2014 Toyota Avalon Review and Quick Spin: Introduction
The full-size family sedan is as American as apple pie, and with the 2014 Avalon, Toyota wants a bigger slice of the big-car market. It’s been almost 20 years since the first Avalon arrived to give Toyota customers something larger than a Camry in which to transport themselves and others, and in those two decades the Avalon has established itself as an extremely reliable, extremely comfortable, and extremely boring car.
Thanks to a complete redesign in 2013, the Avalon’s not as boring as it used to be. In fact, given how much the new 2014 Corolla appears to draw from the same well of design ideas, it’s easy to conclude that the latest Avalon defines a new styling language for Toyota’s bread-and-butter sedans. But is there any meat on that sandwich? I spent a week driving a 2014 Avalon to find out.
2014 Toyota Avalon Review and Quick Spin: About Our Test Car
Toyota sells the 2014 Avalon with a choice between a V-6 engine and the same gas-electric hybrid powertrain that is installed in the Camry Hybrid. Select the former, and you can choose between XLE, XLE Premium, XLE Touring, and Limited trim levels. The Avalon Hybrid lineup is identical except its not offered in regular XLE trim. No, I can’t explain why all versions except for the Limited model get the “XLE” prefix.
Prices start at $32,150* for the Avalon XLE with no options and can rise as high as $42,605* for a loaded Avalon Hybrid Limited with a Technology Package. My test vehicle was the 2014 Avalon XLE Premium without any options, and the window sticker read $34,005*. That’s not bad for a big, roomy car with plenty of power, decent fuel economy, and a few luxuries. But it’s not really a value, either. I mean, my test vehicle didn’t even have a navigation system or Toyota’s Entune App Suite technology.
* Prices include a destination charge of $810
2014 Toyota Avalon Review and Quick Spin: Styling and Design
Let’s face it. The Toyota Avalon has never been what one might call stylish. That changed last year when Toyota redesigned the Avalon and injected genuine appeal into its appearance. Compared to the old Avalon, or even a modern Camry, the 2014 Avalon exhibits real design flair, and it’s a good-looking car. It’s also an aerodynamic car, boasting a 0.28 coefficient of drag. And despite its size, the Avalon is relatively light, with the base model coming in at less than 3,500 pounds.
Toyota has also upgraded the Avalon’s interior, especially compared to the previous-generation model. Soft-touch material with exposed stitching, shiny fake wood, and dark chrome plastic trim adorn the dashboard, door panels, and the center console. Unfortunately, aged secondary switchgear sourced from a corporate parts-bin reveals obvious cost-cutting in what is otherwise a modern, contemporary, and upscale cabin.
Worse than that offense, though, is that if you push too hard on the appealing chrome trim or the Intelligent Touch control panel, they creak and crunch, making a sound similar to somebody stepping on a package of soup crackers. The front door panels also make the same creaking and crunching sounds when the driver or front passenger rests or braces a leg against them, or pushes on them when opening the front doors. In my test car, this constant creaking and crunching created the distinct impression that the cabin, and the car itself, was cheaply engineered and executed.
2014 Toyota Avalon Review and Quick Spin: Comfort and Quality
Thanks to 8-way power adjustment, decent leather, and good support, the 2014 Toyota Avalon’s driver’s seat is comfortable. Better yet, everywhere you want to rest your elbows, Toyota makes sure the Avalon provides a padded surface. And thanks to a center console armrest that slides forward, combined with a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel that is pleasing to grip, Toyota ensures comfort for drivers of all statures.
The front-seat passenger is treated well, too, but my test vehicle offered nothing more than 4-way power adjustment to improve comfort levels, leaving my wife to sit lower in the car than she otherwise might have preferred. An 8-way power front passenger’s seat is available on more expensive versions of the Avalon.
Big cars have big back seats, and in this regard the Avalon totally delivers. It’s like a damn limousine back there. Plus, the leather-wrapped rear bench seat is really comfortable, with good thigh support and a proper backrest angle. The only thing missing is manual side window sunshades. Again, though, occupants are reminded that an Avalon is designed and engineered to a price point. From the recalcitrant air vents mounted to the back of the center console to the glossy hard plastic front seatbacks, the impression is that Toyota skimped in ways that it thought buyers might overlook.
Big cars usually have big trunks, too. With 16 cu.-ft. of space, the Avalon’s trunk is roomy enough. However, if you’re cross-shopping the Avalon against, say, the redesigned 2014 Chevy Impala or a 2014 Ford Taurus, this Toyota comes up short. In fact, the Avalon’s cargo area is the same size as that in a Ford Fusion, which competes in the midsize sedan class. Unfortunately, and unlike the Fusion, if you need more space, you’re out of luck unless you can slide whatever you want to carry through the Avalon’s ski-pass-through. That’s because the back seats in my test car did not fold down in order to carry larger items.
2014 Toyota Avalon Review and Quick Spin: Features and Controls
All of the Avalon’s controls are logically located and within easy reach of the driver. Anyone familiar with the control layout inside of an existing Toyota will, however, instantly recognize the controls used for the power windows, power door locks, power side mirrors, cruise control, and steering wheel stalks. They’re pulled from a common parts bin, one that dates back to the 1990s in some cases.
