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2011 Toyota Avalon ReviewThe Good
The 2011 Toyota Avalon offers a smooth, quiet, comfortable, and spacious ride with lists of standard features that rival its luxury Lexus brethren at more affordable prices.The Bad
In spite of a redesign this year, the 2011 Avalon continues to be a somewhat anonymous entry in its class for those seeking a full-size sedan without running the risk of an elevated heart rate.
The CarGurus View
Although Toyota claims to have spiced up the 2011 Toyota Avalon, reviewers agree it was seasoned with a light hand. The new model sees some refreshing, though conservative, changes, enhancing the 2010 with only a hint of additional flavor so as not to alienate the palate of premium large-sedan consumers. While not eye-popping, the Avalon will offer mature audiences an easy, comfortable, and spacious ride that comes close to a Lexus experience at Avalon prices.
At a Glance
The 2011 Toyota Avalon enters its fourth generation with a redesign of the full-size family sedan. Now produced in only two trim levels—Base and Limited—Toyota claims to have revamped all but the roof and door panels of the exterior, with new features including a wider, burlier grille, additional chrome, restyled rocker panels, and folding side-view mirrors with integrated turn signals. Foglights appear in the front bumper, and new halogen (Base) or high-intensity discharge (Limited) headlamps use light pipes for a distinctive appearance. Reshaped taillights now encompass turn signals as well as stop and reverse lights, and also sport LED light pipes. According to Toyota, the new streamlined taillight shape reduces rear turbulence and lowers the coefficient of drag. In addition, the Limited trim has redesigned wheels, and both trims add three new color choices (Zephyr Blue Metallic, Cypress Pearl, and Sizzling Crimson Mica). However, despite the redesign, most reviewers feel that the front-wheel-drive sedan’s conservative, and even bland, looks won’t turn heads on the highway.
The interior redesign of the Avalon offers additional space with reclining rear seats and larger, restructured rear headrests that offer more support. New technology accompanies the 2011 Avalon as well. Standard equipment in both trim levels now includes Bluetooth technology for hands-free phone and streaming audio, XM satellite radio (with a 90-day subscription), and USB and 1/8-inch auxiliary connections for portable music. Drivers also get a backup camera, which projects an image in the rear-view mirror or on the optional DVD navigation screen. Toyota boasts that the Avalon is the first vehicle in its segment to make the backup camera a standard feature. The optional DVD navigation system has been revamped to increase ease-of-use with new displays and easier search and address input. Displays for road icons and points of interest have been redesigned, and the keyboard is now arranged like a computer's. The redesigned split instrument panel displays Optitron gauges using white illumination and white pointers. The steering wheel integrates switches for phone, climate, and audio control. And perhaps most important, the 2011 Avalon features a redesigned accelerator pedal with a brake override system.
The Base Avalon comes with standard 17-inch dual-six-spoke alloy wheels, projector-beam halogen headlights, wide-angle foglights, and LED taillights with a distinct C-shaped light pipe. Heated outside mirrors now integrate turn signals, and the trim comes standard with a power tilt/slide moonroof with sunshade. Inside, the Base offers leather seats with an eight-way-adjustable power driver’s seat and four-way-adjustable power passenger seat. The rear seats recline for additional comfort (a unique feature in the class), but do not fold to allow for additional trunk space. Although the trunk offers 14.4 cubic feet of storage (smaller than other full-size sedans), the only in-cabin access is via a narrow opening through the center armrest--a flaw noted in reviews. Dual-zone climate control includes air filtration, and the tilt/telescopic steering wheel integrates audio and climate controls. Standard technology for the Base includes power locks and windows, cruise control, remote keyless entry, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with integrated backup camera, and the HomeLink Universal Transceiver (which allows for the activation of up to three different remote controls from one unit mounted on the Avalon’s visor). The Base also rocks a nine-speaker AM/FM CD player with MP3 capability, XM radio (with a 90-day subscription), auxiliary audio jack, USB port for iPod connection, and Bluetooth technology.
The Limited trim changes the design of the wheels to a dual-five-spoke design, and uses high intensity discharge (HID) headlights with a metal halide, rather than halogen, bulb for longer life and better illumination. Other standard features on the outside of the higher-end trim include rain-sensing windshield wipers and puddle lamps as part of the side-view mirrors to illuminate the ground around the car. The inside of the Limited offers perforated leather seats, which are heated (an option for the Base) and ventilated, with eight-way power-adjustable front seats (again, an option for the Base trim) and a driver’s seat cushion that extends for added comfort. The Limited’s standard technology adds the Smart Key System, which uses sensors to unlock and start the car automatically, and enhances the stereo to a JBL Synthesis 660-watt, twelve-speaker stereo with a 6-CD changer (an option for the Base). A power rear sunshade automatically retracts when the driver shifts into reverse. Both the Base and Limited Avalon also have an optional voice-activated DVD navigation system.
