2014 Toyota Avalon Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 11, 2014

The 2014 Toyota Avalon is far more youthful than it used to be, with a more responsive, sophisticated personality, an excellent interior, and a 40-mpg Hybrid version -- plus of course top-notch comfort all around.

Is the Toyota Avalon the modern-day Buick? If it is, we don't mind it at all. The Avalon has grown into its role as Toyota's flagship, and even if it doesn't have one iota of sporty intention in its handling or its looks, it's a very handsome sedan that's been reshaped in an imaginative way. It still excels at smooth, quiet comfort in a way that Buick itself has pushed into the background.

To put it simply, the Avalon used to be an also-ran; now it duels with the Impala for our attention. And with strong competition from the likes of the Kia Cadenza, Hyundai Azera, and Ford Taurus—all redesigned or significantly refreshed in the past two years—there's plenty of choice here. The new Avalon looks interesting, and feels more lively, and steers into a more compelling direction with a visually dramatic interior and a full dose of high-tech safety equipment.

So much for the anonymous look of the current Camry; Toyota smartly pushed the Avalon in a new direction, styling-wise, and shows that, within bounds, a car can be practical and comfortable without towing such a relentlessly conservative line on styling. Taking a step back, the exterior of the new Avalon really lures you in; and considering the history of this model, that's saying a lot. There's a lot to like in the graceful, flowing roofline, and the way the beltline arcs, as well as the unexpected punch at the rear fenders. Nothing in the new Avalon says farewell to the status quo more than the thoroughly modern instrument-panel layout, and its flush, capacitive (touch-based) dash switches—a feature that cleans up the look, and does away with physical buttons. Up close, cabin materials are superb, with nice, matching grains and surfaces, and also a full league above those in the Camry.

The way the 2014 Toyota Avalon drives is what will keep this model a standout for some time. V-6 models, with a strong, smooth 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter, are still expected to make up most sales; but it's the multiple Avalon Hybrid models in the lineup that seem the most compelling, not only for their surprisingly responsive performance, but for their level of refinement that might even fool some traditional Avalon shoppers. With a net of 200 horsepower, altogether, from its lean Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder, teamed with nickel-metal-hydride batteries and two motors tucked in the transaxle, the Avalon Hybrid can get to 60 mph in just (conservatively) 8.2 seconds. Take a look at the window sticker of the Hybrid, though—a phenomenal 40 mpg city, 39 highway (40 Combined)—and you might be willing to deal with a little less power.

And the rather shocking surprise here is that you get nearly the same driving experience with the Hybrid. Both models are quicker and more responsive, while feeling far more composed and refined compared to the outgoing model. We wouldn't call it sporty, but it's supremely capable and controllable in a way that the Avalon hasn't been in the past.

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The Avalon feels extremely roomy, modern and luxurious, with top-notch materials, thoughtful details and comfortable seats. Front seats could use a little more lateral support, but they're supportive for the back and upholstered in impressive, supple leather, with real stitching—and ventilated premium leather in Limited models. The back seats are among the best we've sampled in a larger sedan—contoured well for adults and with relatively long lower cushions to provide thigh support. The new 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 it's a small sacrifice for that model's 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. A 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, is very effective for those who need to back up with restricted views. And for 2014, all models come with a backup camera system while a Blind Spot Monitor is now optional equipment on the Avalon XLE Touring and Avalon Hybrid XLE Touring models.

With last year's redesign, Toyota gave the Avalon a wider focus, expanding its appeal (hopefully) to a somewhat younger (40 to 60 year old) crowd. So features no longer are limited to power accessories and finer materials; you can now get some of the most advanced in-car interfaces, too. The 2014 Toyota Avalon continues to be available in XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring, and XLE Limited models—with Hybrid counterparts to all but the base XLE trim.

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.Top Limited models cost around $40k but are luxury vehicles by the equipment list, with a Blind Spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, 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. Add the Tech Package, with Adaptive Cruise Control, a Pre-Collision System, and Automatic High Beams.

