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2006 Toyota Avalon XLS Review


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS


2006 Toyota Avalon XLS

The third generation of the Avalon, Toyota's full-sized flagship sedan, debuted for 2005, a decade after the model's first appearance, and gets minor but important upgrades for its sophomore year. The Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) system is now available across the line, on the XL and Touring as well as the XLS and Limited models, and Touring models may be outfitted with heated seats. A dealer-installed towing package can allow any Avalon to tow a 1,000-lb. trailer.

But that's just icing on the cake. The Avalon, in its latest form, is exactly what it always has been, Toyota's interpretation of the large sedan - only it's bigger and better than ever. With most of a four-inch increase in wheelbase and one inch increase in width going into cabin space, there are few sedans this side of the expensive premium luxury class that offer greater interior space. A 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, the most powerful ever offered in a Toyota passenger car, drives the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission with manual-mode shifting. In basic XL trim, it's a spacious upper-middle class sedan, a cut above a Camry in both size and trim. The Touring is the sportiest one of the line, with a slightly firmer suspension tuning and leather-trimmed seats. The XLS adds some more comfort amenities, while the Limited adds nearly all options as standard fare.

I've been driving a new Avalon XLS for the past week. If not possessed of the opulent luxury of one of its cousins over at the sign of the ``L,'' the Avalon, in XLS trim, is a quiet and comfortable machine that compares well with many of the ``near-luxury'' sedans in its price class - or above - in luxury attributes and bests them all in spaciousness. Interior space, after all, need not be solely an attribute of an SUV. For anyone with a desire for space and comfort, with plenty of power and good fuel economy, the Toyota Avalon deserves a look.

APPEARANCE: Its large size and sleek styling give the latest version of the Avalon the look of a contemporary luxury car. The body proportions and long, arched roofline could be German, although the grille, with its chrome-trimmed horizontal slats, is obviously Toyota even without the company logo prominently displayed in its center. The Avalon is not a small car, and its gently-curved and sculpted sheetmetal makes it look even larger, giving plenty of presence. Twin character lines in the hood and interesting side styling, flat above the beltline and curved below, prevent any overly-large and visually dull expanses. Wheels and trim vary slightly between different grades.

COMFORT: The space promised by the Avalon's long and high passenger cabin is delivered. If, in the XLS, leather seating surfaces and bright metal-look plastic trim give an ambiance that is upscale but not quite luxury, there are few luxury cars that offer the amount of space, especially front and rear legroom, as is found in an Avalon. The driver gets a fine office, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel that is adjustable for both tilt and reach, and bright backlit Optitron instruments that are easily visible in any light. A brow across both the instrument pod and center stack shields both the instruments and the central LCD information screen from glare. If specified, that becomes the interface for the optional navigation system. All models have power windows, mirrors, and door locks; the XLS adds a moonroof, heated outside mirrors, and electrochromic auto-dimming driver's-side outside and inside rear-view mirrors. The front buckets, both power-adjustable in the XLS, offer first-class comfort and support, and the rear bench deserves to be called at least ``business class.'' With a flat floor and the ability to recline slightly, it's a definite upgrade from normal sedan fare. The extra width, and excellent legroom, make three full-sized adults a realistic proposition in the rear seat, unlike in any mid-size sedan. The trunk is large enough for all regular use. If more is needed, check out that towing package.

SAFETY: A strong body/chassis structure, a full complement of airbags including dual front, seat-mounted front side, front and rear head curtain, and driver's knee, and antilock four-wheel disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are all standard equipment in every 2006 Toyota Avalon. An option package with the VSC vehicle stability control, TRAC traction control, and Brake Assist systems is a highly-recommended option that can help the driver maintain control in difficult situations.

RIDE AND HANDLING: In most forms, the Avalon's fully-independent suspension is tuned for a smooth, quiet ride. It's soft, but damped well for quick recovery from bumps and holes. For a slightly sportier ride, try the Touring model, which has firmer springs and shocks. The Avalon is most at home on the open road, where very good soundproofing and careful attention to aerodynamic details, especially the shapes of the A-pillars, outside mirrors, and windshield wipers, keep wind and tire noise levels luxuriously low.

PERFORMANCE: With a curb weight of just over 3,500 lbs. and the most powerful V6 engine ever put into a Toyota sedan, the Avalon is never at a loss when power is needed. Yet, even with 268 horsepower (at 6200 rpm) and 248 lb-ft of torque (at 4700 rpm) from 3.5 liters displacement, fuel economy is commendable given the car's size. The EPA says 22 mpg city, 31 highway. My average, with mostly city driving, was 23. Anyone care to compare that to a similarly-spacious SUV? The emissions rating is ULEV. Clean economical power comes from attention to details in engine design for the new V6, including Toyota's VVT-i electronically-controlled variable valve timing system, a dual-stage variable intake manifold, and a unique cam and cam follower design that allows faster opening and later closing of the valves for improved breathing. Also commendable is a five-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode.

CONCLUSIONS: Toyota's latest Avalon combines quiet, smooth comfort, serious space, and great power for an affordable luxury experience.

SPECIFICATIONS
2006 Toyota Avalon XLS

Base Price			$ 31,075
Price As Tested			$ 33,749
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve V6
				 with VVT-i variable valve timing
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 211 cu. in.
Horsepower			268 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			248 @ 4700 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled
				 automatic
Wheelbase / Length		111.0 in. / 197.2 in.
Curb Weight			3,560 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		13.3
Fuel Capacity			18.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/55 R17 Michelin Energy Touring mxv4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				 independent dual link MacPherson strut
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		22 / 31 / 23
0 to 60 mph				6.8  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Option Combination A - includes:
  JBL(r) Synthesis AM/FM/6-CD 12-speaker
  audio system, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC),
  Traction Control, and Brake Assist	$1,730
Carpet floor and trunk mats		$  199
VIP glass breakage sensor		$  165
Destination charge			$  580