Toyota has an amazing range of vehicles of all kinds and many of them are top sellers in their segments, but one product that’s often overlooked by people shopping the large semi-luxury sedan market is the Avalon, which offers just about everything one could want in a luxury car without the sticker shock.
The Avalon is Toyota’s flagship sedan and in many ways rivals its Lexus cousins, which naturally enough cost a lot more. It’s a stylish, roomy car that’s classified as a full-size sedan and is thus more than capable of accommodating five adults in great comfort. The current model, which I drove recently in “Limited” guise, was introduced around three years ago and has received year-by-year upgrades and enhancements to make it even better. The 2016 Avalon has a wide range of upgrades and can be considered a “refreshed” model.
Avalons of the past, and I think I must have tried every one of them, have always offered spaciousness, luxurious appointments and great comfort in all road conditions. The basic Avalon Limited costs $43,770 MSRP and includes a huge roster of equipment, including just about every electronic stability aid imaginable and some you wouldn’t expect at the car’s price point. The basic Avalon Touring costs under $40,000.
The first generation Avalon was introduced for the 1995 model year and was the first full-size Japanese nameplate sedan ever sold in North America. It won many awards and the model
has always been highly rated by consumer organizations. Aimed at North American buyers from the start, that first model featured full six-passenger seating capability thanks to a three-place front bench, unobstructed by the shift lever, which was mounted on the steering column. Front bench seats have now completely disappeared from the sedan market. Later Avalons moved to a more conventional five-seat layout with console shifter.
The current Avalon is the fourth generation of this model, which has always offered a wide range of benefits to families and business users needing lots of cabin space, great comfort and excellent performance and handling.
Toyota points out that one early target was to attract buyers from outside the “Toyota family” to the Avalon but there will certainly be many existing Toyota owners looking to move up to the pinnacle of the sedan line - especially when they get a good look at one. About 90 per cent of Avalon design, engineering and development was handled by the US-based team, working in unison with TMC in Japan. All styling and product planning was taken care of in the US, so this is a car that’s evolved very much with North American needs and tastes in mind.
The 2016 Avalon is powered by a nicely-refined 3.5-litre Toyota V-6 mated to a 6-speed automatic and these days, buyers can expect remarkably good fuel economy and the kind of power and refinement once associated only with V-8 engines. The car is lighter than earlier models and has an improved power-to-weight ratio, a key factor in efficient car design. Better aerodynamics also makes a major contribution to fuel economy, as well as endowing the Avalon with its exciting styling, something this model was never particularly noted for.
Toyota’s benchmark from the outset was “best in class” fuel economy, comfort and performance. Much time was spent by the development team when it came to driving dynamics. Inside the car, the design team directed a lot of effort to comfort detailing, rather than simply working on dimensions. The focus was on headroom and legroom back and front. Despite the car’s sleek looks, roominess in the cabin hasn’t been affected and head, knee and shoulder room are either the same or better when compared to older Avalons. Toyota made a big commitment to the Avalon’s electronics, which represent advanced levels of user-friendly technology.
On the road, the car is exceptionally comfortable, yet it’s quite happy to be driven enthusiastically when needed. Safety is aided by all-round disc brakes with ABS and a full suite of air bags. The car’s strongest safety feature, nonetheless, is its predictable handling and accurate, variable assist steering.
The Avalon exudes quality throughout and assembly standards are as high as anything in the industry. You can go over this car’s trim with a magnifying glass and not find anything that doesn’t fit perfectly from the door seals to the interior trim. It’s a car that would deliver many years of trouble-free service and still look as good as it did when it first rolled out of the showroom. It may not be the first product that comes to mind when the near-luxury sedan segment is under scrutiny, but for those who “discover” it, the car will outdo their expectations.
SPECS AT A GLANCE…
BODY STYLE: Full-size, 5-place, 4-door sedan
ENGINE: 3.5-litre V-6 268-horsepower
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx. 7-secs
FUEL ECONOMY: 8.3-litres/100 km, combined city & highway
PRICE: $43,770 MSRP (Limited version)