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SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 29,655
     Price As Tested                                    $ 32,743
     Engine Type        VVT* DOHC 24-valve 3.0 Liter V6 w/SMFI**
     Engine Size                                 183 cid/2995 cc
     Horsepower                                   210 @ 5800 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               220 @ 4400 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  107.1"/71.7"/191.9"
     Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3462 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P205/60R16
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                         Six-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                 80 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            21/29/26          
     0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          17.0 seconds @ 86.5 mph
     Top-speed                                           130 mph
    * Variable valve timing
    ** Sequential multi-point fuel injection                              

For Toyota, much of the public's focus is centered on Camry's race to be the best-selling car in America or its new Tundra pickup or its fuel-sipping Echo. Almost as an aside, Toyota has quietly introduced an all-new Avalon to compete in the full-size traditional sedan market.

Available in XL and XLS trim, Avalon looks to woo previous Camry owners who want to move upscale.

OUTSIDE - Avalon has received a makeover for 2000, and while it looks typically mainstream Toyota, it utilizes the next step in Toyota design. There are more pronounced edges and creases down the sides, which are more flat and expansive than the original car. Its outer dimensions are close to the same as its predecessor, but it's still smaller than many in its class. Toyota added a new, wider grille that looks very "Detroit," while the headlights have a unique new shape. The trunk lid is cut differently now, with tail lights that are now more stout and wedge-shaped. Slim strips of chrome sweep across the front and rear bumpers and in the middle of the side molding where the last version was nearly devoid of brightwork. Our Avalon XLS tester wore stylish 16-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels and all-season touring tires.

INSIDE - Avalon's purpose in the Toyota lineup is to provide smooth, quiet and comfortable transportation for up to six passengers. To make this big car even larger inside, Toyota raised the roof and the seats, moved the front seat and dashboard forward and the rear seat back while widening the car for more shoulder room. This gives the back seat true three-across seating, a claim made by but not adhered to by others in the class. Twenty-six percent more glass gives those inside better visibility than ever. Drivers will also be greeted by a new instrument panel that adds a new multi-information display filled with the warning lamps, odometer, trip meter and an outside temperature readout. XLS models add a compass, trip computer and calendar settings. A new dual-zone climate control system teams with a new HomeLink universal transmitter, one-touch power moonroof, power windows, door locks and mirrors and a 120-watt AM/FM/Cassette/CD stereo system. Our car, however, came fitted with an optional JBL-brand stereo system with a six-disc, in-dash CD changer.

ON THE ROAD - Avalon's engine continues to be a 3.0 liter, 24 valve, four-cam aluminum V6, just like the earlier version, although this year variable valve timing has been added to boost the horsepower from 192 to 210, while its 210 lb-ft of torque is six more than before. Acceleration to speed comes quickly and effortlessly and because of the new cam phasing which now gives it a redline of 5800 rpm instead of 5600, it continues to pull into its higher rev range. It also uses the same excellent four-speed automatic transmission as before. If driven moderately, Avalon can deliver up to 29 mpg. In the safety department, new this year is a Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) system, which helps the driver keep the car under control in a slide situation. The system also includes traction control, which senses wheel slip, and Brake Assist, a system that automatically applies maximum braking during a panic stop.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Avalon is still built in Georgetown, Kentucky alongside the Camry, and it rides on the same chassis as before. Numerous improvements, however, have made it 22 percent stiffer, while a reduction of overall parts makes it 15 pounds lighter. Its all- independent suspension consists of MacPherson struts front and rear, with a dual-link setup used in back. It feels more responsive but still very smooth, and there is plenty of feedback from its rack-and-pinion steering system. Special attention has been paid to reducing noise. New this year are injection-molded panels, double insulated door seals, thicker glass and extra foam insulation under the car. Four-wheel disc brakes with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) are standard.

SAFETY - Dual instrument panel and side-impact airbags, ABS and front seat belt pre-tensioners are standard. VSC is optional.

OPTIONS - XLS Leather package: $1,625; Floor mats: $158; VSC: $850; Destination charge: $455.