- Cushy ride
- Quick in a straight line
- Confident, light steering
- Lots of body roll
- Conservative looks
- Some glitzy interior trim
A classy, comfortable near-luxury sedan, the 2012 Toyota Avalon has a more modern look but traditional big-car handling and smooth performance.
The Toyota Avalon doesn't get much attention from car enthusiasts or from first-time buyers, but it's the kind of car that Toyota does very well. It's a no-fuss, no-brainer driving experience with lots of room and near-luxury equipment, geared at a big group of drivers that care more about comfort than performance--especially older drivers.
A stretched Camry, when you get right down to it, the California-designed, Kentucky-built Avalon has some well-executed details in an overall look that's quite conservative. Longer than the Camry, with a slightly less assertive grille than its new-for-2012 cousin, the Avalon's broad shoulders and crisped-up sheetmetal are an improvement over the last-generation model. The big Toyota's generic taillamps are dressed up with a C-shaped frame of LED lights. The interior's themed around an elegant dual-cowl dash, with the second cowl arcs atop climate and radio controls. In all, and despite some teensy radio buttons and plainly artificial woodgrain, the Avalon looks a little more extravagant than its station in life.
The cushy Avalon performs well in a straight line, but cornering isn't really what it had in mind. A 3.5-liter V-6 produces 268 horsepower--and it's a little louder here than before. Power streams to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission, and acceleration is brisk for such a big sedan. This Toyota has decent on-center steering feel, light to the touch, but attentive enough for the needs of drivers just interested in a safe trip. The suspension is tuned very softly, with lots of body roll and underdamped responses.
The cabin is very large, but to understand what the Avalon is all about, you'll need to leave the flat, wide front bucket seats and slip into the back seat, where the Avalon does a convincing impression of a town car. There's so much head and leg room, surrounded by upscale trimmings, that even with the front seats pushed to the back of their tracks, an adult can cross their leg over knee. The rear seats can recline a couple of inches for long-trip comfort, and there's a small window to access the vast trunk.
The Avalon's an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and along with the usual airbags (and a driver knee airbag) and stability control, it has an available rearview camera and standard Bluetooth. Other standard features include steering-wheel controls; XM; and a USB port. The ritzy Limited version gets ventilated front seats; a power passenger front seat; and keyless entry with pushbutton start.