2014 Toyota Avalon Limited Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
The luxury car for today's luxury car buyers, not their parents
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyers Guide
The 2014 Toyota Avalon is not your grandmother's Avalon. From its 1995 debut through 2012, Toyota's flagship sedan was a car made in America for American luxury car buyers. "American luxury car buyers" in that case being people who appreciated the traditional American luxury car, as built from the 1950s through 90s -- spacious, soft, and coddling. It was, to put it less politely, a car for your grandparents -- even if you are now a grandparent yourself.
That worked well enough for that time, but that generation is now more likely to be driven than to drive… and Toyota has been undergoing a major philosophical change in design and chassis dynamics. Bland and soft are out; interesting and engaging are in -- even in regard to the Avalon.
It's still an American car, designed and engineered at Toyota facilities in Newport Beach, CA and Ann Arbor, MI, with final assembly in Georgetown, KY. But it's a contemporary American car. Like the newest offerings from the U.S. brand manufacturers, European influence is felt in the chassis tuning. It is a car for the scenic route as much as for the Interstate. In style, previous Avalons were conservative to the point of stodginess. This one looks more like a luxury coupe than a sedan, and although it's a little lower and wider, and marginally shorter than the previous generation, it has more presence and so looks bigger.
Power, for most Avalons, is from the familiar 3.5-liter, 268-horsepower V6, matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, in XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring, and Limited trim levels. For the first time there is a hybrid in the Avalon lineup, with the same 200 combined horsepower drivetrain as the Camry Hybrid. Positioned as the premium choice, it dispenses with the XLE level and keeps the upper ones.
I drove both the V6 and Hybrid when they were introduced to the automotive press in late 2012, and spent a week with a well-equipped Hybrid Limited partway through 2013. Changes for 2014 are minimal -- all models get a standard backup camera and a three-blink turn signal mode. I've just finished a week with a 2014 V6 Limited, with the Technology Package of Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, automatic high beams, and the Pre-Collision System suite of safety equipment. With standard blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring, HID headlamps, power front seats, upgraded leather (leather is standard in all models), and both heating and cooling in front and heat in the rear seat cushions plus a premium navigation system, JBL audio system, and the Entune suite of connectivity applications in its spacious, contemporary, upscale interior, Toyota's flagship treads very closely to Lexus territory.
On the road, it's as smooth, comfortable, and quiet as expected from a luxury sedan, and is actually enjoyable at a brisk pace on the scenic route. No, it won't be challenging any real sports sedans, but it is far more engaging than any previous Avalon. Power was never an issue, nor was excessive thirst. Around town and on back roads, mileage was in the low 20s, with low 30s on the highway. My 23-mpg average for the week reflected mostly non-highway driving. Which is a good reflection on the newest Avalon.
APPEARANCE: Even though it's slightly smaller than the previous generation, the new Avalon has much more presence on the road. Without the Camry-like chromed crossbar Toyota grille, it wouldn't be readily identifiable as a Toyota. Looking at the front, one's eyes are alternately drawn to that or the ovalish lower grille as the dominant styling element. It's sportier-looking than any previous Avalon, with moderately-flared wheel arches, strong, angular shoulders, and semi-flared rocker panels on the body and a long, near-fastback passenger cabin. Chrome implies luxury, and there is no shortage, with the upper and lower grilles at the front, the window surrounds and door handle trim at the sides, and the trim piece between the oversized wrap-around LED taillights at the rear most apparent.
COMFORT: Other than the logo on the steering wheel hub, there is not much difference in appointment and comfort between this Toyota and a Lexus inside. The chromed plastic trim looks more plastic-like than does its counterpart in the "more upscale" Toyota brand, but the design, build quality, and materials are very, very close. Soft-touch materials are used for the top part of the instrument panel and doors, offset by thin chrome trim, woodgrain, and textured plastic in the center stack and console areas. IntelliTouch™ capacitive switches on the center stack are a high-tech touch. Form, as good as it is, doesn't trump function, and the Optitron electroluminescent instruments are bright and easy to see in all lighting. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has manual tilt and telescope adjustment. Audio and phone controls are on the horizontal spokes; lights, wipers, and cruise control are on stalks. Front seats are power-adjustable, with two memory positions for the driver's. Comfort in front is first-class. As it is in the rear. Very good leg- and head-room, and a low central floor tunnel mean that three adults can fit. Useful storage is found in a locking glovebox (with override switch for the remote trunk release to keep valets honest), a large console box, and door pockets. This must be a real luxury car, as there are no bottle holders in the doors… There is a space-saver spare under the trunk floor, though.
SAFETY: Standard safety equipment includes Toyota's Star Safety System, with ten airbags, whiplash-reducing front seats, front and rear crumple zones, side-impact door beams, and energy-absorbing steering column, an anti-theft system with engine immobilizer, and daytime running lights in all models. Touring and Limited grades have the blind-spot system, and Limiteds get LED DRLs and the Safety Connect telematics system, with the Pre-Collision System optional.
RIDE AND HANDLING: If you've spent time in any older Avalon, forget that experience. Only the name remains the same. The overly-soft suspension tuning of previous Avalons is history. Reinforcement of the unibody structure makes it stronger and more rigid, for safety and lower noise, vibration, and harshness levels. The fully-independent MacPherson strut front, dual-link strut rear suspension is tuned as in the contemporary European luxury cars that are the class benchmarks -- firm enough to prevent excessive body motion on acceleration, deceleration, or in cornering, yet with spring and shock damper rates correctly matched for a supple and comfortable ride. Good soundproofing ensures low interior noise levels, with tire noise the loudest on some surfaces -- important information for the driver, anyway, and not overly loud. The electrically-assisted power steering is not too numb, and braking performance is very good.
PERFORMANCE: Compared to the previous generation, this Avalon's engine is the same, a 3.5-liter twincam V6 with VVT-i variable cam timing and valve lift control on all four camshafts. Maximum output is 268 horsepower (at 6200 rpm) and 248 lb-ft of torque (at 4700 rpm). Weight is similar, around 3,500 pounds. The new Avalon has a six-speed automatic rather than the older version's five-speed. Unsurprisingly, acceleration and fuel economy are nearly identical. No criticism there -- the old Avalon had good straight-line performance, and a thirst that was economy-car territory in the distant past. Same here, around seven seconds to 60 mph so highway merges are easy, and mileage in the low 20s around town and on secondary roads, with low 30s on the highway. The major improvement is in suspension and road manners.
CONCLUSIONS: Toyota's newest Avalon is a luxury car for today's luxury car buyers, not their parents.
2014 Toyota Avalon Limited
Base Price $ 39,650
Price As Tested $ 42,635
Engine Type DOHC 24-valve V6 with VVT-i cam phasing and valve lift management on all camshafts
Engine Size 3.5 liters / 211 cu. in.
Horsepower 268 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 248 @ 4700 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 111.0 in. / 195.2 in.
Curb Weight 3500 lbs. (est)
Pounds Per Horsepower 13.1
Fuel Capacity 17.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P225/45R18 91V m+s Bridgestone Turanza EL400
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent strut
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 31 / 23
0 to 60 mph 6.8 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Technology Package -- includes: Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), automatic high beam, Pre-Collision System $ 1,750
Qi Wireless Charging Capability $ 200
Carpet floor and trunk mats $ 225
Destination charge $ 810