- Seats five adults in comfort
- Attractive cabin design with high-quality materials
- Composed and quiet ride
- Powerful and efficient V6
- Available upscale amenities
- Strong crash test scores
- A bit expensive for its class
- Refined nature leaves little room for flair or personality
- Rear seats do not fold
The full-size sedan used to be the exclusive domain of American carmakers. Popular with families, they provided plenty of space and comfort for passengers and had trunks the size of a New York apartment. Current full-sizers may not be as massive as they were, but they're much more space-efficient so they offer nearly as much room for people and things. A good example of this is the 2011 Toyota Avalon.
The latest Avalon is known for its spacious interior, abundant luxury features and refined ride. Although this year's model brings a refresh with some new styling (front/rear ends and instrument panel), more standard features and a reduction in trim levels from three to two, the 2011 Avalon is otherwise similar to the one that debuted six years ago. That's fine with us, as there is so much to recommend the Avalon. Though its exterior looks smaller than most of its rivals, the Avalon manages to offer more space within the cabin. Meanwhile, the backseat is among the most accommodating anywhere, with standard reclining seatbacks, abundant headroom and an available power rear sunshade.
And then there is the car's remarkable combination of performance and fuel efficiency. The standard 268-horsepower V6 engine accelerates the Avalon more rapidly than similarly powered competitors while still returning impressive fuel mileage estimates of 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.
Unlike in years past, however, the Avalon now faces more competent rivals like the 2011 Buick LaCrosse and 2011 Ford Taurus. And even with this year's styling tweaks, the Avalon may look a bit too bland for some buyers. A past gripe involving the Avalon's pricing has been partially addressed this year as the base model comes more generously equipped but with no increase in price. Still, some budget-minded buyers may wish there was a more basic, lower-priced model. While the 2011 Toyota Avalon remains at the top of its game and is easy to recommend, it does have some worthy competition that's worth consideration.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2011
For 2011, the Toyota Avalon receives new front- and rear-end styling, a new dash and more standard features. Furthermore, trim levels have been reduced to the base Avalon (which is similar to the outgoing XLS trim) and the Avalon Limited.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2011 Toyota Avalon is a full-size sedan available in base and Limited trim levels. Standard equipment on the base Avalon includes 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, auto-dimming driver and rearview mirrors, heated mirrors, a sunroof, automatic headlights, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob, a back-up camera (mounted in the rearview mirror), wood trim, cruise control, full power accessories, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a power driver seat, a reclining rear seat, Bluetooth and a nine-speaker stereo (with six-CD changer and USB/iPod jacks).
The Limited adds xenon headlights, automatic wipers, keyless ignition/entry, additional power driver seat adjustment, a power passenger seat, heated and ventilated front seats, driver memory functions, a power rear sunshade and a more powerful audio system with 12 speakers.
A few of the Limited's features, such as the upgraded audio system and heated seats, are available on the base Avalon, while a voice-activated touchscreen navigation system with traffic reporting is optional for both trims.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The Toyota Avalon's interior feels upscale and inviting thanks to its glowing gauges, attractive and ergonomic control layout and high-quality materials. This year's redesigned dash and center stack, along with standard wood and metallic accents further the luxury ambience, making the Avalon impressively similar to its upscale cousins from Lexus.
The front seats are wide and accommodating, and with the Limited you also get heated and ventilated seats with a seat-cushion length adjuster. The rear seats are very comfortable as well. Legroom is abundant even by full-size sedan standards, and the rear seats boast a manually reclining back that allows passengers to stretch out on long trips. A 6-footer can sit in back with more than enough knee- and headroom, and with a nearly flat floor, getting three into the backseat on carpool day is no problem.
One minor annoyance is the inability to fold the rear seats (the trade-off for the reclining feature). The trunk measures 14.4 cubic feet, smaller than what's available in other full-size sedans.
Standard safety equipment on the 2011 Toyota Avalon includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, active front head restraints, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and a driver-side knee airbag.
In government crash tests, the Toyota Avalon earned a perfect five stars in all frontal- and side-impact categories. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Avalon earned the top score of "Good" for its protection of occupants in frontal-offset and side-impact crashes.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The front-wheel-drive 2011 Toyota Avalon is motivated by a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 268 hp and 248 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. The EPA's fuel mileage estimates for the Avalon stand at 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, making it one of the most fuel-efficient full-size sedans available.
Not surprisingly, the 2011 Toyota Avalon is at its best on the open highway. The cabin remains quiet, the ultra-smooth V6 engine has plenty of passing power and the suspension swallows up road imperfections without drama. The Avalon is no athlete, though, so those interested in a slightly more involved driving experience should consider the Buick LaCrosse. The Avalon's steering is too light to feel sporty, but it responds to driver inputs in a precise, fluid manner. Additionally, a tidy turning circle makes the Avalon feel unexpectedly maneuverable on tight city streets.
Its price of entry may be higher than those of its rivals, but if you're looking for a refined, well-built full-size sedan in the $30,000 price bracket, the 2011 Toyota Avalon is a top-notch choice.