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Toyota Avalon

The Toyota Avalon, Who needs a Lexus?

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

by Larry Weitzman

For those of you who think that Toyota has been asleep at the wheel for a couple of years, think again. Toyota has brought to market in the last year a bevy of new models, starting with the Solara, Tundra (2000 Motor Trend Truck of the Year), the Echo, the Celica, which I tested a couple of weeks ago, the MR2 Spyder (which should be at Thompson's by the time you read this and watch out Miata), the new Solara convertible with more to come. How about a Tundra based SUV? It's coming this fall in the form of a Sequoia (all 203.9 inches of it and a 4.7L 32 valve 240 hp V-8). What about a Tacoma with four full doors, a "Double Cab"? Toyota is certainly not resting on the laurels of high quality and reliability.

The new Avalon is an example of what this company is about. Gone is the fluid, rounded unoffensive appearance that somewhat mimicked the Lexus LS 400, and enter the more hard edged, take a stand look. The new lines are well defined and work. When you see the new LS 430, you will see a little Avalon in it. Four hard lines define the body. First, there is a lower crease along the rocker panel that gives relief and character to the slightly coke bottle shape of the lower half of the car.

Second is the main body crease that runs from the tail and carries through the headlamps side marker light. Third is a sharp line emanating from the "A" pillar that runs down the top of the front fenders and finally there are two ridge lines on the hood that flow directly into the chrome grille surround. The window line is very European as well as the cut off tail. The headlamps are gorgeous and the overall shape grows on you.

On the inside is an all new interior that has so much room it could literally double for a limousine. For a car that rides on a 107.1 inch wheelbase with an overall length of only 191.9 inches and width of 71.7 inches, this car has a cavernous interior. In comparison to the first generation, wheelbase is identical and all other external dimensions are within an inch. With a one inch higher roofline, headroom has grown by a like amount. Even ingress and egress has been improved.

The rear seats are comfortable for three large adults. The rear legroom is so big that Chris Webber or Valde Divac would not complain. The pull down center armrest has storage and flip out cupholders. There is also a ski pass through. Outward side visibility is excellent and with the seat being one inch higher so is the forward view. This is room is found in a car that is only 3 inches longer than a 5 series BMW which would feel like a sardine can in comparison.

In front are two of the most comfortable buckets you will ever sit in. They are big and supportive. For safety, the front chairs have side impact airbags. The dash is a sweeping affair with medium size gauges in front of the driver consisting of an 8,000 rpm tach and 140 mph speedo divided by a gear position indicator and flanked by temp and fuel gauges left and right. In the center of the dash is an information center with an outside temp gauge. A trip computer and compass is standard on the upscale XLS. But standard with the XL is dual zone AC and 120 watt sound system.

The forward sweep center stack is beautifully done with integrated AC vents, a standard CD/cassette am/fm stereo with six speakers. The gear shift in bucket seat models is in the floor console and fits nicely in one's hand. The storage console is large and there is the trickest cupholders in the business that appears to come out of nowhere in front of the storage console.

Toyota has used materials that are of the highest quality. If you touch the dash or the material surrounding the center stack or in front of the passenger, it is a dense, rich material that exudes quality. Kudos to Toyota. Also standard are front and side airbags.

In the XLS model there is the addition of faux wood trim that looks rich and real. It's a $519 option on the XL. The huge, well shaped trunk is nicely finished. It could easily swallow several golf bags and plently of luggage.

Under the hood is the familiar Toyota 3.0L DOHC, 24 valve V-6 with VVT-i that is slicker and smoother than freshly melted butter. With VVT-i, Toyata's brand of variable valve timing (the i stands for intelligence), it produces 210 hp at 5,800 rpm and 220 pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. Power and torque are up by 12 horses and 8 pounds of torque for California. The engine is coupled to an electronically controlled four speed automatic with very well selected ratios. Up and down shifts are imperceptible.

