New Car/Review

Toyota

The Toyota Avalon XLS Platinum Edition, 99.44 percent pure.

by Larry Weitzman

When I first saw the Toyota flagship replacement of the Cressida, it had a strong resemblance to the Lexus LS 400 from the front end. I had to look twice to make sure it wasn't a Lexus.

The styling was a complete departure from the previous generation Cressida. The Avalon, which was introduced in 1994 as a 1995 model, has been refined over its five year run. It has a co-efficient of drag of a low 0.31 which is a result of its aero styling.

Built on a two inch stretch of the Camry chassis, the Avalon has a completely different look. The Camry has a hard edged clearly defined look, where the Avalon has a softer, if not elegant appearance. The front end has two large jeweled halogen headlights split by a grille of the same height. The front bumper is rounded with two fogs underneath. The smooth lines flow rearward with a hint of softness created by the rear side window shape.

The rear deck is finished off with a little bit of a trunk lip or spoiler look with large good looking warp around tail lamps. The sides have some body sculpture, but the overall package is very pleasing, if not somewhat stealthy. One of the criticism is that the styling is too bland, devoid of visual quirks or unique lines.

But Avalon offers so many properties in one package, the stealth styling becomes secondary. It is an attractive package, but the equipment list, technical attributes and its dynamic abilities make it a very desirable ride.

Inside, is one of the roomiest cabins of any sedan and it must be the biggest 191.9 inch car ever built. Cars 10 inches longer don't have this kind of leg room. The rear seat leg room is cavernous and comfortable. The platinum edition is done in soft leather. The seats are large and well shaped and provide exceptional comfort for two and reasonable comfort for three. With the Platinum edition, the leather is perforated for breathability.

In front are large, well designed buckets that remind me of the Land Cruiser. With the correct foam densities in all the right places, it's a place you could spend hours without fatigue. The door paneling needs special mention. It is nicely padded with the center sections having substantial depth. Hard plastic not allowed.

The dash is pure function. The pod in front of the driver contains a large tach and speedo flanked by a smaller temp and fuel gauge left and right. To the right and at the top of the center console are the controls for the superb sound system which has a cassette and CD with the electronic climate control underneath. There is an outside temp gauge which provides important information during near freezing conditions.

The center console contains copious amounts of storage space in front of the shifter and in the center console armrest. There are the requisite amount of cupholders.

The Avalon has been refined over the last five years. Although the 3.0L, DOHC V-6 engine architecture and displacement has remained the same, horsepower is up by 6 to 198 hp at 5,200 rpm. In other jurisdictions, except California, horsepower is an even 200. Torque is up 2 to 212 lbs-ft at 4,400 rpm. It remains one of the smoothest powerplants in the industry.

The transverse mounted engine drives the front wheels through a silky four speed electronically automatic transmission. It is a smooth, turbine like powertrain. The tranny shifts imperceptibly and responds crisply under pressure when more is asked of it.

Running at the drags is not the forte of the Avalon, although is runs pretty strong for a good size sedan. 0-60 times averaged 8.49 seconds with one run at 7.89 (I must have been going downhill) but the majority were consistently at 8 and a half seconds. Understand that a 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds just 15 years ago would be considered world class, even a 380 V-8 Mercedes sedan wouldn't come close to that time. The original Lexus LS 400 was an 8 second car.

Passing performance is very quick with times for 50-70 averaging only 4.81 seconds and accelerating up a steep grade only lengthening the time to 7.22 seconds. These are fast times and the Avalon need make no excuses for its performance numbers. Midrange, partial throttle response is excellent. It never feels strained.

Suspension is state of the art MacPherson strut with offset coils and gas charged shocks in front and dual link MacPherson struts with offset coils and gas charged shocks in the rear. Stabilizer bars compliment both ends. The ride is sublime. This car is carved out of granite and if feels like no bump is allowed to shock the cabin occupants. The ride is well controlled with never a wallow. Noise is so well isolated that whispering is required for conversation.

