What It Is: Basically a Toyota Camry rendered in size XL, the Avalon is a big Barcalounger of a sedan aimed at buyers who are more interested in higher levels of comfort and space than they are in performance or prestige—think Baby Boomers who are nearing retirement. While the current, fourth-generation version drives far better than previous iterations, its primary emphasis remains on coddling and isolating its driver and passengers from the harshness of on-road travel.
The Avalon looks and drives like a large sedan, and in its higher-spec trim levels such as the $42,195 Limited model sampled here, its price even overlaps that of the Lexus ES sedan. The Lexus starts at $39,895 and shares the Avalon’s powertrains (a 268-hp V-6 or a four-cylinder hybrid making 200 horsepower) as well as much of its underlying structure. Why should one consider a high-zoot Avalon rather than a Lexus ES? Well, the Avalon’s slightly wider cabin and marginally larger trunk may sway some, while others may prefer the Avalon’s easier-to-use climate controls and touchscreen infotainment system over those in the Lexus. And then there’s the more subjective area of styling, where the Avalon—even five years after its last major redesign—remains not only one of the best-looking sedans in its class but arguably the most attractive car in Toyota’s current lineup.
What’s New: The 2018 model year is likely the last for the current-generation Avalon, as a new version is due soon based on the same Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA) platform as the new 2018 Toyota Camry. As such, the Avalon is nearly unchanged compared with last year’s model. The only updates include newly standard 18-inch chrome wheels for the Limited model and a few shortened trim-level names: the XLE Touring is now called the Touring, the Hybrid XLE Premium Plus is now the Hybrid XLE Plus, and the Hybrid XLE Touring Premium now goes by Hybrid XLE Premium.
What We Like: Paticularly in this top-shelf Limited trim, the Avalon surrounds its occupants with near-Lexus trappings. The stylish dashboard presents all controls clearly, and their operation is intuitive. This car’s fake wood does an admirable job of resembling true open-pore wood veneer, and designers from other brands could learn a thing or two from the Avalon’s creators about how to apply capacitive-touch switchgear without using smudge-prone, dust-attracting piano-black panels. And as conservative as the exterior is, the Avalon still looks great. Really.
What We Don’t Like: As fresh as it looks inside and out, the Avalon drives like a car from a previous era. The steering is slow and vague on-center, and the suspension is generally supple. But the car porpoises over dips and bumps, and body lean in corners is noticeable. The 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V-6 engine is quiet at cruising speeds but pipes up during moderate to aggressive acceleration with a sound that is neither as throaty nor as refined as that of many modern V-6s. While acceleration is strong, the transmission is none too quick to execute shifts. And at $43,070 as tested, the case becomes more difficult to make for this car over a lightly optioned Lexus ES350 with the premium dealership experience that comes with it.
Verdict: The automotive equivalent of Grandma’s featherbed.
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