New & Used Toyota Avalon: In Depth
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The Toyota Avalon is the Japanese automaker's flagship sedan. A larger sibling to the best-selling Camry, the Avalon has evolved through three generations, from drab roots, to become a stylish sedan with a compelling hybrid-drive alternative that boosts fuel economy to surprising highs.
The Avalon lineup rivals vehicles like the Buick LaCrosse, Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus, Lincoln MKZ, and Hyundai Azera.
MORE: Read our 2014 Toyota Avalon review
Starting in 1995, the Kentucky-built Avalon was based on the Camry and replaced the previous Cressida sedan. Though it continues to share some running gear with Toyota's popular mid-size four-door sedan, the Avalon has always offered more space and comfort--and has also debuted a number of technologies and luxury features for the Toyota brand.
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 Limited models got heated and ventilated seats, a smart-key system, power rear sunshade, and high-end JBL sound.
Later models of this generation received a very mild reskin for 2012, along with a new interior that improved backseat comfort and added reclining back seats. Throughout this generation, the Avalon was known for its creamy ride and excellent assembly quality, with Bluetooth audio streaming added the same year.
The new Toyota Avalon
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, 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.