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The 2011 Avalon is the kind of vehicle Toyota does really well. It doesn't fit the sweet spot carved out by buff books and enthusiast drivers. It simply provides the kind of carefree, low-fuss, no-brainer driving experience that plainly works for a wide swath of drivers, especially older drivers.
Designed in California and built in Kentucky alongside the top-selling Camry, the 2011 Toyota Avalon is essentially a stretched Camry with more interior space and a streamlined ordering sheet, with some nicely conceived details woven into its off-the-rack suit of sheetmetal. It gets a more formal, more assertive grille, and some of the cutlines and moldings in the front bumper clone the same bits on the latest Benz E-Class, even, while the Avalon's crisper stampings give it a broader shoulder line than before. And in back, the generic Toyota taillamps light up with C-shaped LED coolness. Inside there's an elegant dual-cowl dash, with the second cowl arching over the radio and climate controls. And save for the bugle-bead radio buttons and the matte artificiality of the woodgrain trim, the cabin strikes us as styled and trimmed above its slightly downscale mission.
While the 2011 Toyota Avalon looks like a cushy luxury cruiser, it can perform—at least on the straight. The 3.5-liter V-6 puts out 268 horsepower with a little more pronounced sound than an Avalon ever has, and feeds it out to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. The Avalon's the rare Toyota with decent on-center steering feel. It's light from that point to any point on the arc, but that's precisely what attentive but unengaged drivers need. The cushy suspension, though, is at odds with any need to quickly change direction, and there's lots of body motion.
To fully understand the Avalon, you'll have to slip from the roomy but flat front buckets (which also vibrate at speed, in uncharacteristic fashion) into the back seat. Here the Avalon does is at its most convincing. The near-luxury accommodations have so much leg and head room, even with the power driver seat dialed back, we can't even think of a friend who wouldn't be cozy. The rear seats tilt back for long-distance comfort, and there's a keyhole of access to the ginormous trunk that makes a ski weekend for four a snap.
The 2011 Toyota Avalon is the mainstream brand's big luxury sedan, and thus includes a few more features than you'd find on the rest of the Toyota line. The automaker has trimmed the 2011 Avalon into two models, with relatively few options. The base car has Bluetooth; steering-wheel controls for phone, climate control and audio; XM radio; USB connectivity; and the usual array of airbags, including a driver knee airbag. The Limited adds a smart-key system, ventilated front seats, and a power front passenger seat.
- Pillowy, cushy ride
- Straight-line acceleration
- Light but confident steering feel
- Cozy seating
- Luxury-car features
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- Too much body motion
- Very conservative design
- Faux-wood trim