- Cushy ride
- Quick in a straight line
- Confident, light steering
- Very comfortable seats
- Luxury equipment list
- Lots of body roll
- Conservative looks
- Some glitzy interior trim
- Overlaps Lexus pricing
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.
2012 Toyota Avalon
Tradition has nothing on the Toyota Avalon: the details are a little brighter, but the shapes are very familiar.
Well-executed but traditional to a fault, the Toyota Avalon wears a little more metallic trim in this go-around, and slightly more thrifty interior finishes.
While it's still generically handsome, we've seen the Avalon before--it's changed little from the last generation, with a few bolder details figured into the stretched-Camry body. The grille is as formal as ever, but it's wider and more prominent. The underliner that shapes the headlamps is a bit prettier. From some angles, the Avalon's side moldings and cutlines clearly evoke the Mercedes E-Class--the crisper shoulder line on the Toyota is almost as pronounced as the one on the Benz. At the rear, the Avalon wears its most emphatic design statement, taillamps incised with a C-shaped string of LEDs.
2012 Toyota Avalon
The Avalon accelerates briskly, but wallows through corners.
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.
2012 Toyota Avalon
Comfort & Quality
Cushy seats match the Toyota Avalon's cushy ride; there's enough room to rival some crossovers.
Spacious doesn't begin to describe the Toyota Avalon. It's a modern car from the old school, where wide seats with vast amounts of leg and head room march in lockstep with its remote driving feel.
Just a few minutes in the Avalon's flat-bottomed front bucket seats will tell the story. Even moving these chairs to the ends of their travel won't cut into rear-seat leg room all that much; it'll put the driver's feet almost out of reach of the pedals, in fact. We do wish the Avalon baked a little more lateral support into the front seats, but the devil's advocate on staff here says the broad seat cushions are probably just what the customer ordered.
In back, the Avalon is even more comfortable than in front. For one, all those pesky driving controls are omitted. Secondly, 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.
A six-seat version can be ordered, for the one or two fans of column-mounted shifters out there; leather upholstery is standard, and with the generally handsome level of materials, the Avalon's cabin is up to its $30,000-plus task.
2012 Toyota Avalon
The Avalon has a Top Safety Pick and some advanced safety tech to its credit.
Safety is a key product feature in family sedans and even more so, in cars that appeal to older drivers. The Toyota Avalon has them covered--mostly--with good crash-test scores where they exist, and some safety technology that's offered on some, but not all, of its competitors.
Every Avalon gets a standard rearview camera, for example, along with the usual side-curtain airbags and stability control. On Avalons without navigation systems, the camera displays on the rearview mirror; navigation-equipped cars share their LCD screens for the camera's output. The latter's a much nicer result, as the rearview mirror puts out a small, washed-out image.
When it comes to crash tests, the Avalon performs well, in at least one set of tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has granted the Avalon "good" scores for all its tests, which makes the sedan a Top Safety Pick.
The federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not yet crash-tested the current Avalon. The prior version was structurally related to today's car, and it earned five stars across the board, but the NHTSA changed its ratings system in the 2011 model year, so the scores aren't directly comparable.
2012 Toyota Avalon
Luxury features are the Avalon's hidden strength, but take them all and its pricetag lifts into Lexus territory.
The assortment of luxury and entertainment features in the Toyota Avalon will have some shoppers wondering if they've wandered into a Lexus showroom.
Of course, they might not be able to sip a cappuccino while they wait for an oil change, but Avalon buyers have an extensive array of standard features and options staring them down when it comes time to order their sedan. Stick with the base trim and the Avalon is an exceptional value: each one comes with a sophisticated audio system with satellite radio, a USB port, and Bluetooth audio streaming, as well as steering-wheel controls. (The USB port hides in the center console, by the way, so hiding your media player in a convenient place isn't the journey it can be in other family sedans.)
Move up to the Avalon Limited, and the standard-equipment list adds ventilated front seats, a power passenger front seat, and a keyless-entry system with pushbutton start.
The Avalon does tend to stray well into Lexus territory if you don't keep watch on options. One Avalon we've tested wore a pricetag of $34,094, including just floor and trunk mats, and a $900 JBL audio system with CD changer and Bluetooth streaming—and that's without a navigation system or Limited trim.
2012 Toyota Avalon
The big Avalon delivers impressive highway fuel economy.
There's just one drivetrain offered with the Toyota Avalon, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the EPA rates it just one way, too.
The Avalon earns an EPA rating of 19/28 mpg, a figure that Toyota says will best the gas-only version of the Buick LaCrosse. Of course, Buick now fields an eAssist LaCrosse with up to 32 mpg on the highway, while the new Hyundai Azera boasts a highway rating of 29 mpg, just a mile per gallon better than the Avalon.
Relative to most other vehicles that can also fit five or six occupants with the same level of comfort—namely, large crossover vehicles like the Buick Enclave or Ford Flex—that makes the Avalon a very green machine.
Toyota's promised that all of its vehicles would have a hybrid option by 2020, but as of yet, there are no plans to fit the current Avalon with Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, despite the fact the Avalon shares its architecture and its assembly plant with the Camry Hybrid.