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2005 Toyota Avalon Photo
Reviewed by John Pearley Huffman
Editor, The Car Connection
BASE INVOICE
$23,543
BASE MSRP
$26,350
Quick Take
GET CURRENT PRICING GET AN INSURANCE QUOTE Any mention of the Avalon brings with it a trite... Read more »
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Any mention of the Avalon brings with it a trite, reflexive description of it as “Toyota’s Buick.” If I were above that sort of thing, I wouldn’t have brought it up. So I’m a hack. Sue me. But the new 2005 Avalon isn’t really Toyota’s version of a Buick at all… it’s more like Toyota one-upping Lexus.

By the end of this article, in methodical Perry Mason fashion, I will convince you, the jury, that the new Avalon makes the Lexus ES330 wholly redundant. And that it’s Toyota itself that did the killing!

Not that all new, but better

2005 Toyota Avalon

2005 Toyota Avalon

Enlarge Photo
If any parts carryover from the previous Avalon to this new one, Toyota isn’t trumpeting that fact. But in general layout it’s still a front-drive sedan with a V6 and an automatic transmission; it still uses a MacPherson strut suspension up front and another set of struts in the back; and the basic structure is still unibody, derived (at least distantly) from the Camry.

Just about every detail has been tweaked however. And the most impressive of those details is the drivetrain.

The engine is a new 3.5-liter, DOHC, 24-valve, all-aluminum V-6 that produces a thick 280-horsepower according to Toyota thanks to “VVT-i” variable valve-timing on both the exhaust and intake sides, and a dual-stage variable manifold. Codenamed 2GR-FE, the Avalon’s engine isn’t merely Toyota’s ubiquitous 3.3-liter V-6 punched out to 3.5-liters but an advanced version of the 1GR-FE 4.0-liter V-6 used in the 4Runner, Tacoma, and Tundra with 12-millimeters of stroke knocked off its crank. It’s also the most powerful V-6 Toyota has ever shoved under one of its car’s hoods — though the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six used in the 1997 Supra Turbo is still Toyota’s most powerful six ever at 320-horsepower.

Matched to the new V-6 is a five-speed automatic transaxle featuring extensive electronic controls including variable torque converter control and a sequential sport mode — its shifts can only be detected by trained technicians using advanced magnetic resonance imaging.

The Avalon is a big car that weighs in between 3490 and 3600 pounds depending on trim level, so its so-so 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway EPA mileage ratings are reasonable. In fact those mileage ratings are up one mpg each from the Lexus ES330’s.

The engine is spooky smooth, velvety in its power delivery, and dang near silent in operation while the transmission’s ratios seem perfectly chosen. If Toyota had bought up the planet’s dwindling supply of 1980 Oldsmobile Omegas and planted this sweet-natured drivetrain into those rusting hulks it could probably… ah forget it, that joke was going nowhere. This is simply the most powerful, quietest and smoothest drivetrain Toyota has ever installed in a front-drive automobile and clearly superior to that in other “near luxury” machines. The Acura TL’s 270-horsepower, 3.2-liter VTEC V6 and five-speed automatic may be more eager to romp on a back road, but the Avalon isn’t built for people who “romp.” And the Lexus ES330’s 3.3-liter V-6 isn’t quite as well-mannered and, at 225-horspower, nowhere near as powerful.

Is bigger always better?

Almost invariably (the 2005 Corvette is a notable exception) cars tend to bloat in size with each succeeding generation. The new Avalon is no exception. The 2005 model’s 111.0-inch wheelbase and 197.2-inch overall length are respectively up 3.9- and 5.3-inches from the just-superseded generation. Fortunately that also pays off with interior room and every significant dimension except front legroom (which is still well beyond adequate) is up at least fractionally. Rear legroom is particularly generous. However cargo volume drops 1.5-cubic feet for some reason and that’s just mystifying.

While the previous two generations of Avalons were among the boxiest sedans conceivable, the new one actually looks somewhat sleek. The new Avalon was styled in Newport Beach, California but carries forward most of the generic Toyota design elements including the thick C-pillars seen on the Corolla and Camry. It’s a handsome car even if it’s not particularly memorable — more Lyle Waggoner than Robert Redford.

