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Saturday, February 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Autos

Toyota’s large, near-luxury Avalon transcends the crossover craze

Savvy buyers recognize Avalon as the onramp to Lexus quality with a Toyota price tag. (Toyota)
Savvy buyers recognize Avalon as the onramp to Lexus quality with a Toyota price tag. (Toyota)

The sudden and seismic rise of crossovers caught many automakers flat-footed. More than one is still playing catch-up.

Not Toyota. Japan’s No. One brand is thriving under the industry’s new crossovers-first terms of engagement.

Year in and year out, its RAV4 and Highlander CUVs sell in big numbers. Its new subcompact CH-R looks like another hit in the making. 

But volatile times reward balanced portfolios, so Toyota remains committed to sedans. Its compact Corolla and midsize Camry inspire devoted followings and the near-luxury Avalon is a top pick among large sedans.

Comfort, quality, efficiency and price

Savvy buyers recognize Avalon as the onramp to Lexus quality with a Toyota price tag ($33,500). If there’s a more compelling combination of comfort, quality, efficiency and price, we haven’t driven it.

In addition to one of the market’s most spacious and accommodating cabins, every Avalon built gets leather upholstery, keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats and a rearview camera. A 7-inch touchscreen provides access to Toyota’s Entune infotainment system.

Toyota’s Safety Sense package is also standard. It adds automatic high-beam headlights, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist. 

Relaxed and relaxing ride

The Avalon is a relaxed — and relaxing — ride. Its 268-horsepower V-6 provides a solid punch (0-60 in 6.5 seconds), but its real strengths lie in its large, inviting cabin and accommodating ride and handling package. 

Lexus-like materials quality and build construction elevate Avalon’s cabin. Stitched leather dresses the sculpted dashboard and the faux wood trim passes as authentic open-pore veneer.

Abundant use of sound-absorbing materials renders the Avalon cabin a tranquil spot, where occupants can feel sheltered from real-world rigors. 

Avalon’s dash incorporates an asymmetrical instrument control panel set within a nicely textured surround. The controls mix virtual capacitive-touch pads with a pair of physical knobs. 

The system also includes voice-recognition and redundant steering-wheel controls.

Road trip-worthy seating

Native navigation is available on upper trims, while lower models use a smartphone app that sends directions to the Entune screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available, nor does Toyota equip Avalon with onboard WiFi.

Avalon’s broad front seats are supportive without being too firm. In past tests, we’ve found them well suited for long-distance road trips. Both front seats are power-adjustable.

Rear-seat passengers stretch out in one of the industry’s most accommodating spaces. The large rear bench offers abundant thigh support and limo-like legroom. 

Casual storage opportunities are limited. The center console includes a covered cargo box and a retractable Qi smartphone charger. Neither the front or rear door pockets are deep enough to hold water bottles, though there are cupholders in the center console and in the rear-seat fold-down armrest 

Swift and settled at speed

Out on the open road, Avalon is swift and settled. It’s strong enough to breeze past slower traffic on two-lane backroads and make easy work of freeway entrances. 

Its suspension delivers a smooth ride while controlling excessive body motions.

Don’t come to Avalon expecting sporty dynamics, though. Point it into a quick corner and its nose-heavy nature quickly reveals itself. The lightly weighted steering system is modestly communicative but lacks the precision of more athletic competitors.

Avalon’s six-speed automatic transmission responds sluggishly to throttle inputs but three drive modes include a Sport setting that sharpens transmission responses and firms up steering feel. It’s largely an afterthought, though, in a car whose mission is comfort. 

Avalon’s large trunk features a wide opening and a low lift-over height for easy loading and unloading. The rear seats don't fold down, though a passthrough allows storage of long, narrow objects.

A hybrid Avalon ($37,500) produces 200 horsepower and an EPA-estimated 40 mpg combined (40 city/39 highway) fuel economy rating. 

A new, fifth-generation Avalon is due later this year, so this constitutes our last look at the existing model. It’s been a good run and, given Toyota’s belief in the value of sedans, the next Avalon is likely to offer buyers a good reason to reconsider the large car segment.

Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2018 Toyota Avalon Touring
Vehicle base price: $33,500
Trim level base price: $37,900
As tested: $39,939 (includes destination and handling)
Options: emergency assistance kit; carpet/trunk mat set; illuminated door sills; universal tablet holder; glass breakage sensor; wheel locks.
EPA ratings: 24 combined/21 city/30 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.