What's New for 1998
The Avalon gets side-impact airbags, new headlights and taillamps, a new grille, a new trunk lid and pre-tensioner seatbelts with force limiters.
With the Avalon, Toyota takes on a traditionally Detroit-dominated section of the marketplace: the full-size sedan. The last assault Toyota made on a domestic market was in 1993, when the T100 pickup was introduced as an alternative to big trucks from Ford, GM and Dodge. The 1994 Dodge Ram and the lack of a V8 in the Toyota conspired to keep sales to a minimum. We think the company has learned something from its experience with the T100.
For instance, the Avalon's V6 is a powerful motor, allowing the Avalon to keep up with GM front-drivers like the LeSabre and Bonneville in acceleration, and besting the V8-powered Crown Victoria in the race to 60 mph. Handling is on par with the Bonneville SSE, and braking is outstanding.
The news for 1998 is the Avalon's mild restyle. New this year are safety features like seat-mounted side-impact airbags, pretensioner seatbelts with force limiters and exterior revisions like a new grille, trunk lid, headlamps, taillights and bodyside moldings.
Inside, the Avalon is noticeably narrower than the domestic competition, but six will fit in a pinch when equipped with the optional bench seat. The rear seat is exceptionally comfortable, offering more leg and foot room than bigger sedans, with good support and a high seating position.
Front seats are comfy as well, and face an ergonomically designed dashboard that places everything right where you expect to find it. The styling is generic, with oversize headlights and a narrow grille imparting an out-of-balance appearance to the front end.
Overall, the Avalon impresses us as an excellent alternative to aging and aesthetically impaired offerings from GM and Ford. Chrysler's new Concorde sedan is a better value, but the guaranteed quality of the Toyota is probably worth the extra couple grand.