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2008 Toyota Avalon XLS Review

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2009 Toyota Avalon

By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

Let’s begin with the bottom line. The Toyota Avalon, in any of its three trim levels, may be the most practical, perhaps best value, in a full-size sedan on the market and it comes in quite an attractive and marginally stylish package.

I have not seen the demographics of Avalon buyers but I’ll wager they reflect an older, middle income, practical bunch. In fact, I’ll also wager you’ll see lots of them if you drive I-75 to and from the upper Midwest and Florida as the snow birds migrate in the spring and fall. Those folks continue to like full size cars so they can catch the early bird specials with their friends. But they also spend their hard-earned money carefully and prize value over image any day.

When they dropped this maroon (they call it Cassis Pearl) Avalon off in my driveway last week I thought it sort of homely. The light was flat and my view was full front. That’s a color I’m not fond of and the flush chrome grille looked mighty plain. Then I got it into the light and slowly walked around viewing it from different angles. Not so bad after all, certainly a vast improvement over generations one and two of the Avalon which may have set the standard for a plain, white-bread style. With Camry, Corolla and other models Toyota has modernized and stylized the entire line of sedans quite well I’d say - not quite as conservative as earlier designs.

Inside, I was much more enamored with the look and feel of everything. A massive, gently sloping dash with unusual, milky plastic buttons and a discrete little door to cover the climate controls provide a luxurious, understated, aesthetic look. The leather-trimmed seats are generous and comfortable. And, the back seat is huge. We hauled a few back seat passengers this week and they were rambling around in all that extra space. The trunk is generous as well with 14.4 cubic-feet of volume.

Controls all have a nice light but precise feel and intuitive design. If you like that substantive, heavy feel of the German luxury sedans this might not be the car for you. Of course, this Avalon is tens of thousands of dollars less than those Teutonic conveyances.

It also costs much less than the new Hyundai Genesis and comparable-sized Lexus, Buick and most other full-sized sedans. Base price on our Avalon XLS (middle of three trim levels) sedan is around $32,000. With the premium JBL sound system, satellite radio setup, heated seats and stability control plus a $660 destination charge, our test car is just over $35,000. The basic XL model starts at just $27,850 and top-of-the-line Limited starts at $35,185.

Toyota probably made a wise choice when it decided that the only engine needed for the Avalon is this 3.5-liter, 268-horsepower V-6. Rated at 19mpg-city and 28-highway, it is mated to an efficient six-speed automatic transmission. Making 248 pound-feet of torque that engine moves this nearly 3,600-pound car with distinct alacrity – plenty fast and powerful enough for anyone except perhaps the most power-hungry driver. With fuel prices holding high and likely to go higher that makes more sense than the V-8 power in many full-size sedan competitors. The on-board trip computer indicates we managed 28 mpg this week in a variety of conditions. A remarkable 0.29 coefficient of drag contributes just a whisper to that number. An 18.5-gallon fuel tank means we have a range of well over 400 miles.

Ride and handling are tuned to main-stream American tastes, that is, smooth and gentile but firm enough not to wallow. In fact, the Avalon was designed in the US and is built at the Georgetown, KY plant. Front and rear suspensions are of a conventional McPherson strut design and make for a modestly firm but certainly luxurious ride. The decibel levels inside match any of its competitors – very quiet. At least that’s my sense without measuring it scientifically. I can’t seem to find my decimeter.

Safety features are the equal of competitors as well. The usual six smart airbags plus a driver’s knee airbag match the competition. Vehicle Stability Control with traction control and 4-wheel ABS combine for a $650 option. Many manufacturers are including all that as standard these days. The Avalon has earned the government’s maximum 5-star crash ratings in all categories except rollover were it earned 4 stars.

Toyota’s warranty covers the whole car for 3 years/36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years/50,000 miles. The entire brand has earned such a stellar reputation for quality that they have not had to match the 1000,000-mile powertrain warranties of the Koreans or GM.

So, I guess I used up my bottom line in the lead paragraph. Let me just say that the car has only been gone a couple of days and I already miss it. As I get closer to the demographic discussed above I find I’m attracted to this Avalon.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved