Grandma’s Car No More - It’s Named for Camelot Lore
I’ve always loved the story about my friend Bob’s elderly grandmother, who owned a Toyota Avalon. She would take four right-hand turns to avoid a left. Unfortunately, this driver and this full-sized sedan became enmeshed in my mind. I figured this top-of-the-line Toyota model was designed to appeal to older, more cautious drivers; i.e. old drivers with large and long lumbering boats. Times have changed, and so have my impressions of the Avalon.
The 2011 Toyota Avalon was delivered to my home, in Williamstown, MA, for a week-long test drive recently. It is one of more than 50 all-new or upgraded autos that I will drive in my small-town environs this year. The intimate details of many will quickly fade from recall; some, however, will remain in the memory book forever. The “Avalon”, named for a mythical island in Camelot lore, will be remembered as one of the best surprises to come to my driveway. Dressed in Sizzling Crimson Mica with bright-work adornment, an Ivory perforated leather interior with an attractive wood-trimmed interior and glamorous wheels, it was eye-candy to all who saw it, including 7-year-old Alex and his gaggle of young cousins, plus my retired handyman Jim and his wife, Deb. All are important voices in my “panel” of everyday enthusiasts that I frequently ask for feedback on vehicles. Seldom do such disparate age groups give a unanimous vote--especially of a non-luxury or sport-performance model. Truth is, the Limited edition favors its luxury stablemates in the Lexus portfolio and it’s laden with charm on the outside and appeal on the inside, as well. Let’s take a closer look.
Car lovers have it sort of tough these days. High gas prices, the climate change debate, and hard economic times can make even die-hard road trippers think twice about that 400-mile automotive odyssey to Gettysburg. For consumers who are fans of the legroom, shoulder space and the creature comforts of big sedans, it can be even worse. Because, after all, those ‘big machines’ are terrible on gas, right?
Not necessarily. The 2011 Toyota Avalon is a four-door, full-size saloon car with lots of cushy features, upscale technologies and oodles of cabin space, and it rides on an EPA estimate of 29 mpg (up to 34) on the highway. Pricing for 2011 models begins at $33, 195, with the top-of-the-line version starting at $36, 435.
Sticking with what works
The 2011 Toyota Avalon has been part of Toyota’s multi-pronged safety and engineering strategy since the 2009-2010 safety recalls; the current model was given a 5-star rating by the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority in all categories and designated a “Top Safety Pick” (earlier Avalon models received 4 stars in the “rollover” category). In case you’re wondering, the 2012 Avalon, which is coming to market soon, is mostly a carryover from the 2011 model year, with two minor changes: the interior cargo net is no longer standard, and the dust filter for the climate control system has been updated. The exterior also remains unchanged.
Toyota’s flagship sedan cuts a profile like Jesse Ventura in the governor years: brawny yet refined. Chrome accents bring shine to the wide grille and side sills. Fog lamps are integrated into the low front bumper, and tailpipes are integrated into the rear. Standard wheel treatment is 17-inch, 6-spoke alloys; the higher-end Limited versions get 17-inch, 10-spoke alloys with a mirror finish.
What we drove
Our ride was the Limited edition of the 2011 Toyota Avalon. We packed five riders into the upscale cabin and used only a small portion of Avalon’s enormous truck to carry their gear on an outing to a lake. Two of the three back-seaters were under the age of nine, so we put them in booster seats, following today’s safety recommendations. Notable is the amount of room in all seating positions-even with the booster seats in the rear. We also loved the 8-way power front seats that can be heated and cooled and provide lumbar support. Our shorter-than-average test driver also liked the power driver’s seat cushion extension that enables the perfect fit in the seat and on the foot controls.
All models are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that delivers 268 hp. and 248 lb.-ft. of torque. The front-wheel drive layout is backed by a six-speed automatic transmission that helps Avalon achieve its 29 mpg estimate. This five-passenger model comes in around 20-24 mpg in the city. (Note: six-passenger, bench-seat versions have gone away!) We had ample power on tap with smooth and strong brakes and liked the steering overall, but found it a bit “light” for our more sporty personal taste. One of our favorite features is the power moonroof with sunshade, a sweet way to add cool air on a summer drive.
Come in and make yourself comfortable
Inside the 2011 Toyota Avalon is a truly spacious cabin that is elegant without going over the top. Dashboard gauges are big and easy to read; the driver’s side instrument cluster is ringed in chrome. Leather upholstery is standard, and the upholstered areas that help keep seats cool and comfortable were expanded in size for the 2011 model year.
As cozy as the front seats are, the backseat will have passengers fighting over who doesn’t ride shotgun. Lots of leg and shoulder room, plus reclining seats and a pull-down armrest with cupholders in the center of the bench, make the rear of the cabin immensely comfortable. Another nice feature is the power rear-window sunshade (which automatically retracts when the driver shifts into reverse).
Other interior features worth noting include a dual-zone climate control system has nine airflow modes, a lockable, lighted glovebox and a front center console box with sliding armrest, which holds a 12-volt outlet, USB and auxiliary radio hookups for MP3 players.
In addition, the doors use three stop positions instead of two for easier entrance and exit, and Avalon features a standard full-size spare tire on an alloy wheel.
Toyota describes Avalon’s technology features as “practical,” which proves to be an apt description. The electronic bells and whistles are neither intimidating nor underwhelming, giving even auto technology neophytes just the right kind of tools to make the ride smoother and more enjoyable.
Standard equipment includes Bluetooth connectivity, XM® satellite radio (with 90-day free trial subscription), and steering wheel-mounted controls for Bluetooth, the audio system (including iPod® controls) and climate control.
A DVD navigation system is available and offers a keyboard that works like a home computer’s. Models with the navigation system get an integrated rear-view monitor with on-screen back-up guides for reversing out of a space or parking.
The standard stereo is a nine-speaker AM/FM/MP3/CD system, while up-market Limited models get a 12-speaker, 660-watt JBL Premium Synthesis audio system with enhanced sub-woofer.
Not a “floater”
A couple of decades ago, the suspensions on big sedans were tuned so that passengers felt like they were floating along the highway. The Avalon isn’t built for the race track, but it’s no floater, either. MacPherson struts on both front and rear help provide a feeling of stability on the road, and steering is power-assisted rack-and-pinion. Avalon has four-wheel disc brakes (including front ventilated and rear solid discs).
Safe and sound
The 2011 Avalon comes with ABS and a bunch of stability and safety features, including Brake Assist and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, as well as traction and stability control. There are nine airbags, including side curtain bags both front and rear, and a driver’s knee airbag. LATCH child seat tethers are on the two outboard rear seats. A "Good" rating in Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s test for the roof strength earned 2011 models the organization's "Top Safety Pick 2010" designation. The 2011 model also received the "Top Safety Pick 2011" recommendation.
Two levels of ease
The 2011 Toyota Avalon is featured in two trim levels, Avalon and Avalon Limited. Both have a leather-trimmed interior, eight-way power driver’s seat, back-up camera, dual zone automatic climate control with air filtration, moonroof and 17-inch alloy wheels. The Avalon Limited also has cooled seats, an eight-way adjustable passenger’s seat with lumbar support, driver’s seat cushion extension, rain-sensing windshield wipers and Smart Key, which is Toyota’s key-free engine starter. The JBL Synthesis sound system and heated front seats can be ordered as options on the Avalon base model, and navigation is optional for both grades.
Learn more about the 2011 Toyota Avalon