The 2011 Avalon’s powertrain carries over from 2010, with both the Base and Limited using a 24-valve, 3.5-liter dual-overhead cam (DOHC) V6 paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The front-wheel-drive vehicle offers Dual Independent Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) to optimize the engine’s power and efficiency with 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. Toyota estimates the Avalon’s fuel efficiency at 20 mpg city and 29 highway (23 mpg combined), letting Toyota brag about mileage equal to or better than any V6 in the Avalon’s class. The Avalon features a MacPherson strut front suspension, dual-link independent strut rear suspension, stabilizer bars, and offset coil springs at all four corners to smooth out the ride. Road tests clocked 0 to 60 times between 6 seconds (on the low end) and 6.8 seconds (on the high end)—still faster than competitors Taurus and LaCrosse.
Ride & Handling
While most reviewers agree that the Buick LaCrosse offers a more involved driving experience in this segment, the Avalon is admired across the board for its ability to deliver a comfortable ride via its powerful V6 engine with little wind or road noise. The suspension earns praise for its smooth and easy drive, and the steering and braking, although described as light and squishy respectively, are assessed as fine for around-town driving and responsive to driver adjustment. While reviewers note that the Avalon has never been a driving enthusiast’s car, they also emphasize that this has never been the mission of the Avalon—instead focusing on a comfortable and spacious ride for a mature audience at a reasonable price.
Cabin & Comfort
The 2011 Toyota Avalon excels at interior comfort, convenience, and space. Although the Avalon measures only slightly larger than the Camry, reviews note that it feels roomier, particularly in the back, where three adults can sit comfortably. However, although its leg and shoulder room are commendable--and even leaders in the class--adults over 6 feet tall may find that the slope of the rear roofline affects their headroom. Flat seat bottoms and backs are admired by reviewers, who note that the shape makes entering and exiting the car easier, as well as accommodating larger drivers and passengers. Wide door openings also facilitate easy access, especially, as one review noted, for those with physical challenges. Reviews find the seats comfortable, and the slight elevation of the driver’s seat improves visibility (although reviews note that there is good visibility all the way around the vehicle).
The cabin not only feels roomy, but reviews commend the high quality of the interior, with one review noting that the overall cabin build quality approaches that of the upscale Lexus. Storage is ample, with a large cubby below the center armrest, two smaller compartments mounted at the base of the center stack, as well as the typical cupholder area. The newly designed instrument panel is praised for accommodations for older consumers (typically the Avalon’s target audience) such as straightforward, large controls with easy-to-read fonts. The controls are within reach, and the center stack has been tilted forward for easier access. And although the redesign isn’t eye-catching, it attends to ergonomics, clarity, quality, and value.
For those concerned about Toyota’s recent safety issues, the 2011 Avalon includes a redesigned accelerator pedal and brake override system. Both trims come standard with the Toyota Star Safety System, equipped with seven airbags (including one at the driver’s knee). Other safety features include vehicle stability control (which resists skids during a loss of traction), antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution (improving vehicle stability and braking distance when conditions are not extreme enough to trigger the antilock brakes), and brake assist (which determines whether a driver is attempting an emergency stop and then applies extra brake pressure to maximize the ABS brakes). The TRAC system helps to maintain traction and control when starting or stopping in slippery conditions. Finally, a direct tire pressure monitor system provides low tire pressure alerts. The NHTSA awarded the 2010 Avalon five stars in front and side crash tests, and the IIHS has similarly awarded the 2011 Avalon its highest rating of Good for front and side crash tests.
What Owners Think
Owners of the 2011 Toyota Avalon have typically looked at a variety of other full-size sedans from Lexus, Infiniti, Maxima, Hyundai, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, BMW, and Buick, and have been pleased with the Avalon. They commend its quiet, comfortable ride, gas mileage (plus the fact that it takes regular unleaded), and quick, powerful V6, which several owners note has the oomph of many V8s. Owners admire the Avalon interior for its quality workmanship and elegance, which make it feel like a luxury sedan. In fact, several owners note that, for the price, the Avalon’s standard features and smooth, quiet ride make it a clear choice over its more expensive relatives from Lexus. Owners also praise the roominess of the Avalon, and more than one owner compares riding in the back seat to riding in a limo, given the car’s legroom and reclining seats. The redesigned dashboard was described by most as easy-to-use and uncluttered with commendable ergonomics.
The optional navigation system receives less favorable reviews from owners. While some find it easy to use, others feel that it is outdated (missing many local roads) and not user-friendly, and one finds it frustrating that the system will not work unless the car is in park. Opinions of the new look of the Avalon are similarly mixed, with some admiring its refreshed styling and others continuing to feel the look is dated, or pleasing enough, but not attention grabbing (if that is one’s goal). Other criticisms include the small trunk and substandard stock tires (Bridgestones), while owners’ wish lists include a sport-suspension option to improve road feel and handling, as well as a blind-spot system.
by Jessica McCombe
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