Ponderosa Road's washboard is eliminated. Be sure to take another look at the front end to make sure this thing is not a Lexus. It certainly has the grace and poise of its kinship. The tight 90 degree left and right hand bumpy corners are no match for the Avalon's ability. The rear end stayed planted as this front driver hustled through the corners.

On the sweepers of Latrobe and Green Valley, the Avalon gives a credible performance of a more sporting sedan, albeit with some understeer. 15X6 inch special alloys shod with 205/65R15 put plenty of rubber on the road and feel reasonably sticky. Steering has a positive, linear feel with excellent on center control. It adds to the confidence of the Avalon in the twisties. It is engine speed sensing variable power rack and pinion. High speed sweepers with off camber banking and decreasing radiuses poise no problems. Just make the necessary corrections and it goes where pointed.

The highway ride is almost luxurious. Quiet with absolutely no noise from the engine and very little from the road. Nothing phases the Avalon or its passengers. The engine spins a relaxed 2,400 at 70 mph and although rated at 21/29 mpg city/highway by the EPA, I would expect 30 plus mpg at legal highway speeds. During my test period, I averaged 24 mpg in El Dorado County with almost no freeway and plenty of time dipping into the jewel of a V-6. With some temperance, 25 mpg or more should be the norm. With a 18.5 gallon fuel tank, you will need a "motorman's friend" to run this tank dry without making a pit stop. Calculated range is 536 miles, but 550 plus miles is easily in the cards.

On the safety side of the equation, the Avalon comes standard with four wheel discs with antilock and side impact airbags for the front passengers. I was careful not to cause the use of the airbags, but standing on the brakes will haul the biggest Toyota sedan down to a stop in a New York heartbeat, spright arrow. Pedal feel is near perfect.

The Avalon is made in Georgetown, Kentucky along side the Camry. Maybe some of that thoroughbred blood has creep into this car. The good news is that the base Avalon XL stickers for $24,698 plus $420 destination. That's a buy in a state where used 1 hp three year old geldings sell for more. Standard are front buckets. If you want a bench you will have to pay an $840, but you do get an extra seat belt.

The standard equipment list is longer than Al Capone's rap sheet. Full power including both seats and remote entry is standard. Only a couple of things interest me in a base car and that is a single play CD for $190, traction control for $300 and a set of alloy wheels for $385. A nicely equipped Avalon will sticker at about $26,000.

My test car was a fully loaded Platinum edition. It starts as an XLS which lists at $28,708 and the only package is the Platinum which adds $2,640 for a total of $31,768 with destination. It includes perforated leather, moon roof, special alloys, memory seats, special lunar mist paint that's about as smooth a baby's butt and as deep as Lake Tahoe. The only item to add would be traction control for $300 and maybe a six disc CD changer for $550. It's a luxury ride at an almost pedestrian type car price.

Thompson's Toyota has a great selection of Toyota's top of the line sedan for evaluation. Maybe it's time for a night at the opera. Going in this Platinum Avalon will certainly tell everyone that you have arrived.

SPECIFICATIONS 

Price                              $25,118 to about $32,000

Engine          
3.0L, DOHC, 24 valve V-6    200 hp @ 5,200 rpm (198 in Cal)
214 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm (212 in Cal)

Transmission
4 speed electronically controlled automatic

Configuration
Transverse front engine, front wheel drive

Dimensions
Wheelbase                          107.1  inches
Length                             191.1  inches
Width                              70.5   inches
Height                             56.7   inches
Track front/rear               61.0/60.0  inches
Weight                             3340   pounds
Fuel Capacity                     18.5   gallons
Trunk Capacity                 15.4   cubic feet
Turning Circle                       37.6   feet
Coefficient of drag                         0.31

PERFORMANCE
0-60                              8.49   seconds
50-70                             4.81   seconds
50-70  up hill 7.22   seconds
Top Speed approaching 125 mph, but that is what this car is not about
Fuel Economy 
EPA                      21/29 mpg city/highway,
my  estimate is 23-25 in El Dorado County and 30 plus on the highway at 
legal speeds.

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