If Toyota were ever to go into the business of building Buicks, the result would be…oh wait, Toyota already builds a Buick. It’s called the Avalon. Designed and configured specifically to appeal to an older American demographic, Toyota’s Avalon is big, quiet, smooth riding, powerful, and highly stable.
Notice though, the word “exciting” was nowhere in evidence in that last sentence. And, though it was omitted as well, the word “reliable” should have been implied.
Based since its launch on the same platform underpinning Camry, Avalon is essentially a long wheelbase, fully loaded Camry. That said, in addition to all the attributes we’ve listed so far, the Avalon offers also a high level of standard equipment. Toyota’s Avalon is about as close as you can get to a Lexus, without putting the stylized L on the grille.
The company’s flagship sedan in the U.S., Avalon entered Toyota’s lineup in 1994, as a 1995 model. Built in Georgetown, Kentucky, Avalon replaced Toyota’s previous large sedan, Cressida. The car is named for the town on Santa Catalina Island, just off the coast of Southern California near Los Angeles. Which, in turn, was named for a town from the legend of King Arthur. In the Arthurian legend, Avalon is where Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, was forged.
There have been three generations of the car offered since its launch in 1995. The fourth generation car was introduced at the 2012 New York Auto Show and will go on sale in the fall of 2012, as a 2013 model. This article will cover the second and third generation of the cars—built between 1999 and 2012.
Introduced in 1999, as a 2000 model, the second generation Toyota Avalon was larger and more technologically advanced than the model it replaced. Additionally, both stability control and brake assist were introduced to the Avalon with the second-generation car. It featured an optional front bench seat (Holy Fifties Buick Batman!) enabling the Avalon to seat six, although that middle front seat was reputed to be a bit narrow. Reviewers of the time, while appreciative of the Avalon’s comfort and smoothness, panned its lack of driver engagement.
Offered in two levels of trim; XL and XLS, the 2000 Toyota Avalon was powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine producing 210 horsepower and 220 ft-lbs of torque on regular unleaded fuel. A four-speed automatic transmission fed the engine’s output to the front wheels.
The XL trim level offered, as standard equipment, bucket seats, a center console, power adjustable heated exterior rearview mirrors, a lighted entry system, power brakes, and a rear window defroster. Fifteen-inch wheels, four disc brakes with ABS, front and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, cloth seating, and cruise control were standard equipment as well. Avalon XL also featured power steering, a remote inside trunk release, air conditioning, and a tilt steering wheel. Intermittent windshield wipers, power windows and door locks, automatic headlights, daytime running lights, a 115V AC power outlet (reputedly a first for any car), and a CD-based audio system were also fitted to the XL trimmed model.
The 2000 Toyota Avalon XL options list contained an alarm system, leather trim for the shift knob and steering wheel, a CD changer, keyless entry, a power moonroof, a premium JBL audio system, alloy wheels, the split front bench seat we told you about earlier, power adjustments for the driver and front passenger’s seat, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
For the XLS model, Toyota fitted all of the above as standard equipment except; the CD changer, moonroof, traction control and stability control. Those items were optional. Additional XLS standard equipment included fog lights, a universal remote for garage doors and security gates, and a dual-zone automatic climate control system.
An emergency trunk release was added to Avalon, in case someone was inadvertently locked inside the trunk.
For 2002, Avalon’s options were grouped into packages, which were introduced to make the ordering process simpler. The XL model got a Luxury Package, consisting of power adjustable leather seats, fifteen-inch alloys, remote keyless entry, and the premium JBL audio system. Those who opted for the 2002 Avalon XL Sport Luxury Package got all of the above, plus a set of sixteen-inch wheels and a tail spoiler.
A DVD-based navigation system was fitted as an option for the XLS Avalon, as was a simulated wood-trimmed steering wheel, rain-sensing smart windshield wipers, and an autodimming outside rearview mirror for the driver. Dual stage airbags were fitted to both trim levels, as well as child seat anchor points. Both Avalon trim lines got a new grille, new headlights, new taillights, and a reworked bumper treatment. Inside, the appearance of the instrumentation was mildly revised, and the XL was granted usage of the chrome steering wheel emblem, previously reserved for the XLS.
The 2005 Avalon was introduced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January of 2005. The model went on sale almost immediately afterward in February of the same year.
Larger, and a bit more avant-garde styling-wise, four trim levels were introduced with the 2005 Avalon. The front bench seat was dropped, but Avalon became the first Toyota to use a single-piece windshield wiper blade. To give rear passengers more space, this generation of the Avalon incorporated a flat rear floor and a reclining rear seat.
Engine displacement was increased to 3.5 liters, resulting in a concomitant horsepower and torque gain. The GEN3 Avalon debuted with 280 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque. The front-drive sedan used a five-speed automatic transmission and ran on regular unleaded fuel.
As we mentioned previously, four trim levels debuted with the GEN3 Avalon. They were designated XL, Touring, XLS, and Limited. The XL model came standard with sixteen-inch alloy wheels, while the other trim packages employed seventeen-inch wheels. Additionally, performance-oriented tires were fitted to the Touring and Limited trims to improve handling.
New to the XL trim level were standard features such as dual-zone automatic temperature control and steering wheel-mounted audio and climate controls.
In an effort to underscore its sporting pretentions, the Touring trim featured faux aluminum accents and black leather upholstery. The 2005 Toyota Avalon Touring also used a firmer “sport-tuned” suspension system, a unique set of grey powder-coated alloy wheels, and a trunk lip-mounted tail spoiler.
