2016 Toyota Avalon Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
June 24, 2016

The 2016 Toyota Avalon gets some minor fillips as it vies again for our top rating among large sedans.

The 2016 Toyota Avalon isn't the type of car that begs you to own it or drive it. It's not sexy or sporty. But it has luxury, comfort, and quiet down pat, it's as comfortable as a pillow-top bed, and it does a fair job of convincing us out of the lower-priced Lexus sedans.

The Avalon is also a satisfying car to drive in its latest form. In 2013 Toyota put the Avalon through a major design change, and it emerged better in nearly every way. Interior space was down slightly, but the Avalon now vies with the Chevy Impala as one of our top-rated large sedans. It's sleek and neatly styled, it feels more lively, and has a heady dose of safety equipment—and gets a little more of each of those for the 2016 model year, in a mild update.

In 2013, the Avalon stepped out of its rut and took a more shapely form, one with more visual distance from the Camry. The swoopy roofline, flared-out rear fenders, and the laid-back rear glass gave it presence where there was none to be had in previous generations. That all remains in place for 2016, with some tweaks and adjustments here and there. This year, the Avalon's grille grows larger, turning down the corners of its mouth to add some oomph to the front end. Slim running lights and turn signals don't change any metal—and barely change its appearance, truth be told. LED taillights are standard across all models.

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Inside, the Avalon's contemporary layout and look still wears flush, touch-based dash switches for a clean, high-end-audio look. A central touchscreen is now standard on all models. Cabin materials are superb, with nice, matching grains and surfaces.

As it's been for a couple of years, the Avalon is offered with a choice between two powertrains. A strong and smooth 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 is by far the more common choice, but it's the Avalon Hybrid that earns our attention, combining refinement and responsive performance. With a net of 200 hp from its combination of motors, batteries, and an inline-4, the Avalon Hybrid can get to 60 mph in (conservatively) 8.2 seconds while it sips fuel at a phenomenal 40 mpg combined rate, according to the EPA.

This latest Avalon feels more composed and refined, too. We wouldn't call it sporty, but it's struck us as supremely capable and controllable in a way that older models weren't. This year, the Touring model gets its own suspension tuning—we'll let you know if firmer and flatter suits its personality once we've taken one for a spin.

Nothing's been trimmed or altered in terms of cabin space, and that's fine. The Avalon is roomy, modern and thoughtfully composed. The front seats could use a little more lateral support, but the back seats are among the best you can find in large sedans. The Avalon gets a 16-cubic-foot trunk, and with a flat floor and wide opening, you can fit a lot of grocery bags. Hybrid models have a slightly smaller 14-cubic-foot trunk, but the lost space is a small sacrifice for the efficiency gains.

The Avalon offers a strong list of safety features, including separate rear side-thorax airbags and front knee bags, and crash-test ratings have been almost perfect across the board. All models come with a backup camera system, while blind-spot monitors are standard on Touring models. Limited sedans can be fitted with automatic headlights, adaptive cruise control, a forward-collision warning system, and a lane-departure warning system.

All Avalons come well-equipped with plenty of comfort features, while the top-of-the-line Limited models are optioned up like a Lexus. For 2016, the V-6 Avalon will be offered in five trim levels—three grades of XLE, Limited, and Touring. For the Avalon Hybrid, the choices are limited to XLE and Touring. The suspension has been retuned for 2016 on all models, with the XLE and Limited versions getting a comfort-oriented setup and the Touring getting its own unique sporty calibration.

All models now have a seven-inch touchscreen to govern the audio system, and individual-wheel tire-pressure monitors. XLE and XLE Plus models get woodgrain trim, while XLE Premium models get navigation and Qi wireless smartphone charging.

Touring models get gray 18-inch wheels, a unique front-fascia design, and LED headlights and daytime running lights. Top Limited models pile on the premium tack, with perforated leather upholstery, heated-and-ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, three-zone automatic climate control, a rear sunshade, 785-watt JBL audio, HID headlamps, and LED daytime running lamps.

The EPA rates the V-6 Avalon at 21 mpg city, 31 highway, 24 combined. That's the same rating it received in 2015 and that's better than some models with this level of space, comfort, and power, and made possible by the Avalon's weight loss and slightly taller gearing for the 6-speed automatic transmission. The Avalon Hybrid's EPA ratings of 40/39/40 mpg make it one of the most fuel-efficient large sedans in any driving situation, and definitely the most efficient for city driving and stop-and-go traffic.

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2016 Toyota Avalon

Styling

The latest Avalon is Toyota's most visually appealing big sedan yet.

The Avalon is decidedly no longer boring, either to drive or to look at. It takes its large-car status and owns it with flowing sheet metal and a rich interior, both of which seem like they could come from cars costing much more. For 2016, Toyota makes some minor changes to the appearance to keep the attractive design fresh.

Penned entirely in California, and finished and developed in Michigan, the latest Avalon was conceived with American tastes in mind—especially older-middle-age empty-nesters. "Elegant Athletic" is Toyota's way of describing the look of the exterior, and it's an appropriate phrase. Overall this design is a brisk lane-change—a big enough departure from the previous model that it almost warrants a new badge. It's not an Audi A7—one of the most beautiful models on the market to our eyes—but there's no Camry vapor trail left in these handsome lines.

The most obvious change for 2016 is a widened lower larger grille—the air opening itself remains the same, but the visual portion of the grille has been widened so that it flares out at the bottom. It sits in a revised front fascia that now packages vertical slits of turn signals in the area where fog lights once lived. The Touring model also receives LED headlight units and a slightly tweaked fascia design to separate it from the rest of the lineup. These changes aren't very obvious at first glance, but they manage to give the Avalon a bit more presence, changing the front-end look from somewhat rounded to a bit more angular. The front-end transformation is thankfully more reserved than what has recently been visited upon the Camry, Corolla, and Yaris, among other volume Toyota models.

From the side, the Avalon looks at ease and neither trying too hard to appear as a hunkered-back rear-wheel-drive sport sedan nor as a cab-forward front-driver. The roofline arc sits nicely above the more subtle arc in the beltline, and a rear pillar arc fits right in with it, tapering gradually to the back (Toyota tried to keep it as far back as possible without infringing rear headroom and the trunk opening).

In back, the design was initially slightly disappointing, with somewhat generic luxe-sedan taillights drooping a bit into anonymity. The design of the LED taillight units has been freshened for 2016, though, taking the anonymous/Korean look more toward a Lexus feel. There's also a new chrome accent on the rear bumper. All 2016 models also get new wheel designs, in 17- or 18-inch diameters, depending on trim level.

If we had to point to a single attribute that gives the design punch, it's the rear fender, and the way the sheet metal so gracefully flows from the roofline and the doors, meeting in a way that looks sculpted with French curves, not on a set of computer monitors.

Inside, the latest Avalon also got some special attention, and it's not at all a Camry knockoff. Toyota wanted the new Avalon to have a premium feel and look, and it shows. The climate and audio controls sit on a plane closer to the driver, above a layer that's trimmed with wood grain and an attractive striated surface, which itself is stacked over a dash zone framed in metallic trim. The cabin's theme is one that's been styled into most of the current generation of Toyotas, but rises above the usual swipe of differently textured plastics.

While the 2016 model gets no interior design updates, all models now include a 7.0-inch Entune infotainment screen. Upper models also get new Qi wireless charging mats.

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2016 Toyota Avalon

Performance

The Avalon has been a confident handler, even nimble for its size; we'll update our drive when we sample a retuned Touring model.

When the Avalon was remade for 2013, the lineup showed up with two powertrains including a powerful V-6 and a very efficient and responsive Hybrid model, the first gas-electric version of Toyota's biggest sedan. Handling was also greatly improved then, and the 2016 refresh brings with it two newly calibrated suspension setups. This should help keep the comfortable and nice-driving Avalon at the head of what is now a competitive class.

The standard Avalon powertrain is Toyota's familiar 3.5-liter V-6, putting out 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. The included 6-speed automatic offers a sport-shift mode, and incorporates throttle blipping for smoother downshifts. As of 2015, all V-6 models get paddle-shift controls, as well as Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes that adjust steering, throttle, and shift feel. The V-6 versions hit 60 mph in just 6.7 seconds.

The Avalon Hybrid has a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 teamed with two motors tucked into the transaxle, which are fed by nickel-metal hydride batteries. Power is routed through Toyota's tried-and-true planetary power-split continuously variable transmission setup. The system combines for 200 hp and coaxes 0-60-mph times of 8.2 seconds out of the Hybrid four-door. Three driving modes are offered: EV, Eco, and Sport. EV mode allows running on battery power alone at speeds of up to 25 mph, while Eco mode cuts down on throttle response and HVAC output. Sport mode sharpens the Avalon Hybrid's throttle and transmission responses to feel quicker, even if it's not ultimately much faster.

With either powertrain, the Avalon drives like a smaller car than it is, with a precise, natural feel even on curvy, imperfect surfaces. And Sport mode firms up the steering somewhat on V-6 models, or more dramatically in the Hybrid. Disc brakes provide strong stops, with 11.6-inch rotors in front and 11-inchers in back, but a spongy pedal feel was one of our few disappointments (on the V-6 in particular).

Engineers borrowed from the Lexus playbook in order to get that better responsiveness and control without inviting harshness. They've added rebound springs within the shocks, increased the spring rate somewhat, and went to digressive damper valving—with larger stabilizer bars all around. What they achieved we wouldn't call sporty, but it's supremely capable and controllable in a way that the Avalon hasn't been in the past—essentially muting the almost cartoonish queasiness, bounciness, and excessive body motion of the former model.

The suspension has been retuned for 2016 on all models, with the XLE and Limited versions getting a comfort-oriented setup and the Touring getting its own unique sporty calibration. We'll update this section as soon as we get a chance to sample a revised model of each.

Thanks to a stronger, stiffer, lighter-weight structure, the V-6 Avalon weighs less than before, for a total of about 3,500 pounds. Hybrid models are only about 100 pounds heavier, meaning they avoid the overweight feeling that often accompanies battery-laden vehicles. In real-world driving, even ignoring fuel economy, the Avalon Hybrid emerges as the unlikely winner; factor in the 40-mpg city and 39-mpg highway ratings, and it's easily the best bet. Press Sport mode for the Hybrid, and the electric-motor system and quick tip-in give you the confidence to pass briskly or power out of a corner. What's more, we think that the Hybrid even feels better-balanced at times in corners when approaching the limit—perhaps because the battery pack in back gives it better weight distribution.

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2016 Toyota Avalon

Comfort & Quality

Superb details, excellent space, and a spacious cabin make the Avalon an easy pick for near-luxury shoppers.

The latest Avalon has a very comfortable and nicely detailed interior that keeps its airy feel despite being slightly smaller in exterior dimensions.

The 2013 redesign lowered the seating position a bit, yielding more head room and a more open feel to the cabin. In front, the seats don't have a lot of lateral support, but they're supportive enough for the back on longer trips, and upholstered in impressive, supple leather, with real stitching; Limited models receive ventilated premium leather. Also of note is that Toyota made an extra effort with the sunroof design, so that it doesn't rob so much head room throughout.

The cabin can easily fit four large/tall adults, and feels much more modern and luxurious than that of the car it replaced. Top-notch materials, thoughtful details, comfortable seats, and futuristic capacitive dash controls abound in the Avalon, and throughout there's really nothing to keep you from thinking that this is a luxury vehicle—nothing but the badge, that is. Up close, cabin materials are superb, and also a full league above those in the Camry. The dash and upper door trim are covered in soft-touch material, and the grains actually match throughout the area in the driver's sight.

The back seats in the latest Avalon are among the best of any large sedan. They're contoured well for adults and have relatively long lower cushions to provide thigh support. There's not only plenty of leg room but also head room. Our editor, who is 6-feet-6-inches tall, could effectively fit behind another person his same height, with the front seat back all the way. You'll need to tuck your feet and duck your head a little bit when getting in and out, but with today's swoopy rooflines, that's the norm.

There are plenty of thoughtful storage spaces in the Avalon, with front and back doors offering built-in storage bins—in addition to a roomy center console and a leather-lidded bin for smartphone stowage up toward the front, between the seats where it should be. The keyfob, or other smaller items, fits neatly in a small, hinged, felt-lined bin ahead of the driver's left knee.

The 16-cubic-foot trunk, with its flat floor and wide opening, seems plenty big for a weekend's worth of luggage. Meanwhile, the Hybrid's 14-cubic-foot trunk obviously compromises a bit, but it should be plenty spacious for most needs.

The Avalon's ride quality is completely sorted. There's no longer a lot of body motion, or a super-pillowy, almost queasy ride. Instead it's more of a modern luxury-car ride: firm but not harsh, and just absorbent and yielding enough to completely filter out most road roughness. We haven't yet sampled the 2016 model's new suspension setup, but as long as it isn't far off from what's been offered in the past, it should continue to please.

Considering the tremendous gains made in the Avalon's handling—with a suspension tune that's quite a bit firmer—it's still very quiet inside. The hush comes thanks to acoustic glass used for the windshield and side windows; the windshield wipers tuck inside the cowl for better isolation from wind and lowered noise. Both the Hybrid and the V-6 are quiet during cruising, without noticeable engine noise. Only during hard acceleration does the Hybrid model reveal itself with a more coarse engine note. The only other exception is a bit of motor whine that makes its way inside in the Hybrid, when in Sport mode or making quicker takeoffs.

Initially, people might find Toyota's interface choices a bit odd in the Avalon; yet they work quite well. All models in the lineup get capacitive dash switches, although the screen is merely a touch screen. Although capacitive buttons can be frustrating, the way that they were implemented is somehow far more intuitive than in many recent Ford, Lincoln, and Cadillac vehicles. Instead of a tab that protrudes like a button, marking the bottom of the area you're supposed to press, Toyota frames the button area with a recessed rim, making them much easier to find and press without glancing down. Sound-system volume sliders also work in a more precise, intuitive way than in cars from other brands. 

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2016 Toyota Avalon

Safety

The Avalon doesn't earn perfect crash-test scores, but it does well, and offers a rich list of safety features and options.

The 2016 Toyota Avalon continues to do well in crash testing and again carries an extensive list of standard and available safety items. The biggest safety-related change for 2016 is a newly standard pressure monitoring system.

Electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, a Smart Stop brake-override system, and 10 airbags are included in all Avalon models. Driver and front-passenger knee bags and rear outboard seat-mounted bags are included in that safety set, which goes beyond what's usually included in large mainstream-brand sedans. Toyota also includes a rearview camera on all models, which is good compensation for the sometimes difficult-to-judge rear end. 

The Avalon earned very good marks from federal safety officials. The sedan received a five-star overall rating, though it did score only four stars in frontal crash protection and rollover protection (which is a calculated score rather than an actual test.)

Its IIHS ratings are all "Good'"—including in the tough small overlap category. The Avalon's automatic emergency braking system has been rated "Superior," which qualifies the sedan for a Top Safety Pick+ award by the agency.

As of 2016, all models now include tire-specific pressure monitors, which tell you which tire needs more air. The available blind-spot monitors are tuned to detect vehicles larger than 125-cc motorcycles at speeds over 10 mph, and with a speed differential less than 27 mph, to help reduce false signals, and it warns you with a beep and screen message.

Look to the options list for the Avalon—on top XLE Touring and Limited models—and you'll find several especially innovative features, based on radar systems that are usually reserved for true luxury-brand cars. Of these the true standout is the rear cross-traffic alert  system, which uses sensors in the rear quarter panels to help detect vehicles as they approach from the side and behind the vehicle—especially helpful if you're backing out of a driveway with an obstructed view, or out of a tight space in a busy parking structure, for instance.

