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Toyota Avalon (2000)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig

MODEL:  Toyota Avalon
ENGINE:  3.0-liter DOHC V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 210 hp @ 5,800 rpm/220 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic with overdrive
WHEELBASE: 107.1 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 191.9 x 71.7 x 57.7 in.

When a company like Toyota can make a car that is as excellent as the Avalon, you wonder why they went through the trouble of creating a division like Lexus. Avalon outperforms every Lexus model with the possible exception of the LS400, and since I haven't driven one of these in a while I'm not sure if it is any better than the Avalon. That's heady company for an automaker that built its reputation on economy cars.

Avalon, as Toyota will gladly tell you, is its American car, designed, engineered and built in the U.S. It is the first Toyota to built exclusively in the United States.

We drove the premium XLS grade that had all the bells and whistles Toyota has to offer. These included an HVAC-integrated micron dust and pollen filter system; a compass, trip computer and calendar for the multi-information display at the center of the dash; a Homelink universal remote garage door opener; and dual double sun visors. A premium grade sound system was also included, but we had trouble loading CDs into the single-player unit in the dash.

Under the hood of Avalon is a 3.0-liter V6 with Variable Valve Timing that generates 210 horsepower and 220 lbs./ft. of torque. Fuel economy estimates are 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway. Our t4est mileage was a little below those numbers.

I was impressed by the engine, but other visits with this family of engines have left me equally impressed. This is a quiet engine that doesn't intrude on the passenger compartment. It is as silent as you'd want an engine to be while still offering excellent performance. There were a couple of times when I had to check the tachometer just to be sure that the engine was running. It's that quiet.

The engine drives the front wheels through a four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with overdrive.

Ride quality is at least in the same league as the engine. Toyota has MacPherson struts in the front and rear suspension, while the rear adds an independent dual-link structure to help locate the wheels. What I liked especially about the suspension was the compliance of the ride. It was soft and mushy on the highway where that's the ideal kind of ride. On winding roads, however, the suspension seemed to stiffen up slightly and the Avalon handled the corners and twists well.

There is essentially no wind noise, thanks to some minor styling revisions. When a car has little mechanical noise, it's annoying when that silence is interrupted by wind noise. Toyota moved the windshield forward to take advantage of cab-forward styling, and made the windshield angle steeper.

The shape of the A-pillars around the windshield was rounded, side mirrors were restyled and the wiper blades were recessed below the hoodline, all to reduce wind noise.

Overall styling reflects some minor dimensional changes that were put there to improve interior roominess and make ingress and egress easier. The car is slightly higher than the previous model, which gives it a more square look. In fact, from the rear, the new Avalon has definite Mercedes-Benz styling touches that tend to dress it up.

Other than the CD player in the dash, there is little to complain about with the Toyota Avalon. Then I looked at the sticker price. With a sticker well over $30,000, the Avalon is moving into Lexus range. The Lexus ES300, with which it competes, is only $1,500 more. The two cars are essentially identical, although I like the styling of the Toyota better than the small Lexus.

But as the old saying goes, "you pays yer money and you makes yer choice." While I liked the Avalon and was extremely impressed with the package Toyota has put together, I question the philosophy of creating a vehicle that is so close in price to another vehicle made by the same manufacturer. But then, that's what makes GM such an interesting company to follow.