What’s completely new is the Avalon’s Intelligent Touch center control panel, which contains a 6.1-inch color touchscreen infotainment system display surrounded by touch sensitive controls that are easy to find and easy to use. In fact, of all the cars I’ve driven with this type of setup, the Avalon is my favorite. I especially like the classy stereo knobs that look and feel like high-end audio components. However, I also think that the Avalon’s touchscreen display is too small for this size and caliber of vehicle, looking and feeling no different from what’s installed in a Corolla.
Because my test vehicle didn’t offer many of the tech-related upgrades that are offered for the Avalon, I can’t relate much in terms of how the extra-cost features work. I’ll say this much, though. It was easy to pair my iPhone and to stream music via my iTunes library and Pandora. Plus, Toyota thoughtfully provides an “eBin” device charging, connection, and covered storage area complete with a USB port, an auxiliary audio input jack, and a couple of 12-volt power ports.
2014 Toyota Avalon Review and Quick Spin: Matters of Safety
Standard safety equipment for the 2014 Toyota Avalon, aside from the basics, includes 10 airbags and a reversing camera. A Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert is optional for the XLE Touring and standard for the Avalon Limited, while Safety Connect service with a free one-year subscription to Automatic Collision Notification is standard and exclusive to Limited models. The Limited is also the only version of the 2014 Avalon that is available with a Pre-Collision System.
That Pre-Collision System gives the 2014 Avalon Limited a “Basic” front crash prevention rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which also rates the Avalon as “Good” in crash tests. Note, though, that as this review is written, the Avalon has not been evaluated for its performance in the tough new small overlap frontal-impact assessment.
In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Avalon receives an overall crash-test rating of 5 stars despite 4-star protection levels for the driver in a frontal-impact collision, and for 4-star performances in the side-impact pole test and for rollover resistance.
2014 Toyota Avalon Review and Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
Equipped with Toyota’s excellent 3.5-liter V-6 engine, the 2014 Avalon is an impressive performer in a straight line. Powerful and fuel-efficient, this V-6 makes 268 horsepower, is bolted to a 6-speed automatic transmission with a Sport mode and a manual shift gate, and I love it in every Toyota I drive that has one installed under the hood. That’s because the V-6 feels much stronger than the engine’s official horsepower rating might suggest, and in the Avalon that impression is partially attributable to the car’s relatively low curb weight. The V-6 also revs quickly, and in a refined manner with an unexpectedly aggressive undertone, giving the Avalon a frisky personality.
The 6-speed automatic transmission is excellent, too. When accelerating gently, it upshifts rapidly to conserve fuel, but at the same time it has no problem holding gears when accelerating hard. Need to pass? The transmission quickly and crisply downshifts with a prod of your right foot on the accelerator pedal. Plus, it offers a Sport mode and manual shift gate with an intuitive pattern: you tap up to upshift and you tap down to downshift. Some versions of the car even have paddle shifters.
I also like the Avalon’s steering, which offers progressive levels of resistance off center, and exhibits a pleasing heft. Plus, when I hustled the Avalon across the local mountains to the beach, it proved both more accurate and quicker to respond than I expected.
With regard to the Avalon’s remaining dynamic traits, I wish I had better news to report. The brakes on my test car were not very good. Upon initial pedal application, nothing much occurred except for brake light illumination. Pushing harder caused the brakes to finally engage, but numb pedal feel made it hard to smoothly modulate them. There’s definitely room for improvement here.
Suspension tuning is utterly befuddling. In the city and on the highway, the nose bobs and floats over bigger dips like an old-school cruiser. Yet when the tires encounter uneven freeway expansion joints, or bumps and holes in the city, the suspension reacts in a harsh, almost brittle fashion. In my opinion, better control of body motions coupled with softer, more compliant shocks would be a better plan.
On a tight canyon road, the Avalon proves predictably susceptible to understeer, folding its all-season tires over at relatively low speed. Commendably, though, body roll is well controlled, a good thing since the front seats are as flat as Nebraska. Where the Avalon shines, in my experience anyway, is on a backcountry road with higher speed sweeping curves. The car’s lack of body roll, combined with firm reaction to more significant road anomalies, gives the Avalon a feeling of athleticism that it lacks in other driving situations.
As for fuel economy, the EPA says the Avalon is rated to get 25 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 27 mpg, but most of my time behind the wheel was spent on the freeway.
2014 Toyota Avalon Review and Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
The 2014 Toyota Avalon is stylish inside and out, has a roomy interior and comfortable seats, goes fast in a straight line, and gets decent fuel economy. Also, don’t forget that every new Avalon comes with 2 years or 25,000 miles of free maintenance by the dealer. Demerits include brake and suspension components that could use some additional fine-tuning, and Toyota really needs to figure out how to reduce the creaking and crunching of interior plastics whenever occupants touch certain parts of the cabin.
More than this, though, Toyota must find a way to improve the Avalon’s value equation, because people who are willing to live without a spacious back seat can get lots more car in terms of features and upgrades for the same or less money.
Toyota provided the 2014 Avalon for this review
2014 Toyota Avalon XLE Premium photos by Christian Wardlaw