Toyota Avalon

Debut: 2012
Maker: Toyota
Predecessor: Avalon (2005)

 Published on 1 Nov 2012
All rights reserved. 

In the United States there used to be a sizable market for drivers over 60 years old. Lincoln, Oldsmobile, Buick and Cadillac used to sell the majority of their cars to these people. Their requirements are pretty simple: big, cheap, graceful-looking and simple to operate. These cars usually featured old-tech engines, super-soft suspensions, column shifter and 2 rows of bench seats. They don't need to be high-tech, efficient or fun to drive. Cheap metal and vinyl would do the job. Toyota Avalon was one of the few foreign cars taking on this demand. Since 1994, the Avalon has been designed and developed in the US specially for this purpose and built in the Kentucky plant alongside Camry. Although it was relatively modern and well built compared with American dinosaurs, its target audiences were the same. In its hey days it could sell 70,000 to 100,000 units a year. That means good profits.

However, that was history. In the past decade the US car market has changed a lot. The "old people's car segment" has gone together with that generation of people. Sales of Avalon dropped below 30,000 units in the past 3 years. Toyota realized the problem, too. In the attempt to lower average customer age to the low 50s, it decided to make the 4th generation Avalon more appealing to younger customers. First to be abandoned is the old car's bulky, conservative exterior. Taking its place is a sleeker and sharper design, again handled by the California studio. Its aggressive front end is a big departure from its bloodline, as is the fastback-style profile. It looks every bit a modern car without question. Nevertheless, unlike Hyundai Azera, the lack of pronounced fenders and curvy waist lines lead to a blander appearance viewing from the sides. Moreover, there are stronger signs of volume optimization and front-wheel drive, both are not too graceful for the class it competes in. While it does not feel like a supersized Camry, it is not as classy as Chrysler 300C or Hyundai Genesis.

Inside, the new Avalon still offers a lot of space, even though the rear seat has been moved forward a bit to compromise with the fastback roof line. Six-footers will feel comfortable in all 5 seats. The new dashboard looks more modern and better built, with Lexus-style electroluminescent backlit gauges, classier materials and a massive center console featuring large screen and touch-sensitive buttons. Internet radio, web access and data services are testaments for its younger heart.

The mechanical side is more predictable. Once again, the Avalon is built on the Camry platform, sharing its all-strut suspensions, electrical power steering and the same powertrains consisting of 268 hp 3.5 V6 (mates with 6-speed auto) and 200 hp 2.5-liter hybrid (with planetary CVT). However, its 2820 mm wheelbase continues to be longer than the Camry's and equals to the latest Lexus ES (another sister car). Among the three, the Avalon is the longest, the widest as well as the roomiest.

Predictably also, the Hybrid model is rather slow as it is 100 kg heavier than the equivalent Camry. In contrast, the V6 provides adequate power to move the Avalon from 0-60 mph in about 6 and a half seconds – by no means firebreathing, but enough for a comfort-minded large sedan. This powertrain combo is smooth and refined. Furthermore, a taller final drive ratio keeps rev down in motorway cruising, resulting in superb refinement. The new body shell also contributes to reduced NVH thanks to a 12-percent improvement in rigidity. Double-glazing windows keep its cabin as quiet as Lexus. Now you might think it is a cut-price Lexus.

Well, it is actually better than Lexus ES. While the latter is criticized for soft suspension hence poor handling, the Avalon opts for a firmer setup that keeps body roll, squat and dive under reasonable control. It attacks corner with greater poise and confidence. When you select Sport mode from the button on transmission tunnel, the power steering delivers better weight. The gearshift becomes more responsive and the shift paddles remind you how far the new Avalon has progressed from its roots. No, it is not a BMW, of course. It still understeers like a typical front-driver, and there is no deny of its size when you slip it into narrow mountain roads. The steering still doesn't talk. For all these reasons the Avalon is no match with Chrysler 300C or Hyundai Genesis. However, it is a better drive than its front-drive rivals like Hyundai Azera, Ford Taurus, Lincoln MKS and Buick LaCrosse. This is also the most surprising aspect on the new Avalon. Now what Toyota needs is to communicate this message with the buying public and overhaul the negative image associated with the Avalon nameplate...

Length / width / height

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Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Avalon 3.5 V6
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4965 / 1835 / 1460 mm
2820 mm
V6, 60-degree

3456 cc
DOHC 24 valves, DVVT
268 hp

248 lbft

6-speed automatic
All struts
1600 kg
6.1* / 6.2**
Avalon Hybrid
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
4965 / 1835 / 1460 mm
2820 mm
Inline-4, Atkinson cycle,
electric motor
2494 cc
DOHC 16 valves, VVT
156 hp (engine)
141 hp (motor)
200 hp (combined)
156 lbft (engine)
199 lbft (motor)
All struts
1663 kg
8.4* / 7.6**

Performance tested by: *C&D, **MT

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