, one thing is clear: There are few cars in the Avalon’s price range that provide more passenger room and comfort.

If you do decide to hold the Avalon up against a similarly priced luxury car, like the Lexus ES 350, it fares pretty well. The Avalon gives you more room, better gas mileage and just as much luxury. We believe the Avalon is a luxury car for those who don’t care about luxury badges.

In short, You can spend $25,000 more on some cars and throw your money away. Anything in addition to the Avalon’s capabilities are diminishing returns…

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