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New Car/Review

1997 Toyota Avalon XL

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:  3.0-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  200 hp @ 5,200 rpm/214 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:  21 mpg city,  31 mpg highway,  25.1 mpg test
WHEELBASE:  107.1 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  190.2 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  70.3 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  3,285 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY: 18.5  gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  15.4 cu. ft.
TIRES:   205/65R15
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level,
             water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors,
           cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo 
           radio with cassette and CD changer, anti-lock braking, 
           dual air bags, security system, "Elite" package
           (wood dash, gold package, floor mats, trunk mat).

Toyota bills the Avalon as "The American-made flagship of Toyota," and, yes, it's true, the Avalon is built in Georgetown, Kentucky. It's also just about as good a car as you'd want except for a couple of annoying quirks that you normally wouldn't expect from Toyota.

The Avalon is a full-sized sedan. It's ranked by the EPA as a large sedan. It has six-passenger capabilities, but there's a fold-down armrest between the front seats that acts as a console if there are only two front passengers. It has a column-mounted shifter, but we'll get back to that later. In the back is a nice sized bench with another fold-down armrest, so you can make the Avalon a four-seater if you're so inclined. And there's a good 15.4 cubic foot trunk behind the rear seat you you'll have luggage capacity for any normal group of passengers.

Avalon is powered y a 3.0-liter V-6 that drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. It has a four-wheel independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes, so the Avalon is like a four by four by four. And it has driver and passengers front air bags, ABS and side impact beams to keep it in line with all the latest safety regulations.

Avalon was a very comfortable car to drive. Surprisingly, it was quite nimble as well for a large car. We used the Avalon to drive to New York for the New York Auto Show. I was able to duke it out on fairly equal terms with most of the cab drivers. Of course, they might not have known that I was duking it out with them, but any advantage you can get over a New York cabbie is a good one. Acceleration is very good. that's one requirement in an urban environment, that you have good acceleration in order to deal with the traffic.

I was able to quickly gain advantages and find holes that I wouldn't have been bale to find with some other cars. And the automatic transmission didn't prove to be a hindrance in acceleration and urban guerilla driving. Again, w e were able to pull away from toll booths and gain any advantages there as well. So the Avalon comported itself well, and we were pleased with that.

For entertainment we had an AM/FM stereo sound system with cassette and CD players. There were speakers all over the place. I'm not sure how many there were, but there were at least two in each door, a couple in the dash, and a few in the back as well. Sound reproduction was excellent. We tried "oldies" from the 18th century and "newies" and were pleased with the results at both ends of the musical spectrum.

For the list price of $28,000 the price is high for what the competition has to offer, but it's in the ballpark.

My most serious complaint, though, was with the column-mounted gear shifter. there are three stalks coming out of the right side of the steering column; shifter, washer/wiper and cruise control. We were constantly getting mixed up among the three. When I wanted to shift, I turned on the wipers. When I wanted cruise control, I spritzed the windshield. There were just too many stalks of almost the same size. I'm sure an owner would have time to sort out the differences and learn to drive without making mistakes, but if you're only in the car for a week, it's a pain.

But other than that nagging little problem, the Avalon proved to be a fine automobile. It was fun to drive for a week. It was an excellent commuter into New York City three days in a row and I can't think of many cars that would have been as comfortable.