SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
The large family sedan is a very American type of vehicle. Although there are commodious five- or six-passenger sedans made elsewhere, most are distinctly upper-class machines. This shouldn't be surprising, as generally European and Asian roads are narrower and cities more crowded than their American counterparts. The large middle class sedan was the preeminent American vehicle form until the advent of oil crises, minivans, and sport utilities.
There is still a market for roomy sedans that are priced and equipped just under the "luxury" threshold. Such cars are made by all American manufacturers. One foreign-nameplate automaker is in the class as well. Toyota has been building the Avalon since the 1995 model year. The Avalon is about as American as it is possible for a car with a Toyota nameplate to be. It was designed primarily in Toyota's U. S. facilities and specifically for the American market. It is built only at Toyota Motor Manufacturing in Georgetown, Kentucky.
The Avalon is Toyota' s flagship sedan. When the Cressida was discontinued in 1991, the company had no top-level car for Camry owners to move up to. So the Avalon was developed, using a stretched Camry platform and the Camry's V6 engine. Externally smaller than the domestically-badged competition, the Avalon is classified by the government as a large car based on interior space, and is available in 5- passenger form with front bucket seats and a console-mounted shift lever or as a 6-passenger model with a front bench and steering column-mounted gearshift. The Avalon has its first styling revision for 1998. Although the appearance hasn't changed much, the chassis structure has been strengthened and there are a variety of mechanical and safety upgrades. As before, the 1998 Avalon is offered in XL and XLS trim levels.
As I write this, a 1998 Toyota Avalon XLS sits in my driveway. Not too big outside, yet with plenty of room and comfort within, it is the perfect larger sibling to a Camry. I think of it as a Camry stretch limo, combining the unostentatious comfort and practicality of a Camry with more room and luxury.
APPEARANCE: Exterior changes to the new Avalon are subtle. The basic conservatively elegant shape is unchanged. New, larger "jewel" multi-reflector headlights flank a crisply redesigned, chrome-trimmed grille in front. The turn signals are now integrated with the headlights, and the XLS model has foglamps in the lower bumper fascia. At the rear is a new trunk lid. It is sharper and crisper than the previous deck lid, and has a small integrated "ducktail" spoiler. It is also wider than the original lid, for easier trunk access. New taillights and chrome trim around the license plate well sharpen the '98 Avalon's look.
COMFORT: Inside, only the use of imitation wood trim keeps the Avalon XLS from being confused with its relatives from Lexus. The design is elegantly simple and very functional. My test car had light- colored leather seating surfaces, with darker door trim and instrument panel material, a very contemporary luxury look. Five-passenger Avalons have very comfortable front bucket seats, power adjustable with driver' side memory on XLS models, and a large, useful center console. The Avalon XLS also has automatic climate control and a good AM/FM/cassette/ CD audio system. Rear passengers have good legroom and greater than average headroom. Front and rear dome lights and separate interior spotlights for all outboard positions are very convenient. Windows, door locks, and mirrors are power- operated, as expected.
SAFETY: Front seat side-impact airbags are new to the 1998 Toyota Avalon, joining a strengthened chassis with front and rear crumple zones and side-impact protection beams. Dual front airbags, antilock brakes, an engine immobilizer system, and 3-point harnesses for all occupants except the center front are standard.
ROADABILITY: Strengthening and stiffening of the Avalon's chassis structure for 1998 not only improves crashworthiness, it makes a quiet and refined car even more so. The Avalon's fully-independent suspension is supple but resilient, and calibrated for American-style comfort with out losing touch with road conditions. The Avalon XLS is very much a contemporary luxury car on the road.
PERFORMANCE: The Avalon shares its 3.0-liter dual overhead cam 24-valve aluminum V6 with the Camry and the new Sienna minivan. Intake and exhaust manifold differences give it a bit more power than its siblings. With 200 horsepower on tap, the Avalon is quick enough for all conditions, and has no problem tackling steep grades even when fully loaded. Unlike the large sedans from the old days, the Avalon has a very moderate appetite for gasoline.
CONCLUSIONS: The Avalon is a very Toyota kind of full-sized American sedan - roomy, quiet, comfortable, and fuel-efficient.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 28,128 Price As Tested $ 30,931 Engine Type aluminum alloy dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6 Engine Size 3.0 liters / 182 cu. in. Horsepower 200 @ 5200 Torque (lb-ft) 214 @ 4400 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 107.1 in. / 191.9 in. Curb Weight 3340 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.7 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium, 91 octane Tires P205/65 HR15 Dunlop SP Sport 4000 A/S m+s Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent dual link Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 30 / 25 0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.1 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES CA / NY / MA emissions $ 63 Premium AM/FM/Cassette/CD audio system $ 180 Leather trimmed seats $ 1,005 Power tilt/slide moonroof $ 980 Carpet & cargo mat set $ 155 Destination charge $ 420