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2012 Toyota Avalon Performance

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Toyota isn't setting out to change hearts and minds with the Avalon's handling, but its straight-line performance could lead you to that impression.

All Avalons get power from a 3.5-liter V-6 with 268 horsepower, which shuffles to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. It's the new norm in big family sedans, and the Avalon's a little more like its competition with every passing year--there's a touch of vibration and noise in the current car under full throttle, for example. It can perform very briskly from a stoplight, despite the luxury-liner looks and cushy seats, but the transmissions on past test vehicles have felt a little less than perfectly smooth. A manual shifting mode exists, and we're convinced we were the first ones to try it out on the test car provided.

The Avalon accelerates briskly, but wallows through corners.
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. It's free of harshness, and beyond creamy—though the front end bobs up and down in a way that most new cars don't.

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