New & Used Toyota Avalon: In Depth
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The Avalon is Toyota's largest sedan offering, a size up from and based on the mid-size Camry. The brand considers it to be its flagship, although it has only grown into that role truly of late. Early Avalons were indeed the largest sedans offered by Toyota, but they carried boring styling and weren't terribly interesting to drive. The Avalon is now attractive and comfortable, and for the first time it offers a hybrid version for class-leading gas mileage.
With the Avalon, Toyota has a rival for sedans like the Ford Taurus, Chevy Impala, Lincoln MKZ, Buick LaCrosse, Hyundai Azera, and Kia Cadenza. A round of updates is being visited upon the Avalon for 2016.
MORE: Read our 2014 Toyota Avalon review
For 2013, the Toyota Avalon was fully modernized, with a redesign and re-engineering that yielded a sheen of sophistication in everything from its control interface to the way it drives. The sleek, curvy new exterior and bolder interior design--with capacitive controls for climate and audio--are meant to appeal to a younger crowd (of 40-to-60 year olds) than any previous Avalon.
Slimmer and sleeker now than in the past, the new third-generation Avalon is also more interesting to drive. It's now fully up to snuff in infotainment features and accident-avoidance technology as well, even compared to some luxury models. Standout advanced-tech features include Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control, and a Pre-Collision System, while the new Avalon gets Toyota's Entune system for running smartphone-based apps, as well as a magnificent 785-watt JBL sound system. The 2013 Toyota Avalon was also the first car to offer wireless charging for mobile phones.
The latest Avalon is available in a new Hybrid model for the first time, and based on early drives we found it the most compelling package. With a combined output of 200 horsepower (from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system), the Avalon Hybrid accelerates quietly and confidently, while returning an EPA Combined rating of 40 mpg (40 mpg city, 39 mpg highway). We obtained roughly 40 mpg in a real-world test drive as well.
For 2014, all models come with a backup-camera system, while blind-spot monitors are now optional on the Avalon XLE Touring and Avalon Hybrid XLE Touring models.
The Avalon has an excellent reputation for reliability and has held its resale value well. But in recent years, the Avalon's price tag has grown larger. A new Avalon Limited can reach beyond $40,000, well into luxury territory, where the related Lexus ES anchors that franchise.
The Avalon continues a tradition of high safety marks, with five stars overall from the NHTSA and a 2015 Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS.
Toyota has announced a mid-cycle update for the 2016 Avalon. Styling changes are subtle and include a lightly reworked front end with a widened lower grille, a tighter upper grille, and turn signals moved to the edges of the fascia in place of fog lights, as well as chrome trim for the rear and revised taillights. There will be two suspension setups on the revised model: a more dynamic calibration for the V-6 Touring model and a comfort-oriented tune for the rest of the V-6 models and the hybrid versions. Standard equipment will also see a boost in most models, and trim levels are being rearranged slightly, with the Hybrid no longer available in the Touring grade.
Toyota Avalon history
The first Avalon arrived for 1995 and replaced the Cressida sedan. It was based on the Camry and was assembled at a Toyota plant in Kentucky. Although it shares a lot underneath with the brand's mainstream family sedan, the Avalon has always offered more in the way of luxury and space, with a lot of features trickling down to the Toyota brand from Lexus and arriving in the Avalon first.
Early versions of the Avalon received the same engine as the Camry and looked quite similar to the Camry (if you squinted). A redesigned version, introduced for 2000, changed that. The new version was genuinely roomier and featured options not offered on the Camry, including a navigation system and electronic stability control plus Brake Assist. At that time, the 3.0-liter V-6 made 210 hp. These Avalon models are extremely smooth and comfortable but not particularly rewarding to drive.
The Avalon was completely redesigned for 2005, with a sleek, very aerodynamic new shape and new 280-horsepower (later 268 hp) 3.5-liter V-6. Toyota tried to satisfy those who wanted more performance, with a slightly sportier Touring model that included a firmer suspension calibration along with larger wheels and spruced-up trim. In these models, the V-6 and five-speed automatic shifted almost imperceptibly, in Lexus-like fashion. Their ride was just as composed as in the previous generation, but handling was better—without, however, anything even close to a truly sporty feel. A huge trunk and space to sprawl in the backseat were the Avalon's hallmarks, and layers of sound insulation and acoustic windshield kept it whisper-quiet inside.
Offered in a range of models from XL and XLS up to Touring and Limited models, this generation of Toyota Avalon offered more technological features than any Toyota model up until the new 2010 Toyota Prius. Rain-sensing wipers, xenon HID headlamps, remote engine start, and the Dynamic Laser Cruise Control System were all available. Top-of-the-line Limited models got heated and ventilated seats, a smart-key system, power rear sunshade, and high-end JBL sound.
This generation of Avalon was recognized for its smooth ride and high build quality. Toward the end of its run, it went in for a slight redesign in 2012. Changes included the addition of Bluetooth audio streaming as well as a reworked interior with more comfort for rear-seat passengers thanks in part to reclining seats.