SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide
Toyota reached its enviable position as import-brand sales leader in the U.S. by making and selling the type of cars that Americans want. Toyota's strategy combines globalization and localization for a better fit between products and markets. While most of its cars and trucks are versions of those sold worldwide, some Toyota products are specialized for sale in certain markets. Case in point: The Toyota Avalon.
The Avalon, Toyota's flagship sedan in North America, originated from the Camry platform in 1995. The Camry is sold worldwide; the Avalon was, and still is, exclusive to the American marketplace and built only in Georgetown, Kentucky. The first- generation Avalon was just a touch larger than the Camry, and was priced and equipped to fill the niche between the Camry and its upscale cousin, the Lexus ES300. It was between a Camry and an American-style full-sized sedan in size, and offered available six- passenger seating.
If the first-generation Avalon was "the Camry stretch limo," the new second generation of the car could easily be called, especially in upscale XLS trim, the "Lexus LS399." While not appreciable larger than its predecessor, it seems larger, and is much more distanced from the Camry in styling and feel. The 2000 Avalon is the creation of Toyota's Calty design studio in Newport Beach, California, and is aimed directly at that most American of automotive categories, the full-sized sedan class. Offered in well- equipped standard XL and premium XLS grades, it is very, very American in feeling and intent, and is with a choice of five- or six-passenger seating configurations.
A recent week with a new Avalon XLS showed it to be a somewhat different car than the original version. A solid, smooth, ultra-quiet luxury car, it has all of the traditional Toyota virtues. But, especially in XLS trim, the new Avalon is a car that is directly on target for the American mid-luxury market. It has the comfort and power to please.
APPEARANCE: The Avalon's exterior has the plentiful chrome trim and the formal shape of a full-sized luxury car. There is not even a hint of Camry anywhere, but, rather, an interesting combination of vintage and contemporary, Japanese and American styling cues. The massive chrome "waterfall" grille and high, angular shoulder line are the most prominent exterior features. The chrome grille, and a complementary garnish piece above the rear license plate, give the Avalon its American luxury character with a nod to some Toyotas of the 1960s. Although larger than midsized cars like the Camry, and higher and longer than its predecessor, the new Avalon is considerably smaller than its domestic- nameplate competitors.
COMFORT: If the 2000 Avalon is less than "full-sized" outside, it's at no disadvantage inside. The interior is completely new, and very different than anything seen before in a Toyota. An inch- greater body width translates to increased shoulder space, and the airy interior design makes it appear even more spacious. A higher seating position takes advantage of the raised roofline to increase comfort and visibility. The instrument panel was moved forward four inches, for both increased space and better visibility. Its full- width brow is a new styling motif for Toyota, but will be familiar to domestic-brand luxury car owners. A well-designed, normal instrument cluster is placed in front of the driver, with an interesting multifunction display placed in the center of the dash. It tells time, temperature, direction, and mileage in an easy-to-read manner. Both five- and six-passenger versions are available; my test car was a six-seater, with a 50/50 split contoured front bench and an especially roomy rear bench with a ski passthrough. A steering column-mounted shift lever and dash-mounted key add useful space in front. Interior storage includes a larger locking glove box, front and rear flip-down consoles, pockets in all doors, and very trick hidden front door storage compartments. The trunk is as large as expected. Only in badging and the use of plastic instead of real wood is the Toyota Avalon XLS not a Lexus.
SAFETY: All 2000 Avalons have a rigid body structure with front and rear crumple zones and side-impact beams, dual front and front-seat side airbags, three-point harnesses for all occupants, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes. An active safety system with vehicle skid control and brake assist is available.
ROADABILITY: The 2000 Avalon XLS has the quietness and smooth ride demanded by American luxury car buyers. Its fully- independent suspension is designed and tuned correctly, for both ride comfort and control. Soft and compliant, it has much less body motion than most traditional American luxury cars. Steering is relatively quick, with little effort. Interior noise levels are very low, for a true luxury experience.
PERFORMANCE: The first-generation Avalon used the same 3.0-liter twincam V6 as upscale Camry models, although a different exhaust manifold gave it slightly more power. The 2000 Avalon's 3.0-liter V6 gets Toyota's "VVTi" variable valve timing system, which increases horsepower significantly, to 210, and torque to 220 lb-ft. It's more than merely adequate for the Avalon's intended clientele, and allows for easy passing and merging in traffic with a commendably low thirst for fuel. As expected, it is very smooth and quiet. The four-speed automatic transmission uses sophisticated electronic controls for smooth, adaptive shifting.
CONCLUSIONS: Toyota's most American car becomes even more so with the introduction of the 2000 Avalon.
SPECIFICATIONS 2000 Toyota Avalon XLS Sedan Base Price $ 29,655 Price As Tested $ 32,743 Engine Type dual overhead cam 24-valve V6 Engine Size 3.0 liters / 183 cu. in. Horsepower 210 @ 5800 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 220 @ 4400 rpm Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 107.1 in. / 191.9 in. Curb Weight 3428 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.3 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium, 91 octane, for best results Tires P205/60 HR16 Michelin Pilot 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 / 29 / 24 0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 16.1 sec Maximum trailer weight 2000 lbs. OPTIONS AND CHARGES Stability control system with traction control and brake assist $ 850 XLS leather package with JBL audio - includes: leather trimmed seats with driver's seat memory, 115volt outlet, 16-inch alloy wheels and P205/60R16 tires, JBL premium 7-speaker audio system with AM/FM/cassette and 6-disc in-dash CD changer, outside mirrors with memory $ 1,625 Carpet & cargo mat set $ 158 Destination charge $ 455