8

2014 Toyota Avalon

Styling

The Avalon no longer looks like a more conservative, up-sized Camry; it's now a nicely detailed, visually appealing luxury car in appearance.

With last year's redesign, the Toyota Avalon jumped from boring to...almost bold. It's not daring, but for what it is—a comfort-oriented, under-the-radar upscale sedan—the Avalon has the right direction, and just the right amount of style and flair.

The Avalon has never been known for flair or extroversion. Now it has a design that might actually—perhaps for the first time in Avalon history—pull in shoppers based on its looks.

And as Toyota likes to point out, its looks are distinctly American. The Avalon is the most “American” Toyota ever, they say, and that includes this sedan's design.

Penned entirely in California, and finished and developed in Michigan, the 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 not far from what we'd call it. Overall this design is a brisk lane-change—and a game-changer, to the degree that it almost warrants a new badge. It's not an Audi A7—one of the most beautiful models on the market now to our eyes—but there's no Camry vapor trail left here in these handsome lines.

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).

The only semblance we might ever spot to the Camry is in front, where the Avalon tows the brand's ubiquitous front-end more than it needs to; although the more aggressive lower airdam and squared-off projector lamps, with a 'double-eyed' look, point more to a luxury-car identity. In back, the design is a slight bit disappointing, with the somewhat generic lux-sedan taillights drooping a bit into anonymity.

If we had to point to a single attribute that gives the design punch, it's the rear fender, and the way the sheetmetal 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 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. 

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8

2014 Toyota Avalon

Performance

The 2014 Toyota Avalon feels quick and confident compared to other big, comfort-oriented sedans—even in high-mpg Hybrid form.

Last year, Toyota gave the Avalon a full-on performance makeover, without making it any less agreeable in other respects (in fact, more so in virtually all ways).

All those improvements are carried over into the current 2014 Avalon. Compared to the former car, and to many entries in this now very competitive class, it's quicker and more responsive while also feeling very composed and refined.

V-6 models come with Toyota's familiar 3.5-liter V-6, putting out 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. The six-speed automatic adopts a sport-shift mode, and incorporates throttle blipping for smoother gear changes. On Avalon Touring and Limited models, the automatic also gets paddle controls for shifting, and the drivetrain has Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes that adjust steering, throttle, and shift feel. Zero to 60 mph times takes just 6.7 seconds.

The 2014 Avalon Hybrid instead has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, running with a lean Atkinson cycle, teamed with nickel-metal hydride batteries and two motors tucked into the transaxle. Gearing continuously variable, through Toyota's tried-and-true planetary power-split setup. A net 200 horsepower coaxes 0-60 mph times of 8.2 seconds out of the Hybrid four-door, and three driving modes are offered. EV, Eco, and Sport. EV mode allows drivers to run the Avalon on battery power alone up to 25 mph, while Eco mode cuts down on throttle response and HVAC output. Sport mode adapts the Avalon Hybrid's throttle and transmission so that feels quicker, if not ultimately faster.

In real-world driving, the Avalon Hybrid emerges as the unlikely winner, and in our opinion it's the best bet. Thanks to a stronger, stiffer, lighter-weight structure, the V-6 Avalon is lighter than before. But with the V-6 Avalon weighing less than 3,500 pounds and the Avalon Hybrid weighing less than 3,600 pounds, the Hybrid isn't hefty and overweight as is often the case. Press Sport mode for the Hybrid, and the electric-motor system and quick tip-in give you the confidence to pass quickly or power out of a corner. What's more, we think that the Hybrid even feels better-balanced at times in corners near the cornering limit—perhaps because the battery pack in back gives it a better weight distribution.

No matter which Avalon powertrain you get, engineers borrowed from the Lexus playbook in order to get that better responsiveness and control without inviting harshness, engineers borrowed some strategies from the Lexus lineup (especially the latest GS) and added rebound springs within the shocks, increased the spring rate somewhat, and went to a 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.

