2011 Toyota Avalon Limited Road Test and Review
By James Hamel
It’s been said before and no doubt it will be said again but the 2011 Toyota Avalon is not a car specifically designed and built for young people. Now, while we hate to stereotype any group of car buyers in such a manner, this vehicle is so obviously directed at older buyers that it’s almost funny. Actually, we are pretty sure even Toyota said it when they first launched the car as an Americanized rival for Buick, Lincoln and now easily even the Hyundai Genesis.
But do older people want to be seen driving an old person’s car nowadays? Not everyone just enters an age demographic and suddenly decides to “act their age.” Now what sort of fun would life be anyway if you didn’t occasionally get smoked at a red light by a grandmother in her right off the dealer lot Ford Mustang 5.0?
Well, the 2011 Toyota Avalon is a car whose personality, styling and driving character feel quite ready to go the traditional route, retire and buy a condo in Boca Raton quite soon. Because after driving the new 2012 Toyota Camry XLE V-6 at the launch, we realized that there really is no need for the Avalon in the Toyota lineup anymore—if anything it is now a bit of dead weight that makes the whole brand look less “cool.”
The Avalon, in case you confuse easily, is the most luxurious “regular” Toyota sedan but in its current guise it utterly lacks any “specialness” that makes even the blandest Lexus at least taste a bit like Vanilla Ice Cream. Everything about the Avalon encourages you to slow down, use your inside voice, sit up straight and possibly join a Country Club thanks to its perfectly shaped 14.4 cubic foot trunk designed for golf clubs. The back seat also stood out as being one of the most perfectly shaped for fans of the links that we have seen in quite some time as you can cross your legs with your golfing cleat shoes on. Hey, that matters to some people who don’t want to damage seat leather or it could just sound like damning the Avalon with faint praise. You decide.
Toyota isn’t known for taking styling risks with its mainstream family sedans and the Avalon does not prove to be the exception to that rule. It has some character lines running down the side that attempt to add visual interest but really only wind up looking like character lines needing a few injections of Botox. But then that would only happen if it had a side gig moonlighting as a “Real Housewife of Beverly Hills.”
Somehow, however, we doubt that a show about Beverly Hills conspicuous consumption would ever feature a car like the Avalon that is so inconspicuous you need to be okay with the possibility that no one you know may even notice you have a new car. Despite our tester coming in a gorgeous and lustrous burgundy red exterior hue (our favorite), we kept losing the Avalon in parking lots and that is partially a judgment of the car’s exterior styling and also the fact that we drive way too many different cars all the time. Yes, it’s a champagne problem. Now a champagne colored Avalon might have been lost forever in a Neiman Marcus parking lot.
But we don’t want to make excuses for Toyota because we know that this brand can make cars, trucks and SUVs that not only are fun to drive and make you look cool but they also make you feel cool. Right now the Avalon is doing nothing but helping keep Toyota’s average brand buyer age sky high which is something no automaker wants because it means your customers are closer to the possibility of dying of old age. Sadly, it happens to all of us and to every car company.
We loved the burgundy “Sizzling Crimson Mica” exterior color, but we warn any potential Avalon buyers to think twice about the Ivory leather interior. While no doubt gorgeous on the showroom floor, after a few years and 30,000 miles on it seats with hues like this usually experience discoloration with some cracking along the sides of the front leather folds. Unless we planned on fastidiously maintaining our Avalon, we would consider the gray or black interior options instead.
The dashboard center stack is covered with a mind blowing array of buttons and knobs but all come plastered in somewhat condescendingly yet very handily large print typeface. Also, no worries Avalon buyers as Toyota resisted using any iDrive style controllers in this vehicle which was much appreciated given how much trouble we recently had with a recalcitrant silver knob in a 2011 Hyundai Genesis that did not like the navigation or iPod control settings so it avoided them at personal whim.
Despite their attempts to make life easier for drivers, these hockey puck shaped “luxury” controllers from Hell almost uniformly intimidate and annoy the technologically challenged among us of all ages. Also, if the knob that controls many of your main vehicle functions as you drive is located where you have to look down off the road to see it, is that really safe ergonomics?
