2008 Toyota Avalon Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 2, 2008

The 2008 Toyota Avalon is designed for a cushy, comfortable ride and impressive interior space above all else.

The automotive experts at TheCarConnection.com have consulted some of the best automotive resources to bring you this review; to make it especially useful to discerning shoppers, TheCarConnection.com’s editors have included their own firsthand observations.

Toyota’s full-size Avalon returns for 2008 with a number of changes to its drivetrain, its front end, and its cabin, although the overall design of the Avalon is carried over.

The 2008 Toyota Avalon is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, generating 268 horsepower and driving the front wheels via a new six-speed automatic transmission. Toyota has also upgraded the brakes for this model year for better response, less fade, and shorter stopping distances.

Muted, comfortable, and assuring--that's the best way to describe nearly every aspect of the 2008 Toyota Avalon driving experience. Its V-6 can barely be heard while idling and is glassy-smooth across the rev band, and its automatic transmission shifts almost undetectably. The suspension soaks up nearly every kind of bump, yet the body stays in check if you pitch the Avalon into a sharper corner, with plenty of poise, though it doesn't feel remotely sporty. The Touring model adds a sport suspension that firms up the Avalon slightly, but not to the detriment of comfort. The Avalon’s fuel economy ratings are among the highest in its class of large sedans, at 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway.

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The Avalon’s interior along is a strong selling point; its passenger space is one of the roomiest of any sedans, with soft, highly adjustable front- and backseats that are contoured adequately for large adults. Three adults can sit in the backseat of the 2008 Toyota Avalon and have just enough shoulder room and space to sprawl their legs. And the trunk is plenty big for a very large suitcase, plus several smaller ones.

For 2008, all Avalons get a new face with revamped bumpers, headlamps, and grille, along with new tinting for the taillamps. 2008 Toyota Avalon Touring and XLS models get larger 17-inch alloy wheels, while Limited models gain chrome door handles. The XLS and Limited models get new wood grain and a power passenger seat, while the Touring model wears metallic trim on its dash. The result is that the Avalon appears a little more distinctive in the details, but it’s still quite plainly styled.

XL, XLS, Limited, and Touring versions of the 2008 Toyota Avalon are available. In addition to the XL’s generous appointments, the Touring gets larger wheels, HID headlamps, fog lamps, and sportier trim. The XLS adds desirable conveniences such as leather seats, heated mirrors, a moonroof, and a garage-door opener, while the Limited piles on luxury gear, including heated and ventilated front seats, wood grain trim, a Smart Key system, a power rear sunshade, aluminum scuff plates, and a high-end JBL sound system with an integrated Bluetooth hands-free interface. Sound systems now have MP3 capability and an auxiliary port for iPods.

Major options include a DVD-based navigation system, a remote start system, Dynamic Cruise Control, and heated and ventilated seats.

Electronic stability control—a feature commonly standard in vehicles in the Avalon’s class—is optional for $650, but anti-lock brakes, front side airbags, side curtain bags, and a driver’s knee bag are among the standard safety features. The 2008 Toyota Avalon has achieved top marks in crash tests, with the best five-star ratings from the federal government in frontal and side impact tests, plus top "good" results from the insurance-affiliated IIHS in frontal and side impact tests. It was rated "poor," however, in the IIHS rear impact test.

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2008 Toyota Avalon

Styling

The 2008 Toyota Avalon’s styling is just bold enough outside, and sleek and sophisticated inside.

The 2008 Toyota Avalon is crisp and conservative on the outside, clean and cohesive within.

“The new Avalon wears a more stylish suit of clothes than in the past,” claims Road & Track, reflecting the automotive press’ general feelings about the Avalon’s exterior styling. While it doesn’t blow anyone away, neither does it offend, and its interesting-to-some creases and folds lend it flair utterly lacking in previous designs. “Too many unnecessary angles,” complains some Motor Trend editors, while others on staff feels “at least, it's interesting for a change.” Car and Driver succinctly calls it “Toyota’s Buick.”

Lexus-like details inside, “including the Optitron gauges once exclusive to that brand,” says Road & Track, lend a sleek and stylish air. “Any Toyota Avalon feels upscale and inviting,” claims Edmunds, citing an “attractive and ergonomic control layout, and high-quality materials.”

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2008 Toyota Avalon

Performance

The 2008 Toyota Avalon’s performance is faultless--provided athletic driving is not part of your repertoire.

Soft suspensions and a slick drivetrain make the 2008 Toyota Avalon brisk in a straight line, if a bit ponderous around corners.

“The current Avalon is among the quickest big sedans in this price range, thanks to a very potent 3.5-liter V6,” claims Edmunds. The sole powerplant in the Avalon, the dual VVTi engine cranks out an enthusiastic 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. Motor Trend finds it carries the “Avalon to the 60 mark in a purposeful 6.2 seconds,” and that's with the older five-speed automatic transmission, which has been replaced with a six-speed for ’08. With more ratios available to the tractable V-6, acceleration should be even quicker this year.

The Avalon’s fuel economy ratings are among the highest in its class of large sedans, at 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway.

