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Toyota Avalon XLS (2002)

SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 30,405
     Price As Tested                                    $ 33,594
     Engine Type              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                                     3471 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  18.5 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                          P205/60R16 all-season
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            21/29/25
     0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          17.0 seconds @ 86.5 mph
     Top-speed                                           130 mph
                 * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

The Toyota Avalon is that company's full-sized traditional American- style boulevard cruiser. It's available as the well-equipped XL and as our tester for the week, the top-line Avalon XLS.

OUTSIDE - Avalon was restyled in 2000, bringing a freshened look that included a steeper windshield angle, rounded A-pillars and recessed wiper blades. Although it carries the same wheelbase, track and overall length as the older model, the differences are easier to see than to measure. New jeweled headlights have a unique shape that features a step-down look where the hood's cut line begins, and the wide grille coveys somewhat of a happy-face smile. The flat sides of the car from the bottom of the doors up are broken by a sharp crease extending from nose-to-tail. The resulting attention to detail brought with it better aerodynamic efficiency and less wind noise, while alloy wheels come standard on XLS models.

INSIDE - Avalon can be fitted to seat five or six passengers, depending on the seating configuration. The new dimensions provide more than an inch of extra width for more shoulder room, and an extra inch of roof height, which allowed the seats to be raised for increased visibility. Three across in back is no problem, but three across in front is a pinch. The "retro" instrument panel is placed four inches farther away from the driver than the old model and is now more user- friendly. Toyota added extra undercoating and special rocker panel insulation to quiet the ride, while the multi-function information display features warning lamps, odometer, trip meter, clock and outside temperature functions. XLS models add a compass, fuel economy readings, average speed and other functions. Other standard XLS features include fog lamps, power windows, outside mirrors, door locks and front seats, cruise control, an auto-dimming inside mirror, a 120-watt AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, variable speed intermittent wipers, keyless entry and dual-zone climate control.

ON THE ROAD - Avalon's mission is to provide smooth, quiet, unobtrusive power in a multi-passenger cruiser. It utilizes the 3.0-liter V6 engine from the Lexus ES300, with 210 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. Sophisticated valve train technology includes a continuously variable valve timing system that uses the car's central computer to optimize fuel mileage and provide as much power as possible throughout the engine's rpm range. In addition, an electronically- controlled engine mount keeps vibration to a minimum. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard, while its optional vehicle skid control system helps Avalon drivers maintain control in adverse conditions by automatically engaging braking where it's needed.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The new Avalon chassis is now 22-percent stiffer in certain places than its predecessor and this brings with it surprisingly brisk chassis response for such a large car. The front suspension uses relatively traditional MacPherson struts while the rear uses an independent dual-link setup. Both ends use gas shocks, coil springs and a stabilizer bar. The ride is whisper-quiet inside, and the handling is precise, so the Avalon is a versatile performer. It's easy to prod the all-season tires into protest in heavy turns. It uses power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering that feels overly light, but once settled in, the light feel is welcomed. Braking is handled by vented discs up front and solid discs in back, backed by a standard anti-lock braking system and an optional brake assisting system that applies extra brake line pressure automatically during what its computer perceives as a panic stop.

SAFETY - Dual front and side-impact airbags, ABS and side-impact door beams are standard. Vehicle skid control, brake assisting and traction control are optional.

OPTIONS - XLS Leather Package (heated seats, leather upholstery, memory seating functions, 16-inch alloy wheels, premium stereo), $1985; power moon roof, $900; VSC, $650; special paint, $220; carpet/cargo mat set, $179.