We would, however, love to see Toyota offer their new in-car electronics system called “Entune” which is part of the center stack screen, more user friendly than an iPhone and unfortunately currently only comes with the 2012 Prius V wagon and 2012 Camry. Further rollout of the “Entune” system should be forthcoming soon but it’s impossible to say when the Avalon will get it as of yet.
Granted, our test Toyota Avalon Limited wasn’t exactly shoddily equipped nor was it lavishly expensive either for its class with the final MSRP coming to $37,884 (with destination fees). At this price you get leather seats, a power moonroof, keyless-go with push button start, front seat heating/cooling, dual zone climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, powerful HID (High Intensity Discharge) headlamps, USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, touch screen in-dash navigation, XM radio, floormats and a decidedly overkill JBL Synthesis 12-Speaker 660-watt audio system with subwoofer. The sound quality was amazing.
There are plenty of console storage cubbies for cell phones, day times, MP3 players and all those things you seem to lose every week or so scattered about logically in the 2011 Avalon. If there’s one thing to say about the Avalon’s interior, it’s that it may lack a little something in panache or imagination but it will keep you well organized. Plastic trim fit and finish quality was top notch and the overall feel of the car was one of extreme sturdiness.
During our first drive in the 2011 Toyota Avalon we were struck by how much the ride and handling reminded us of something from our past. It felt almost like we were dancing with a nefarious and beguiling phantom that we hadn’t seen in ages. Then, we realized that the steering feel and ride brought us back to driving along in a 1984 Buick LeSabre we were once forced to drive regularly in the distant past.
The worst feature of the Avalon by far is the steering l which has so much slop around the center that you can turn exactly to a quarter turn left or right and the front wheels won’t move. On a more positive note, the EPA estimates that the Avalon returns 20 city/29 highway and we averaged 24.3 miles per gallon over a week which means long cruising distances thanks to an 18.5 gallon fuel tank.
So while the 2011 Toyota Avalon Limited may remind of an older Buick in some respects, floor the throttle and the standard 3.5-liter 268 horsepower V-6 and six-speed automatic will leave you in no doubt that this puppy would win in a drag race more cars than you would have previously believed. However, when the road starts to turn then the Avalon will lose any advantage it had, thanks in full to its excellent corporate 3.5-liter V-6 which never fails to disappoint.
As you can imagine, interior cruising noise is hushed at all speeds and the vehicle tracks nicely on the highway meaning the Avalon would be great on road trip to see the grandkids. Unless you decide to instead to take your Porsche Boxster as we wouldn’t want to be accused of stereotyping car buyers who read Autobytel.com. We actually think there’s no time like your “Golden Years” to finally buy that “fun” car you always wanted as usually you can finally afford the payments AND the insurance.
The Avalon is a front wheel drive car just like the last generation Camry on which the vehicle’s platform is based so don’t expect any hair raising thrills on mountain roads. Braking is firm and precise but to be honest Toyota either needs to copy some of the Mojo it sprinkled onto the 2012 Camry onto the Avalon or they need to take the fight to Hyundai and make the next Avalon a rear driver.
But who knows? That may make a whole lot of Avalon customers really, really mad who like things the way they are right now. We do realize some people just want serene transportation from point A to point B that won’t traumatize them too much along the way. And on those driving counts, the 2011 Toyota Avalon will fulfill all your fantasies. Lastly, the 2011 Avalon was named an IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) “Top Safety Pick” so you can rest easy you will be safe in an accident.
To criticize the 2011 Toyota Avalon for being exactly what a certain niche of drivers wants it to be is pretty silly when you think about it. Each driver is different and every age group and demographic tends to generally stick with certain automotive brand and model preferences. This changes sometimes but it’s hard for a car to shake a reputation as a car that only the elderly drive. Just ask Buick.
But is the 2011 Toyota Avalon Limited the right new car for you?
Sure, if you are out shopping for something like a Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, Buick LaCrosse, Lincoln MKS, Hyundai Genesis or the Volvo S60 then the Avalon would be a great vehicle to cross shop.
We can only give you the facts as we observe them, point you away from the four wheeled dullards and give you an idea of which models to try out yourself. The new car you buy and fall in love with is completely and utterly your decision in the end. We try to pick the model that makes our heart go “pitter patter” whenever we see it but it’s honestly hard for us to imagine that happening to you if you buy a 2011 Toyota Avalon.