In either model, 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 discs in front and 11.0-inchers in back, but a spongy pedal feel was one of our few disappointments (on the V-6 in particular).

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2014 Toyota Avalon

Comfort & Quality

With its supportive seats, superb detailing, roomy cabin, and futuristic controls, the Avalon could be mistaken for a Lexus.

With last year's redesign, the Toyota Avalon actually shrank slightly in length, width, and height; but you might not suspect that from the inside. This remains a very roomy sedan, with a cabin that can easily fit four large/tall adults, and feels much more modern and luxurious than the Avalon of a couple years ago. 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.

The redesign lowered the seating position a bit, yielding more headroom and a more open feel to the cabin. In front, the seats done 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—plus, in the Limited, ventilated premium leather. Also of note is that Toyota made an extra effort with the sunroof installation, so that it doesn't rob so much headroom throughout.

The back seats in the 2014 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 legroom but also headroom; this editor, at 6'-6,” 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.

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 new acoustic glass is used for the windshield and side glass, and the windshield wipers tuck inside the cowl for better isolation of wind noise. Both the Hybrid and the V-6 are quiet during cruising, with no noticeable engine noise; only during hard acceleration does the Hybrid model reveal itself with more coarse engine sounds. The only exception is a bit of motor whine that makes its way inside in the Hybrid, when in Sport mode or making quicker takeoffs.

There are plenty of thoughtful shortage spaces in the Avalon, with front and back doors offering storage bins built in—in addition to a roomy center console and a leather-lidded bin for smarphone 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, and you can fit a lot of grocery bags. 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 rather non-eventful; 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.

Initially, people might find Toyota's interface choices a bit odd in the Avalon; yet they work quite well. All models in the new lineup get capacitive dash switches, although the screen is merely a touch screen. And the way that they were implemented is somehow far more intuitive than in many Ford, Lincoln, and Cadillac vehicles over the past couple of model years. Instead of tab that protrudes like a button, below the area you're supposed to press, Toyota frames the button area with a recessed rim. Sound-system volume sliders also work in a more precise, intuitive way, too.

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.

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2014 Toyota Avalon

Safety

The Avalon offers useful active-safety features, and it's probably one of the safest large sedans on the market.

The 2014 Toyota Avalon includes a strong list of safety features, along with some options that are usually the domain of luxury brands. Crash-test ratings, as well, have been mostly top-notch.

Electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist, a Smart Stop brake-override system, and ten airbags in all 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.

For 2014, all models of the Avalon now include the backup camera system.

Crash-test ratings for the Avalon has been top-tier overall. Its Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) ratings are all 'good,' although it hasn't been rated yet in the new small overlap frontal category. The Avalon has a five-star overall rating from the feds, although there too it has one blemish--a four-star frontal rating--that prevents it from being a five-star sweep.

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.

The optional Blind Spot Monitor (now available on XLE Touring models as well) is 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 warning.

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Adaptive cruise control and a pre-collision system are also offered on the top Limited model as part of a Tech Package.
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2014 Toyota Avalon

Features

The pricing of the 2014 Avalon is on par with luxury cars; but you do get an impressive feature set and lots for your money.

With last year's redesign, Toyota gave the Avalon a wider focus, expanding its appeal (hopefully) to a somewhat younger (40 to 60 year old), more tech-savvy crowd that wants the luxury in concept but is happy keeping it a little bit on the down low and skipping the Lexus badge. So features no longer are limited to power accessories and finer materials; you can now get some of the most advanced in-car interfaces, too. 

The 2014 Toyota Avalon continues to be available in XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring, and XLE Limited models—with Hybrid counterparts to all but the base XLE trim. 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.

Especially with that 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.

At the base end, at $30,990, 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 Cruise Control, a Pre-Collision System, and Automatic High Beams. And with no factory options on the rest of the lineup, that brings the total number of main equipment combinations to eight (five for V-6, three for Hybrid).