Adaptive cruise control, a pre-collision system, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beams are also offered on the top Limited model as part of a Tech Package.

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2016 Toyota Avalon

Features

It's priced like a luxury car, and outfitted with some of the same features, including high-end, capacitive-touch controls.

The 2016 Toyota Avalon is now available in XLE, XLE Plus, XLE Premium, Limited, and Touring models, with Hybrid counterparts to all but the base XLE and sporty Touring trims. Across the model line, you'll find a comfortable and very well-equipped large sedan, and top-of-the-line Limited models are full-fledged luxury sedans in all but badging.

On the base XLE you get power heated leather front seats, a Smart Key system, steering-wheel paddle-shifters (which carry through the lineup for V-6 models only), a rearview camera, and heated outer mirrors with turn-signal markers. XLE Plus models are a step above that, adding a universal garage-door opener and a moonroof. XLE and XLE Plus now include tire-pressure monitoring as well, and both come with 17-inch alloy wheels.

At the base end, the Avalon also makes the strong argument on value, but it's tempting to, for several thousand more, add the Tech Package with goodies like adaptive radar cruise control, a pre-collision system, and automatic high beams.

At the middle of the lineup is the Avalon XLE Premium, which now comes standard with navigation and Qi wireless charging.

Touring models receive their own sporty suspension tune, a different front fascia, gray-painted 18-inch wheels, and LED headlights with LED daytime running lights.

Limited models get perforated leather upholstery, heated-and-ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, three-zone automatic climate control, a rear sunshade, HID headlamps, and LED daytime running lights. With the Avalon Limited model, you're essentially getting a Lexus-caliber set of features—and for the most part, Lexus ambiance—all at a price that's a few grand less than the Avalon's Lexus ES cousin would be with some of the same items.

Between the models you can essentially get three different audio/infotainment systems. XLE and XLE Plus models come with an Entune-equipped 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system—which can run different apps by using the data connection through a paired smartphone—while XLE Premium models step up to a 490-watt system with navigation as well as the Entune App Suite. At the top—and only in the Limited—there's a 785-watt JBL premium audio with hard-drive storage.

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2016 Toyota Avalon

Fuel Economy

The Avalon Hybrid earns astounding numbers for such a large sedan.

Thanks to the addition of a hybrid version in 2013, the Avalon is a true large-car economy leader. It should be noted that the base V-6 and 6-speed automatic combo is as efficient as ever, but it's the electron-burner we're interested in. For just a couple thousand dollars more than a comparable gasoline-only option, the hybrid Avalon drives just as nicely, and returns double the fuel economy in the city as the V-6.

The EPA rates the V-6 Avalon at 21 mpg city, 31 highway, 24 combined. That's the same rating it received in 2015 and that's better than some models with this level of space, comfort, and power, and made possible by the Avalon's weight loss and slightly taller gearing for the 6-speed automatic transmission.

The Avalon Hybrid's EPA ratings of 40/39/40 mpg make it one of the most fuel-efficient large sedans in any driving situation, and definitely the most efficient for city driving and stop-and-go traffic. Its highway number contributes to a bladder-bursting range figure—680 miles on a single tank of regular unleaded.

All hybrid models sport three different modes for driving: Eco, Sport, and EV for covering very short distances on electric power alone. The V-6 has a similar system—of course it sheds the EV mode. With either powertrain, the Eco Mode yields a smoother throttle and more conservative HVAC system. Toyota notes that the Eco mode isn't figured into EPA ratings, so those who use it might be able to top those numbers in some conditions.

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September 5, 2016
2016 Toyota Avalon 4-Door Sedan Limited (GS)

This 2016 is much nicer than 2013 was …

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This is my 6 Avalon (2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2012) and those are in order. You'll notice I had a 2013, which I quickly (3700 miles on it) traded for a new 2012. I traded because the 2013 was Rough, loud and... + More »
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