I’ll start this review with an admission. Next month I’ll be 40. How do I feel about that? I’m not quite sure yet, but I’ll keep you posted. I started with age for a reason. When people think of the Toyota Avalon, they tend to expect buyers of a certain age. And it’s not 40. It’s more like 60. Plus. The fourth generation Avalon was launched for the 2013 model year and Toyota has seen the average age drop to 52. That didn’t keep our jackass photographer from taking some cheeky photos of our test car. Sorry.
You all remember the Cressida? I do, but just. It left our shores in 1992, and with it went the rear-drive, 3.0-litre straight six 7M-GE goodness that came with it. Mechanically similar to the MkIII Supra, it even shared a then-new double-wishbone rear suspension with the sporty Toyota coupe. Output of the 7M-GE was 190-204 hp with a similar level of torques, and while it wasn’t a track-focused car, the Cressida had the right components to be a solid sports sedan. It helped pave the way for the groundbreaking Lexus LS400, but the ever increasing size of the front wheel drive Camry, then in its 3rd generation, led to its death.
Which brings me to why I asked you all here today, the Avalon. In 1994 the first Avalon rolled off of an assembly line in Georgetown, Kentucky representing the 1995 model year. Intended to fill the gap the Cressida left as the largest Toyota, the Avalon has soldiered on through three more generations and resulted in the car you see before you.
It has some. Its 3.5-liter V6 delivers 268 hp and 248 lb.-ft. of torque, which is the same thing you get in the Lexus ES 350. Like most new vehicles we’ve tested, it has a defacto “sport” button. It is accompanied by a “normal” button which makes it, well, not do anything special, and an “eco” mode which claims to change the way the engine and HVAC system behave to save gas. I didn’t experiment with the latter all that much, although when I was down below 15 miles in range, pressing “eco” didn’t magically up the distance I needed to travel before needing a fill-up. Perhaps if I had been driving in that mode the whole time, I wouldn’t have been on fumes? Hard to say, you likely didn’t come here for a dissertation on MPG.
Depress the sport button and, nothing really happens. The display between the analog read-out lights up red but it’s hard to notice a huge difference in straight line speed. Tilting the automatic shift knob over to the left into manual shift mode does bump up the revs a bit. So that’s something. Toyota claims that the Avalon’s Sport Mode “increases throttle response and quickens the Electric Power Steering (EPS) for livelier handling when desired”. Saying that quicker electric power steering improves handling is like saying that you can get around the city quicker on a Segway. It may feel quicker, but is it really better?
Around the day-to-day race track of life, the Avalon is not going to set any off-ramp records. It’s front tires scream in pain when pushed too hard. Although, unlike our Camaro test car, it will break its tires loose. It’s the front tires of course. And it’s all happening in a full size Toyota. So you either end up looking like you don’t know how to drive, or you’re just an impatient asshole. It did have New Jersey plates, so most people probably assumed the latter.
Nobody is buying this car for outright performance, you buy a big sedan like this for a compliant ride and comfortable seats. It has both. Usually. DC is known for ridiculous road conditions, and twice I hit bumps that typically don’t upset most vehicles we test, but resulted in a weird “thunk” from the suspension. It may not have been the Avalon’s fault, but I found myself looking in the rear view mirror to make sure I didn’t run over a Cannondale.
Inside, it’s quite pleasant. Nice big leather seats give you the lay-z-boy feel you desperately desire in this segment. They are heated too, and the rotary buttons pop up just ahead of the center console. It’s not annoying at all when your 12-year old son ninjas his hand over to turn your seat on when it’s 9o°+ outside. Nope, not one bit. Although, to be fair, I got him back several times; he seemed particularly appreciative of the seat warmer on the way home following a hot soccer practice.
Toyota gives you leather as standard, and when you start to look at what you get for the money, it’s all rather impressive. More on that a bit, but first, French stitching! Yeah, that’s right. Luxury like your Uncle François intended! I was a pretty big fan of the leather and wood treatment on either end of the dash. It’s quite well done and would look at home in any of its cousins over at Lexus.
So, I find this difficult to address at times, so bear with me. Have you ever professed any sentiment on the internet that you actually care what sort of image your car portrays? It’s tough, most commenters default to some level of “I don’t care what anyone thinks of my car”. Which is complete bullshit. Pretty much everyone cares what others think of their car. You may have such a piece of crap that you avoid the topic altogether; or you smartly just admit that you have a piece of crap. Regardless, the automobile—as our typically 2nd most expensive purchase in life—comes with a certain status, prestige, or ideally even “cool”. Or lack thereof.
I’m beating around the bush here. Imagine you’re at a dinner party and the announcement comes across the restaurant’s speaker-system.
“Would the owner of the navy Toyota Avalon please see the maître d, your lights are on”
If you are the type who can confidently stand up, adjust your sport coat, and go take care of business, great. There are many in this world, perhaps including yours truly, who may try to make it out front purely by crawling under tables. Ironically, while reviewing the Lexus LF-A supercar, Richard Hammond made the same claim about the Lexus brand. I’d submit that a similar announcement, replaced with “Lexus ES” would not bring forward such embarrassment in the States.
However, there are many out there—outside the enthusiast community—who really don’t care what type of car they drive. It is the stereotypical “appliance” that gets them from one place to another. They need it to be reliable, efficient, and perhaps even a bit luxurious. The Avalon is that car, and as you’re about to see, it’s not even that expensive!
So I’ve rambled about performance, comfort, and image. Two of these may matter not to the average Avalon buyer, and once you look at the window sticker, you may agree.
That’s all it costs to get an XLE Premium Avalon. A base ES 350 will run you $38,100 starting out. Same engine, same 21/31 mpg, same front wheel drive layout,same 6-speed paddle-shifted automatic, and largely the same standard equipment inside. Actually, if Edmunds comparison’orator is to believe, the Avalon has more standard features! Heated seats are an option on the Lexus, as is actual leather seats. You’ll need to tick the $1670 “Luxury Package” to get those things added to your ES which will crest your MSRP over $40,000.
Dimensions favor the Avalon in every single measurement, while Toyota somehow managed to make its curb weight 88 pounds less! Edmunds projects higher maintenance costs on the ES, which tracks with what you would expect comparing Lexus vs. Toyota dealer labor rates. You do get a longer warranty of the Lexus, 4-year/50K for the ES vs. 3-year 36K in the Avalon.
I wrote this is near real time, meaning that I did not avail myself of the window sticker for the Avalon until I had already driven it for a week and made some initial impressions. If I was wearing a hat, I would eat it. A final MSRP of $36,685 (including a $835 dealer processing and delivery fee (which you can negotiate out of the deal, the car would have been processed and delivered whether you bought it or not)) for this much car is pretty damn impressive.
It’s similar to the RAV-4 we tested recently, it does everything it attempts well. It may not be the best, but when you compare it to some of the competition, it’s…
wait a minute…I just built a 2017 Toyota Camry online.
I priced an XLE Premium Hybrid sedan, with 40/38 MPG, and almost identical measurements and dimensions to the Avalon (and the Lexus ES to be fair) and it came to $34,710. Even the non-hybrid XLE Premium, in the same Parisian Night Pearl (aka Navy blue) color as our Avalon test car, with the same 268hp 3.5L V6 and every option package available hit a paltry $34,680.
Would I buy one. No. But I’m far to image conscious, even at 40. If you aren’t, just buy a Camry. It’s the same, but cheaper.