On the base XLE you get power heated (in front) leather seats, a Smart Key system, and heated outer mirrors with turn-signal markets. XLE Premium models are a step above that and equivalent to last year's base model in price, and they add a backup camera, a universal garage-door opener, and a moonroof.

At the middle of the lineup is the Avalon XLE Touring, which adds a Blind Spot monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, 18-inch alloy wheels, and steering-wheel paddle-shifters (V-6 model only). 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.

Between the four models you can essentially get three different audio/infotainment systems. A 140-watt touch-screen Display Audio system is standard on the XLE, while XLE Touring and XLE Premium models step up to a 490-watt system with navigation as well as the Entune App Suite, allowing you to run a series of apps on the touch screen, using the data connection through a paired smartphone. At the top—and only in the Limited—there's a seven-inch higher-resolution screen system and 785-watt JBL premium audio with hard-drive storage.

For 2014, a back-up monitor is now standard equipment on all Avalon models, and the Blind Spot Monitor is now optional equipment on the Avalon XLE Touring and Avalon Hybrid XLE Touring models.

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Also for 2014, the Avalon XLE Touring model will be equipped with 18” anthracite-painted alloy wheels instead of silver finish.
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2014 Toyota Avalon

Fuel Economy

There are few if any models than carry five in such comfort and luxury—while getting an EPA 40 mpg Combined.

While the 2014 Toyota Camry is fully competitive with other full-size sedans in its class, it's the Avalon Hybrid that continues to serve up fuel economy numbers that no other car in its class can rival. With a Combined EPA rating of 40 mpg, this big, comfortable sedan is a frugal standout. 

The Avalon's EPA rating of 40 mpg city and 39 highway makes it one of the most fuel-efficient large sedans in any condition, and most definitely the most efficient large sedan for city driving and stop-and-go. Its driving range is bladder-bursting impressive, too. The Avalon Hybrid has a 680-mile driving range on a single tank of 87-octane gasoline.

What makes the Hybrid especially noteworthy is that the Hybrid approaches the same standards of responsiveness and refinement as the V-6 version. And although trunk space is limited slightly by the battery pack for the hybrid system, there are few other compromises.

All Hybrid models get a three-button Eco Switch system with normal, Eco, and Sport modes, as well as an EV Mode for covering very short distances with electric power alone. A comparable system is offered in V-6 XLE Touring and Limited models. In either of these versions, Eco Mode yields a smoothed throttle response and more conservative A/C operation, and in the Hybrid it may yield extended EV operation. Toyota notes that the Eco mode isn't figured into EPA ratings, so those who use it might even be able to top those numbers in some conditions.

V-6 models of the Avalon get ratings of 21 mpg, 31 highway—still relatively good for such a large sedan. That's better than some models with this level of space, comfort, and power, and possible with the Avalon's weight loss and slightly taller gearing for the six-speed automatic transmission.

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July 31, 2016
2014 Toyota Avalon 4-Door Sedan XLE Premium (Natl)

Reliable but not a sports car

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Gas mileage could be better. 17mpg around town, 30+ highway
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June 21, 2015
For 2014 Toyota Avalon

Avalon Limited slipping in basic quality

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the pre-collision system DOES NOT WORK (Insurance Highway Safety Commission) You are subject to false stops that could cause accidents but the basic purpose isn't functual............. Can class action suit be... + More »
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April 28, 2015
2014 Toyota Avalon 4-Door Sedan XLE Touring (GS)

The best car... for the money... this is a poor man's Lexus for sure...

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I had a 2013 Camry SE V6 and it was very nice. When I drove the 2014 Avalon Touring I was amazed at how much more quiet it was and how fast this car was even though they shared the same engine. The Avalon is... + More »
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April 28, 2015
2014 Toyota Avalon 4-Door Sedan XLE (Natl)

Great car witha great futures and value

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It's really simple. If you like Lexus ES but don't want to pay for it, Avalon is the car for you! Same engine and transmission, load of standard futures and less price.
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