SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 28,128 Price As Tested $ 30,931 Engine Type DOHC 4-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/MFI* Engine Size 183 cid/2995 cc Horsepower 198 @ 5200 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 212 @ 4400 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 107.1"/70.5"/191.9" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 3356 pounds Fuel Capacity 18.5 gallons Tires (F/R) 205/65HR15 Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Five-passenger/four-door Domestic Content 60 percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 21/30/27 0-60 MPH 9 seconds 1/4 Mile (E.T.) 17 seconds @ 87.5 mph Top speed 125 mph * Multi-point fuel injection
As Japan's only entry into the six-seater sedan market, the Toyota Avalon tests waters that have been the sole domain of the Big Three American automakers. Avalon is built in Georgetown, Kentucky, and while the car isn't exactly a clone of "traditional" U.S. iron, the company has put forth a fine effort.
And like those domestic behemoths, Avalon is quiet, comfortable and powerful, especially in top-line XLS trim like the one we review today.
OUTSIDE - Avalon is built on the smaller Toyota Camry platform, and shares many parts with its sibling, though it has a longer wheelbase, and it's been widened and stretched in nearly all directions. Exterior changes for 1998 include a new grille, reshaped taillights, a bit more chrome on the bumpers and bodyside moldings, and multi-reflector headlamps. Toyota has made loading cargo easier by widening the trunk opening by nine inches. The trunk lid also features an integrated "lip" made to look like a spoiler. XLS models now have integrated fog lamps down low in the corners of the front fascia. Body-color bumpers, door handles and outside mirrors are standard, as is a set of five-spoke alloy wheels.
INSIDE - Avalon's mission is comfort but with a healthy dose of safety features. Added this year are side-impact airbags, along with new seat belts with pre-tensioners and force-limiters. The Avalon we tested had wide and comfortable powered front bucket seats split by a large center console and a floor shifter. A three-across front bench seat with a column shifter is a no-charge option. This was a first for any Japanese maker when Avalon debuted, and as of today, it's the sole six-passenger Japanese sedan. In deference to American tastes, it's built and sold only in the U.S. There's room for six with the bench seat but the front/center position is the least desirable due to a folding center armrest. Our top-line XLS carried such standards as keyless entry, power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, plus automatic climate control, variable-speed intermittent wipers and tilt steering.
ON THE ROAD - Avalon is powered by a 3.0 liter V6 engine with 198 horsepower (200 outside California) and 212 lb-ft of torque. It's the same engine that powers the Camry, but differences in its intake and exhaust systems brought a few more ponies. Power is adequate, with very good launch off-the-line, and stellar fuel mileage, as we average nearly 27 mpg during our week behind the wheel. It is smooth and silent, and can hold its own against all but the most powerful V8-powered full-sized sedans. An always-smooth electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission is standard. A driver-controlled switch allows for a choice between "normal" and "power" modes, which essentially changes the transmission's shift points. There is also an Overdrive Off button on the shift lever, which comes in handy when quick passing maneuvers are needed. No manual transmission is offered.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - Toyota manipulated the Camry platform to take advantage of ride improvements that automatically come with a lengthened wheelbase. This year the company has added chassis bracing to stiffen the overall package, which helps to control many things, but chief among them are improved crash worthiness with less noise, vibration and harshness. Softly-sprung independent suspension front and rear combine with coil springs and anti-roll bars to give it impressive handling under normal driving conditions. During "routine" driving, the sizeable car corners eagerly, until pushed into hard turns, where an expected amount of understeer appears. It uses power rack-and-pinion steering that is crisp and quick to respond, but could use more road feel at highway speeds. Braking is handled by four-wheel discs with a standard anti-lock braking system (ABS).
SAFETY - Dual dashboard and dual side-impact airbags, along with ABS and side door impact beams are standard.
OPTIONS - On our test car: leather-trimmed seats: $1,005; power tilt and slide moonroof: $980; floor mats: $155; premium cassette/CD system: $180; destination charge: $420; California emissions: $63.