At the dragstrip the, the Avalon won't disappoint. 0-60 times averaged 8.75 seconds, but it feels quicker because the midrange is so strong. 50-70 passing times ran 4.77 seconds and up a grade will only slow the big-on-the-inside Avalon to 7.33 seconds. The Avalon gives the impression of strong power, even though its times are good but not earth shaking. It will satisfy all but the most power hungry. In comparison to the previous generation, the times are nearly identical, which could be explained by the new generation's slight increase in curb weight, up by about 100 pounds.

But more important is the way the Avalon goes about its business. It is quiet. Listening to music or even talk radio takes on a new dimension. No extraneous interference from the outside world or the engine. The body is a piece of granite and refuses to make a sound. Just the sound system, which of course operates at the command of the driver is allowed to make a peep or the deep bass of ZZ Top. Even though the Avalon doesn't look like a chopped 49 Mercury, it certain makes much better music.

At the fuel pumps, the big Toyota will take 18.5 gallons, but it will get you a long way. It is EPA rated at 21/29 mpg city/highway. Expect better than 30 mpg on the highway at legal speeds and 22-25 mpg in El Dorado County.

Ride quality and handling have been improved in several ways. The basic state of the art 4 wheel independent suspension with antiroll bars front and rear has been tweaked to further refine the sublime ride quality. The body stiffness has been increased and new tires have been selected.

On Ponderosa Road the Avalon may as well been on a super highway. Washboard, ruts, bumps or dips had little effect on the Avalon's occupants. In the two bumpy right angle corners, the Avalon performed as expected at speed, stable and poised.

In the twisties of El Dorado County on roads like Green Valley or Apple Hill, the Avalon could be driven at the maximum speed. It exhibited some body roll and understeer, but the handling was solid and predictable. But most important is the Avalon's composure. It is easy to drive and negotiates the twisties with aplomb. Turning circle is a tights 37.6 feet.

On the highway, the Avalon is serene. It is quiet with a capital Q. Special attention has been given to road noise. Advances like injection molded rocker panels and a new underbody coating were added. Additional insulation was strategically placed in the body. The result is a ride that prevents nearly any intrusion into the cabin. The engine turns a moderate 2,400 rpm at 70 mph, but it feels like it isn't even running, until you ask for power, then it comes on with authority, silently.

The brakes are standard four wheel discs with ABS. They have excellent pedal feel and the stops are short and sure.

Pricing is competitive. The base on an Avalon is $25,545 plus $455 for shipping the car from its Georgetown, Kentucky assembly plant all the way to Thompson's. All Avalons are manufactured in the USA. My test car has only four options, a JBL stereo upgrade for a diminimus $360, a power tilt and slide moonroof for $910, another good buy, a $2,590 leather package which includes power seats, alloy wheels and keyless entry. It turns the basic Avalon from an upscale sedan into a luxury car. The fourth item is the $158 cargo and carpet mat set. This totals $30,018.

The XLS comes with even more standard niceties such as trip computer, alloys, electronically controlled air, upgraded sound system and a lot more. Base for an XLS is $30,105.

Thompson's has a large selection of the new Avalon for testing. If smooth and quiet is your style, then forgo the Lexus save a bag of money and check out the Avalon. And you won't have to go 26 miles across the sea to find it.

Price               $26,000 to about $33,000

Engine              3.0L 24 Valve DOHC V-6 with VVT-i		
                    210 hp @ 5,800 rpm,
                    220 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm

Transmission        four speed electronically
                    controlled automatic

Configuration       Transverse mounted front
                    engine, front wheel drive

Wheelbase           107.1  inches
Length              191.9  inches
Width               71.7   inches
Height              57.7   inches
Weight              3417   pounds
Track (f/r)         61.0/60.0 inches
Turning Circle      37.6   feet
Trunk Capacity      15.9   cubic feet
Fuel Capacity       18.5   gallons
Wheels              15X6   inches
Tires               205/65X15 all season radials	

0-60                8.75   seconds
50-70               4.77   seconds
50-70 uphill        7.33   seconds
Top Speed           Way into triple digits, but I didn't
                    get that far up the dial.  I like
                    sleeping at home.
Fuel Economy        EPA 21/29 mpg city/highway.  Expect  		                          22-25 mpg in El Dorado County and 30
                    plus mpg on the highway at legal