Those same Toyota themes carry forward inside the cabin as well. The switches and controls all have that familiar Toyota look and feel and the decoration is restrained. However there are clever touches like the controller for the optional navigation system that emerges from its nest under the sound system when its needed and snuggles back in when its not.

All the instrumentation is easy to find, easy to read and lit in “Optitron” glory. The seats aren’t aggressively bolstered, but they are extremely comfortable. Beyond the required front two-stage airbags, the Avalon comes side curtain airbags for both the front and rear occupants plus side airbags for the front passengers. Any more airbags and the Avalon could be used as a flotation device.

New Avalons come in XL (well-equipped with cloth upholstery), XLS (the XL with a nav system, moonroof, six-disc CD changer, and leather), Touring (a sportier suspension, deck spoiler, and HID headlights) and Limited (loaded, including a wood and leather steering wheel) trim levels. None of their cabin decoration can be described as sparse, but all the petrochemical forest products on display in the line-topping Limited are distracting. The most tasteful Avalon interior is the Touring model that includes leather wrappings around the shift knob, steering wheel, and seats but is otherwise subdued.

Whatever the trim level, the Avalon interior is at least as nice as the ES330’s and the Limited (which includes a “Smart Key System” which allows the car to be started when the key is merely in the driver’s pocket) is even more comprehensively equipped. And the Avalon offers something you can’t get on the ES330 — more room.

Drives like a Toyota

2005 Toyota Avalon

2005 Toyota Avalon

Enlarge Photo
The Avalon is a machine built more for comfort than speed. The driving environment is sort of like sitting in front of the best stereo system sold at Circuit City; there are lots of knobs and dials to play with if you like, but you’re probably best off just trusting what the engineers built into the system at the factory in the first place. This is a car that handles the details better than you could yourself.

The floor-mounted shifter has a distinct Mercedes-like gate that takes some intentional thought to navigate even though it’s really just an electronic switch mechanism rather and not mechanically connected to the transaxle. Leave the shifting up to the transmission however and the car accelerates with both dignity and verve; this is a quick car but not a boastful one.

While the XL comes on 16-inch wheels, the other three models all use 17s with P215/55R17 all-season Michelins to connect with the pavement. The tires aren’t loud, but they’re not overly sticky either and the cornering limits on even the stiffer Touring model are modest. The rack-and-pinion steering isn’t particularly quick, but there’s more feel and feedback on this new car than the old one. It’s not really sporty steering as much as it is willing to admit that it’s attached to a car that’s moving.

Like the front-driver that it is, when the Avalon reaches its limits it transitions into understeer. But it doesn’t do so dramatically and with the optional Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), and electronic Brake Assist (BA) aboard it’s tough to get into trouble with an Avalon unless you actually aim it at some object and don’t reflexively hit the brakes.

The Avalon ultimately drives a lot like, well, a Lexus ES330… only bigger and more powerful.

Assembled at the same Georgetown, Kentucky plant that churns out the Camry, there’s nothing exotic about the Avalon in any way. This is more engaging car than the previous Avalon, but it’s not a car that feels wedded to a driver’s soul like a BMW 3-Series. But soul mates can drift apart, while relationships built on rational and reasonable expectations are more likely to endure.

Those reasonable expectations start with the Avalon XL’s keen base price of $26,350 with the Touring at $28,600, XLS at $30,800 and the Limited at $33,540. That’s not cheap, but perfectly in line with the performance, comfort, and utility of the Avalon.

So the Avalon drives at least as nicely as the Lexus ES330, has more room, is more powerful, gets better fuel mileage, and can be equipped just as lavishly. And yet the Lexus carries a $31,975 base price that’s more than any Avalon except the Limited? That makes no sense. Because the Avalon isn’t just a better car than the ES330, it’s a better Lexus.

2005 Toyota Avalon
Base Price: $26,350 (XL) to $33,540 (Limited)
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 280 hp/260 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 111.0 in
Length x width x height: 197.2 in x 72.8 in x 58.5 in
Curb Weight: 3490 lb (XL) – 3600 lb (Limited)
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 22/30
Safety features: Front and side dual-stage airbags, front and rear side curtain airbags, pre-tensioning seat belts, anti-lock brakes
Major standard features: Cruise control; AM/FM/CD player; trip computer; power windows; mirrors; and locks; dual-zone automatic climate control; remote keyless entry.
Warranty: Three years/ 36,000 miles

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