This third-generation Avalon was completely redesigned late in the 2005 model year and comes with the latest in safety features (though electronic stability control is optional, not standard). Its styling is understated. It's more distinctive than the previous-generation Avalon, but it doesn't stand out, instead presenting a quiet look of grace and agility. Not everyone wants to pull up in a red Viper.
Inside is a comfortable cabin lavished with tasteful materials and ergonomically designed controls that make this car easy to operate and pleasant to drive. This newest Avalon is significantly larger than previous models. The front seats are roomy and comfortable and special attention was paid to back-seat comfort. This is a car that will never annoy you.
The Avalon is smooth and comfortable underway, quiet and serene. The suspension was tuned for ride comfort and it largely excels in this area. The newly designed double-overhead-cam V6 engine is smooth, quiet and powerful, while the electronically controlled five-speed automatic ensures smoothness and economy.
Four trim variations are available, each representing slightly different priorities to broaden the Avalon's appeal. There are no significant changes for 2006. Avalon benefits from Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability.
Toyota Avalon XL ($26,625); Touring ($28,875); XLS ($31,075); Limited ($33,815)
This latest Avalon features a wider, longer stance than before and the overall length is five inches longer. That additional length is especially apparent from the rear, where a tall deck, large tail lamps and dual exhaust outlets suggest an expensive touring sedan. The handsome rear deck line remains undisturbed by a wing, except in the Touring grade, which mounts a rear lip spoiler consistent with its sporty wheels and brighter accents.
The front of the Avalon is dominated by a horizontal grille with chrome-accented bars, and a wide lower intake valence calling attention to its greater width. The lines created by the valence are extended by use of fog lamps on the Touring, XLS and Limited models.
At first glance, Avalon appears as an elegant, if unassuming, sedan. A second glance and it looks sleek, powerful, and advanced.
The front seats are firm but not hard and relatively flat. They're quite comfortable and feature power adjustments and memory functions. In addition to heated front seats, the Limited model features a fan in the seat cushion and seat back that blows cabin air through the perforated leather trim to improve comfort. Knobs for seat heating and cooling are conveniently located on the center console. The front of the driver's seat bottom is power adjustable, offering improved thigh support. And the steering column tilts and telescopes. In short, these seats will not permit any form of discomfort, no matter what the conditions. They provide an apt analogy for the entire car, a vehicle possessed of small comforts that add up to a satisfying environment to soothe the driver.
The overall impression of the Avalon interior is upmarket and high quality. The steering wheel in the Limited model is attractively trimmed in wood and leather. The Optitron instruments are elegant and technically appealing displays. Retracting lids hide controls for audio and navigation, reducing clutter. The action of the retracting covers is slow and measured, with the look and satisfying feel of high-end audio equipment. The painted silver plastic covers and panels aren't the strongest feature, however, and we wonder how good they'll look in five years.
Controls for the excellent navigation system are behind a panel in front of the shifter that folds out like an ashtray. It's an unconventional design, but it works and the controls are fairly easy to reach. The buttons used to control navigation, climate and audio are superb, big, clearly marked, illuminated and easy to operate. We recommend getting the navigation system.
This is a roomy car and its roominess extends to the back seats. Rear legroom is particularly generous with three-across seating facilitated by the totally flat floor. We rode in the rear seat, directly behind a six-foot driver, with legroom to spare. In fact, there's enough room that we could imagine the Avalon as a taxi cab. The rear seat is comfortable, and offers 10 degrees of adjustment to create five sitting positions. Reclining the backrest effectively increases headroom, so people of varying heights and sizes can find comfort.
The trunk is family sized, with a pass-through door for long gear such as skis. Wood accents, particularly on the Limited, are attractive and judiciously placed. The chrome door scuff plates on the Touring grade, particularly, are notably attractive and distinctive.
The Limited model comes with a Smart Key that eliminates the need to pull it out of your pocket or purse. To use it, just walk up to the car. At a touch, all four doors unlock. Climb in. Foot on the brake, touch the Start button and the car hums to life. No fumbling with keys.
Like the rest of the car, the suspension is set up primarily for comfort. The handling is extremely well balanced, and the rack-and-pinion steering offers a good balance between road feel and easy steering, avoiding the over-assisted vagaries common with large SUVs and American cars. Driving hard on tight roads will induce some body roll (lean), yet the Avalon Limited we drove held any reasonable line we cared to strike through a corner, protesting only at careless tossing, and absorbing pavement irregularities at the apex with little apparent concern. The Avalon is front-wheel drive, with front struts located by L-shaped lower arms, and a multi-link/strut arrangement in the back. So it tends to squat slightly coming out of corners, and pull through them from the front.
The Touring model is set up for sharper handling performance than the others, with stiffer shock tuning and Michelin MXV4 tires on 17-inch wheels. The Touring has quicker reflexes, at the expense of some ride comfort and noise control, and delivers a secure, on-center feeling through the twisties.
Avalon's engine and transmission deliver unobtrusive performance. Fifth gear is a relaxed overdrive, allowing the engine to loaf on the highway. Driving over steep mountain passes with some determination rewarded us with 268 horsepower backed by an automatic that knows when to shift. In tighter sections, where our speeds were in the 30 to 50 mph range, we decided to operate the transmission in manual mode, tap-shifting from second to third gear and revving up and down through the corners.
(About that 268 horsepower: The 2005 Avalon was rated 280 horsepower, but the 2006 engine is in fact just as strong as the '05. The Society of Automotive Engineers, or SAE, the people who decide these things, issued new procedures for measuring horsepower and torque. In short, only the numbers have changed; the performance remains the same.)
Toyota's V6 engine pulls strongly at higher rpm and right up to the 6200 rpm redline, but it remains remarkably quiet in the process. It's a double overhead-cam unit with four valves per cylinder and an aluminum block and heads. A short stroke dimension means that it likes to rev, abetted by very low reciprocating mass and a very-low-friction cam gear. These are the characteristics of a long-life, efficient everyday engine with exceptional passing power. Our forays into canyon carving were not perfectly consistent with this type of design, and yet they were not frustrating, either. The horsepower is there, and the transmission will allow you to access it.
Add the tighter suspension of the Touring model and the Avalon is decidedly sporty. But that's not what the Avalon is about. It's a car that makes everyday use a pleasant experience, a versatile cruiser and around-town chariot that shortens long trips, thoughtfully insulating occupants from the jagged loose ends of the real world. That's been Avalon's mission since its debut in '94, and with changes since then it has only gotten better.
The V6 is a smooth power plant, and its very low levels of vibration are no accident; an active control mount cancels low-rpm engine motions. Transmission upshifts are governed by third-generation electronic software with specific engine mount tuning to reduce shift shock. Part-throttle upshifts are barely noticeable.
All this, and EPA city/highway fuel efficiency ratings of 22/30 mpg, albeit on premium fuel.
Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, and Brake Assist are dynamic systems that remain in the background until wheel slip, or skidding, is detected. VSC helps keep a skidding vehicle on the road by instantly braking one or more wheels, individually. We were a
The Toyota Avalon may be the best of the full-size sedans. Completely redesigned just a year ago, the Avalon takes full advantage of the latest technologies in safety, efficiency, and performance. It's roomy, smooth and comfortable.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Stewart filed this report from Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.