The 2011 Toyota Avalon could almost wear a Lexus badge. The car’s television commercials truthfully portray it as evoking a time when travel was sophisticated, elegant and comfortable.
A long-distance round-trip drive from Chicago to Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay area showed the precisely built, whisper-quiet Avalon to be a soothing, long-distance cruiser. It sped along the Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes and on regular highways and rural secondary roads in Maryland.
The base Avalon costs $32,245 and the more upscale Limited version is $35,485.
The 3.5-liter 268-horsepower V-6 sedan is easy on fuel for a fairly heavy full-size car. It delivers an estimated 29 mpg on the open road and 20 in town. The regular version weighs 3,572 pounds and the top-line Limited model I drove weighs 3,616 pounds.
The Avalon is pretty fast (0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds) and only 87-octane fuel is needed. A fairly large 18.5-gallon tank helps provide a long cruising range at highway speeds.
The V-6 offers good punch at all speeds, and the Avalon’s multi-mode six-speed automatic transmission shifts deftly. Still, this is no “GT” car for auto buffs because, for one thing, it has front-wheel drive instead of the rear-drive setup found on, say, BMWs. It also has a soft ride. And I found several times that the steering was slightly affected by crosswinds and pavement changes — and thus called for small steering corrections.
“Comfort” is the key word with this car, although it handles well and its anti-lock brakes are strong, with an easily modulated pedal.
Styling has been improved with a wider, more substantial grille, redesigned rocker panels and a new tail. The dual exhaust outlets look especially nifty, being integrated into the cutaway trapezoid shape of the lower bumper. Chrome trim is discreetly put on the Limited, which has wheels with a chrome finish.
The new upscale interior has coordinated colors and rich wood-grain materials. The large, supportive power front seats are long-distance comfortable, and there’s a tilt/telescopic steering wheel.
There’s also remote keyless entry, a dual-zone climate control system with nine air-flow modes and the usual power accessories, besides a power tilt/slide glass sunroof with a sunshade.
Also standard are a nine-speaker sound system, power trunk and fuel-filler door releases, easily operated cruise control system, and color-keyed foldable power heated outside mirrors. The full-size alloy spare tire will be welcome in case of a flat.
The Limited adds leather-trimmed heated and ventilated front seats, push-button engine start/stop and a 12-speaker sound system.
A new instrument panel has Optitron gauges I found a little difficult to read quickly in bright sunlight. The steering wheel includes controls for Bluetooth hands-free phones, audio and climate systems and information center.
There’s a wealth of safety items, including a bunch of air bags, vehicle stability and traction control systems and anti-lock brakes with brake force distribution.
Options include upscale sound systems, heated front seats and a navigation system with a rearview monitor function.
The front seat area is roomy, and the rear seat comfortably handles three tall adults. An armrest with a storage compartment folds down when the middle seat isn’t being used.
The large trunk has a low, wide opening, and rear seatbacks flip forward to increase the cargo area. There are a good number of interior storage areas, including front door pockets that flip out, as they might on a private jet.
The hood raises smoothly on hydraulic struts, revealing a plastic cover over the dual-overhead-camshaft, 24-valve V-6, which has variable valve timing for especially good response.
Potential buyers of a Lexus might want to give the lower-cost Avalon a close look in these cost-conscious times.