The XLS added standard cargo nets to the trunk, a six-disc CD changer, a power moonroof, and an electrochromic auto dimming inside rear-view mirror—as well as the same treatment for the exterior driver's side rear-view mirror. There was also a four-way adjustable power passenger seat and a HomeLink transceiver.
The high-end Limited trim offered heated and ventilated seats with a power driver's seat cushion length adjuster. The 2005 Avalon Limited also featured Toyota's Smart Key System with keyless push-button start and entry. There was also an acoustic laminate for windshield to help the Avalon have a quieter interior underway. The Limited also featured smart rain-sensing windshield wipers, an upgraded twelve-speaker JBL audio system, "in-glass" LED turn signals on the side mirrors, and wood-trim for the steering wheel and gearshift lever.
A navigation system was optional for every trim—other than the XL. Vehicle Stability Control was also optional on all trim levels. Other options included Keyless Remote Engine Start, a rear window power sunshade, and on Limited models, a Dynamic Laser Cruise Control system. HID lighting with auto leveling was standard on Touring and Limited grades.
Stability control was offered as an option for XL and Touring Avalon trims. Due to changes in the SAE's testing procedures, quoted power output dropped to 268 horsepower and 248 ft-lbs of torque.
Tire pressure monitoring systems were added to all trim levels, navigation was offered as an option for the Touring.
The 2008 Avalon, released in 2007, was essentially the mid-cycle refresh for the GEN3 Avalon. Mechanically, the big change was a six-speed automatic transmission, though the braking system was reworked as well, to incorporate a more robust pair of rear brakes. New headlights were fitted to all four trim levels, as was a new front fascia. The Avalon Limited got chromed door handles.
For the interiors, the wood and metallic accents were updated and the basic audio system was upgraded to a nine-speaker affair—with a CD changer capable of reading MP3 encoded discs. XLS and Limited got an eight-way power-adjustable passenger seat and Bluetooth put in its first Avalon appearance, on the Limited.
Stability control and traction control became standard features for all trim levels, active headrests were introduced, and Satellite radio capability was added to all Avalon audio systems. The Touring trim package was dropped.
With the demise of the Touring trim level going into 2009, Avalon’s 2010 lineup consisted of three iterations; XL, XLS and Limited trim levels.
The basic XL-level of standard equipment included sixteen-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, cruise control, full power accessories, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a power driver seat, a reclining rear seat, and a nine-speaker stereo with a six-disc CD changer and an auxiliary audio input jack.
The XLS upped the ante to seventeen-inch wheels, foglights, heated mirrors, a sunroof (which was an option for the Avalon XL), leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, auto-dimming exterior driver’s and interior rearview mirrors, and wood trim.
Avalon Limited added Xenon headlights, a passenger-side auto-dimming mirror, automatic wipers, keyless ignition/entry, a power passenger seat, heated and ventilated front seats, driver memory functions, a power rear sunshade, Bluetooth, and a twelve-speaker JBL audio system.
Options for the 2010 Avalon XLS included a power passenger seat, heated front seats, driver’s memory functions, and the upgraded JBL stereo. A voice-activated navigation system was offered for XLS and XLT. Smart cruise control was an optional offering for the Limited.
An appearance update to carry the model to the end of its lifecycle, grafted a new front- and rear-end treatment onto the body. While the XL and XLS trim designations were dropped, most of the XLS trim package’s features were applied to the newly christened “Base” Avalon.
This for 2011, Avalon trim packages were configured as follows; the Base Avalon came with seventeen-inch alloy wheels, foglights, auto-dimming for the driver’s exterior and the interior rearview mirrors, a set of heated exterior mirrors, a sunroof, automatic headlights, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob, a back-up camera with a monitor mounted in the rearview mirror, wood trim, cruise control, full power accessories, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a power driver seat, a reclining rear seat, Bluetooth, a nine-speaker stereo system incorporating USB/iPod jacks driven by a six-disc CD changer.
To all of the above, the 2011 Toyota Avalon Limited added xenon headlights, automatic windshield wipers, smart keyless ignition/entry, a power-adjustable front passenger’s seat, heated and ventilated front seats, driver memory functions, a power rear sunshade, and a twelve-speaker audio system.
The upgraded audio system and heated seats were available as options on the base Avalon. A voice-activated touchscreen navigation system with traffic reporting was offered as optional for both trims.
With an all-new model on the horizon for 2013, Avalon went into 2012 configured the same as it was in 2011.
As we said in the opening paragraph, Toyota’s Avalon was designed and configured specifically to appeal to an older American demographic. In other words, Toyota’s Avalon is big, quiet, smooth riding, powerful, and highly stable. It is quintessentially “American” in those regards—recalling the “living-rooms-on-wheels” dominating U.S. roads back in the 1950’s and 60’s (all the way down to the front bench seat).
The beauty of the Avalon is it captures those themes, while simultaneously providing all the modern tech your heart desires. If we were considering the purchase of a pre-owned Avalon, we’d go for the most recent one we could afford, knowing whichever model we chose would be a paragon of reliability.
Mature people, with solid incomes, bought these cars for the most part. Finding an abused Avalon would be something of a challenge. Still though, it pays to do your due diligence. A vehicle history report against the VIN of the Avalon of your choice will provide you with insights as to the discretions (or indiscretions) of the Toyota’s past. Similarly, there have been recalls for the Avalon as well, so you’d do well to run an Internet search for those—in order to find the ones affecting your particular model of choice.
And, as always, an indispensable aspect of the used car shopping process is a very thorough pre-purchase inspection by a trusted professional independent mechanic—one highly familiar with both the Toyota Avalon’s virtues and its quirks.