Car and Driver finds “the Avalon's independent suspension provides a tauter, sportier ride-and-handling compromise than its forebear” and notes its “velvety ride quality.” But apparently that’s not saying much, as nearly every other reviewer criticizes its handling, including ConsumerGuide: “Poised enough for a big family sedan,” they begin, but are quick to add, “Some testers want more steering feel and weight.” They also note “body lean is pronounced as cornering speeds increase.” “The Avalon's steering is overboosted,” criticizes Automobile, “and early terminal understeer rewards any enthusiastic input.” Truly, it would seem, the Buick of Toyotas, and indeed, Edmunds considers it’s “at its best on the open highway.”

Motor Trend praises the Avalon’s stability control system, calling it “a particularly cushy catcher's mitt, grabbing wayward chassis gyrations without a stinging rebuke back to the driver.” Edmunds likes its “tidy turning circle” that “makes the Avalon feel unexpectedly nimble on tight city streets.” And ConsumerGuide remarks the “strong brakes are easy to modulate, but simulated panic stops induced marked nosedive.”

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2008 Toyota Avalon

Comfort & Quality

Apart from a few rough details hidden in the trunk, the 2008 Toyota Avalon impresses with its vast interior space.

The interior of the 2008 Toyota Avalon is a serene, handsome, and exceptionally comfortable place to be.

The interior generally finds a more favorable reception. ConsumerGuide states the front of the Avalon is “large-adult roomy with supportive seats,” but complains that “visibility is a bit pinched to the right-rear.” Edmunds considers the front seats “wide and accommodating, particularly in the Limited, which offers both ventilated seats and a seat-cushion length adjuster.”

The rear is an even better story, offering remarkable room and great comfort, courtesy of seats that recline. Road & Track lauds the “flat floor and a 60/40-split rear seatback that can be reclined through 10 degrees in any of five positions,” Edmunds notes that the flat floor in the rear makes it “a legitimate proposition to seat three adults,” and Motor Trend likens the rear seat room to “the sort of stretch space a pricey ticket buys you on Virgin Atlantic.”

The trunk is judged adequate, not overly impressive, in its storage capacity, and some are dismayed at the lack of pass-through folding seatbacks. “The trunk has space enough for most family excursions, but packing gets complicated by intrusion from the wheel housings and trunklid hinges,” comments ConsumerGuide.

In general, ergonomics and material quality are first rate. Road & Track likes the “flat-panel switches, which are nicely lit at night,” and Automobile confirms “switches and controls are exactly where you'd expect them.” Ride comfort and isolation fall into the same category: Motor Trend comments that “Toyota's flagship extends the limousine impersonation with, shall we say, noticeable silence and astute absorption of road imperfections.” “The V6 sounds rich during acceleration and is always subdued while cruising,” compliments ConsumerGuide.

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2008 Toyota Avalon

Safety

Order the optional VSC, and the 2008 Toyota Avalon is a faultless performer where safety is concerned.

The 2008 Toyota Avalon presents an exemplary suite of occupant protection and accident avoidance.

In crash testing, the Camry performed splendidly. It was awarded five stars across the board in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) crash testing, except for a four-star rating for rollover resistance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Avalon its top “good” rating for frontal offset and side impact crash testing.

Edmunds states that the Avalon’s standard safety equipment “includes antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers and a driver-side knee airbag.” Cars.com explains that the Avalon’s “rear brake discs have been enlarged and are now gripped by aluminum calipers for better braking performance.”

Perhaps enabling a sub-$28,000 entry price, the Avalon doesn’t include two important accident avoidance features: stability and traction control, which are optional equipment. Toyota’s VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) is an optional feature in all four trim levels of the Avalon.

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2008 Toyota Avalon

Features

The 2008 Toyota Avalon impresses with well-designed and luxurious features, in some cases putting it head-to-head with pricier vehicles. 

Well designed and well equipped, the 2008 Toyota Avalon’s roster of standard and optional features impresses.

Mechanically speaking, the Avalon changes only slightly for 2008, with the aforementioned improvements to its rear brakes and the substitution of a six-speed automatic in place of the previous five-speed.

The Avalon follows a four-tier trim structure: XL, Touring, XLS, and Limited. “The standard equipment list is lengthy even on the XL,” says Road & Track, and it features items such as an eight-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, and a nine-speaker sound system. It starts a bit below $28,000. The main differences in the driver-oriented Touring model are larger wheels and tires, a stiffened suspension, leather-trimmed seats, steering wheel, and shift knob, and Xenon HID headlights. The luxury-oriented XLS includes items such as leather seating areas, a wood-trimmed dash, 17-inch wheels, a power tilting-and-sliding sunroof, heated power side mirrors, and an anti-theft system. To the XLS’ features, the top-of-the-line Limited, priced at $35,075, adds luxuries such as a 360-watt, 12-speaker JBL stereo, heated and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, high-intensity-discharge headlamps, and memory side mirrors with puddle lamps and LED turn signals.

“Many of the upscale features on the XLS and Limited are also available as options on the lower trims,” notes Edmunds, who point out “other options, depending on trim level, include a navigation system, satellite radio and laser-based adaptive cruise control.” Steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a six-disc CD changer, and an auxiliary audio input jack are standard across the board. Bluetooth compatibility is included in the Limited model.

One of Kelley Blue Book’s favorite Avalon features, standard across the model line, is “the five-position rear-seat recliners” that “adjust from a 25 to 35-degree seatback angle.”

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