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2009 Toyota Avalon ReviewThe Good
Fast, quiet, and smooth, the 2009 Toyota Avalon combines the easy luxury and comfort of a full-size sedan with confident power, great fuel economy, and plenty of cabin room for five adults.
Those wanting a more direct driving feel might be disappointed with the '09 Avalon's soft and spongy suspension, and its conservative style offers little in the way of excitement.
The CarGurus View
Seeking the roominess and quiet of a full-size luxury-like sedan without giving away too much at the gas pump, families will appreciate the economical 2009 Toyota Avalon. Comparable in size, refinement, and looks to most of its competitors, the Avalon doesn't necessarily stand out in the crowd, but does add the extra benefit of the Toyota brand, which ranks high in safety, quality, and customer loyalty.
At a Glance
King Arthur supposedly disappeared to Avalon at the end of his life, and this full-size sedan certainly carries itself with some degree of nobility and integrity. Filling the role of Toyota's luxury U.S. sedan, the '09 Avalon easily fits five passengers in a comfortable and roomy cabin. Its cradle-like ride and responsive engine keep drivers from expending too much effort at the wheel, focusing instead on high-end refinement and passenger-friendly design.
For 2009, the Toyota Avalon drops its Touring trim, leaving us with the base XL, XLS, and top-line Limited. Most of the changes this year focus on safety, with the addition of standard traction and stability control, brake assist, and active front head restraints for all trims. XLs come more than well equipped with the now-necessary power features, 16-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, and a 6-CD changer. High-end features, such as 17-inch wheels, leather upholstery, heated and cooled seats, and a sunroof are available as options for the XL and get added on with other trims.
Based on an extended Camry platform, the spacious Avalon seats five in two rows. Its unexciting exterior feels staid and conservative, comparable to many American full-size sedans, but the cabin exudes some Lexus-like luxury, and unlike its American competitors, the Avalon carries Toyota's reputation for reliability, durable engineering, and strong resale value.
Under the hood of the '09 Avalon lies a 24-valve, 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine that offers plenty of passing power on the highway and a genuinely fast ride. Its 0-60 times fall around 6.5 seconds. It comes paired with a 6-speed shiftable automatic, and together they deliver 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 RPM. For it size, the Avalon packs a wallop, and drivers feel confident in its off-the-line and highway acceleration performance. Equipped with variable valve timing for improved fuel economy, EPA estimates average 19/28 mpg, though some happy owners claim to get anywhere from 35 to 40 mpg on the highway.
Ride & Handling
Smooth and velvety, according to some test drives, the front-wheel-drive '09 Avalon handles like a luxury sedan. You won't find any crisp sports handling here, but rather a floaty, soft suspension that absorbs every bump and rut in the road. Riding on a fully independent Macpherson strut front and rear suspension, it glides along the highway, practically driving itself. Professional reviews of the similar 2008 model actually find its handling and powertrain best suited for highway driving, as its large size can detract from city maneuverability.
The '09 Avalon isn't for those looking for any kind of driving feedback from the road. In fact, reviewers complain about vague steering that behaves in a precise and accurate manner, but lacks any weighted feel. But for those more interested in an easy, comfortable, carefree ride over sport dynamics, the '09 Avalon offers refined engineering and effortless driving. Many critics refer to it as the Japanese Buick.
Adding to driver and passenger comfort, the V6 engine never struggles. One reviewer says it's difficult to tell whether the engine is even running when you come to a stop, because it barely makes a sound. Both critics and owners agree that the ride is pin-droppingly quiet, thanks to top-notch sound insulation. Drivers report no noise or stiffness from either the 16-inch or 17-inch wheels. However, despite a surprisingly small turning radius, the large size of the '09 Avalon does translate into marked body lean, especially when turning at high speeds.
Cabin & Comfort
The large '09 Avalon easily fits five adults in its spacious two rows, with an interior volume of almost 107 cubic feet. Front-row passengers get 41.3 inches of legroom. XL drivers have an 8-way power driver's seat with power lumbar settings, while the XLS adds a 4-way passenger seat. Front seats in the Limited feature convenient memory settings and a power thigh bolster for extra comfort and seat grip. Rear passengers have a roomy, stretch-your-legs-out 40 inches of legroom, although some critics complain about the cramped foot wells. Another nice feature: The rear seats recline as much as 10 degrees. One test driver believes this feature, in combination with the smooth and quiet ride, will quickly lull back-seat passengers into a gentle sleep.
The rear seats are wide enough to accommodate five people, although the center section can feel uncomfortably hard on long trips. With two people, a fold-down armrest provides extra comfort or a nice barrier between feuding children. This armrest also doubles as a pass-through to the 14-cubic-foot trunk (about 5 cubic feet more than the Camry's). Interior storage remains adequate, with seatback pockets, overhead and front storage consoles, and a cell phone holder.
The '09 Avalon is built for driving comfort rather than driving excitement. Tilt and telescopic steering and standard wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls provide convenience and help drivers keep their eyes on the road. Reviewers find the large Optitron back-lit gauges easy to read and easy to reach. However, some tests drives point out that many of the buttons look alike and can be confusing at first. This confusion applies as well to the optional navigation system, which some reviewers found well-placed, but hard to program. Both the audio and navigation systems feature a flip-down cover that smooths out the dash and hides the equipment from potential thieves.
As Toyota's high-end model, the '09 Avalon gives even its base trim the upscale treatment. A reviewer from 2008 compared the interior to a Lexus. Power windows, locks, and mirrors, remote entry, wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, a power driver's seat, and a 9-speaker 6-CD player with MP3 jack are all standard for the XL. The midrange XLS adds a 4-way power passenger seat, leather upholstery, a garage remote, heated mirrors, a sunroof, and faux wood trim. The Limited targets those who don't like to leave their living room when they drive. It upgrades to heated and cooled front seats, premium leather upholstery, keyless start, a rear sunshade, and a 12-speaker JBL audio system with 7.1 surround sound. Many of these features are available as options for the lower trims. Both XLS and Limited can be outfitted with a navigation system, DVD player, satellite radio, and adaptive cruise control.
Toyota continues its strong reputation for safety and reliability, as the '09 Avalon receives five stars from the NHTSA in all frontal and side impact tests and the highest Good rating from the Insurance Institute. Only in rollover tests does it earn a more than respectable four stars.
For 2009, traction and stability control become standard for all trims, improving the security of road grip in unsure driving conditions. Also new this year, brake assist joins the standard 4-wheel disc and ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution. All trims feature dual front, front-side, and side curtain airbags for both rows. Further passenger protection comes with the new active front head restraints, which help prevent whiplash. A tire monitor, daytime running lights, and automatic headlights complete the safety profile, with the higher trims adding foglights and mirrors with turn signals.
What Owners Think
Owners of the '09 Avalon generally agree with professional reviews, citing its smooth and quiet ride, easy handling, and surprisingly fast V6 punch as their favorite features. They also appreciate the fuel economy numbers for such a large car, with reports of mpg numbers in the high 30s. Most other praise goes to the roomy cabin, able to accommodate adults well over 6 feet tall. More specific highlights include the seamless automatic transmission and the keyless start feature in the Limited. Few negatives have been reported as of yet, but one driver felt disappointed by some of the easily breakable plastic parts in the cabin.
CarGurus owners have yet to comment on the '09 Avalon, but reviews from the similar 2008 model highlight the spacious cabin and comfortably quiet ride. However, one driver noticed some road noise intrusion.