The Toyota Avalon is a large, comfortable sedan that’s smooth and quiet underway, a car that’s easy to live with.
Safety is the foremost news for Toyota’s sizable sedan. The 2017 Toyota Avalon gets a group of active-safety features standard: adaptive cruise, forward-collision warning (with automatic emergency braking), lane-departure warnings, and automatic high-beam headlights.
Prior to its 2013 redesign, Toyota’s full-size, front-wheel-drive sedan had a strong visual connection to the less-costly Camry. Since then, despite shared running gear, kinship is nearly nonexistent.
Refreshed for 2016, Avalons can have either a gasoline V6 engine or a Hybrid (gasoline/electric) powertrain. Gas-engine Avalons come in five trim levels: XLE, XLE Plus, XLE Premium, Limited, and Touring. Hybrids are offered only in three versions.
Smooth-running and strong, the familiar 3.5-liter V6 develops 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. The 6-speed automatic transmission incorporates a sport-shift mode and paddle shifters. Throttle blipping helps to smooth the downshifts. Eco, Sport, and Normal modes alter the Avalon’s throttle, shift feel, and steering.
In the Avalon Hybrid, total output from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine and twin electric motors is 200 horsepower. The system works with nickel-metal hydride batteries. Hybrids use a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Three driving modes are available: EV, Eco, and Sport. EV mode lets the sedan run on battery power alone, no faster than 25 mph. Eco mode reduces throttle response, whereas the Sport setting sharpens responses from the throttle and transmission. Though Sport mode feels quicker, actual performance changes only a little.
Full-size competitors include the Hyundai Azera and Kia Cadenza, along with Chevrolet’s Impala and Ford’s Taurus.
Basic safety features start with rear outboard-seat airbags and dual front knee airbags. A standard rearview camera is especially helpful, because the rear end isn’t easy to judge. All Avalons get new active-safety features for 2017. Touring models add blind-spot monitoring. Rear cross-traffic alert is available for upper trim levels.
Crash-testing has gone well. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave Avalon five stars overall, but only four for frontal impact and rollover resistance (a calculated score rather than an actual test).
Good scores in each crash-test by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety made Avalon a Top Safety Pick. With automatic emergency braking, the rating rose to Superior. Headlights scored either Marginal or Poor.
Avalon XLE V6 ($33,300) has the 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather seat upholstery, power heated front seats 17-inch alloy wheels, and a rearview camera. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.) Avalon XLE Plus V6 ($35,050) adds a moonroof, pushbutton start, auto-dimming mirror, and universal garage-door opener. Avalon XLE Premium V6 ($36,500) comes with navigation, driver’s seat/mirror memory, and Qi wireless charging.
Avalon Touring V6 ($37,700) gets 18-inch wheels, sporty suspension tuning, a unique front end, plus LED headlights and daytime running lights.
Avalon Limited V6 ($41,100) includes perforated leather upholstery, heated/ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, three-zone climate control, rear sunshade, JBL audio, HID headlights, and LED daytime running lights.
Avalon Hybrid XLE Plus ($37,300), Hybrid XLE Premium ($38,750), and Hybrid Limited ($42,600) are equipped similarly and feature the gas-electric powertrain.
Contemporary in appearance and refreshing in theme, the current Avalon body is totally unrelated to Toyota’s Camry. As a result, there’s nothing dull about viewing or driving an Avalon.
A swooping roofline and flared rear fenders help give the Avalon an eminent presence. So do the rear fenders, with upscale-looking taillights. With its sheetmetal flowing smoothly and gracefully from the roof and doors, an Avalon could almost be taken for a more expensive Lexus model.
Spacious inside, befitting a full-size sedan, the contemporary-styled Avalon cabin has been carefully composed and thoughtfully detailed. Materials are premium quality, while fit/finish approaches Lexus level.
Flush-mounted touch switches add to the clean, upmarket appearance. Capacitive controls for climate and audio systems are intuitive, mounted near the driver.
Five occupants (or four larger-size adults) can expect quiet comfort. Acoustic glass in the windshield and side windows helps create the hushed environment.
Front seats are a bit short on lateral support, and lower than customary. Combined with a relatively low dashboard, that arrangement gives the Avalon an airier feel. Lumbar support and seatback padding are sufficient to ensure comfort on longer journeys.
Rear seats rank with the best. Seating positions are nicely-contoured, and comparatively long lower cushions promise suitable thigh support. Headroom and leg space are both bountiful. Slight head-ducking may be needed during entry/exit.
Avalon seats are upholstered in impressively supple leather, with authentic stitching. Limited models get ventilated, premium leather.
Helpful storage spots abound, including bins inside front and rear doors. Trunk volume totals 16 cubic feet, with a wide opening and flat load floor. Trunks are slightly smaller in Hybrid Avalons.
Infotainment systems lack Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Comfort and control definitely take precedence over sportiness. Refined and well-composed, the sedan is far removed from Avalons of years ago, which were known for their pillow-soft, floaty ride.
Suspension tuning is significantly more firm nowadays for more precise control, yielding a direct feel of the road. A sufficiently absorbent suspension gives the Avalon ride quality that’s firm, but far from harsh.
Performance also impresses. Both powertrains respond emphatically and smoothly. A V6 Avalon can accelerate to 60 mph in a relatively brisk 6.7 seconds, versus 8.2 seconds for the Hybrid.
In both gas-engine and Hybrid form, the Avalon drives much like a smaller automobile. Coping well with flawed pavement, the Avalon feels precise and natural. Sport mode can tighten the steering, when tauter handling is warranted. All-disc brakes deliver strong stops, though a spongy pedal impedes full confidence.
Hybrid Avalons weigh only about 100 pounds more than V6 models, and perform admirably. Sport mode in Hybrids helps produce the confidence level that’s needed when passing.
Both powertrains are quiet while cruising, with little engine sound evident, though hard acceleration causes the Hybrid to emit some coarse notes. In Sport mode, some whining can be heard from the Hybrid.
Naturally, Hybrids are the choice for fuel-efficiency, EPA-rated at a laudable 40/39 mpg City/Highway, or 40 mpg Combined. The V6 Avalon consumes far more fuel, EPA-rated at 21/30 mpg City/Highway, or 24 mpg Combined. With its 680-mile estimated range, the Hybrid is one of the thriftiest large sedans on the market.
Truly spacious as well as stylishly modern, an Avalon might not stimulate the senses, but it delivers the goods in comfort, ride/handling, and performance. XLE and XLE Plus trim levels tend to be the best values, while the Limited closes in on Lexus territory. Hybrid fuel-efficiency is hard to pass up.
Driving impressions by Marty Padgett, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.