What's New for 2008
A midcycle refresh brings a six-speed automatic transmission (in place of last year's five-speed auto) and minor upgrades to the braking system. All 2008 Toyota Avalons have new headlamps, a revised front fascia and a more compact keyless remote, while the Limited gets chrome door handles. Inside, the wood-grain and metallic surface treatments are updated, while a nine-speaker audio system with an MP3-compatible CD changer and auxiliary audio jack is now standard on all models except the Limited. An eight-way power front passenger seat is included in the XLS and Limited, and the latter also comes with Bluetooth.
Although Americans take heat for ordering too many Java Chip Frappuccinos, racking up credit card debt and sustaining the worldwide market for sport-utility vehicles, we have some good habits as well. Driving full-size sedans, for one. As big as these cars are, they're ideally suited for a country where suburban sprawl is rampant and long-distance travel borders on necessity. Further, they typically represent a more efficient solution for carrying four or five people than SUVs. The Toyota Avalon has long been among our favorite large cars in the under-$40,000 price bracket. Not only is it spacious and comfortable, it has a well-deserved reputation for quality and reliability that rivals are hard-pressed to match.
Last redesigned for 2005, the Avalon rides on a stretched version of the previous-generation Camry platform. Even compared to the current Camry, the full-size Toyota Avalon is considerably longer and a bit wider. This extra size provides additional legroom and hiproom in the backseat and more than 5 cubic feet of additional interior volume. Plus, Toyota's careful packaging yields a nearly flat floor in the Avalon's rear, making it a legitimate proposition to seat three adults across. In addition to its extra space, Toyota's full-size sedan offers a larger dose of luxury accoutrements. Convincing faux wood trim is sprinkled liberally throughout the cabin, and premium features like adaptive cruise control, heated and cooled seats, and keyless ignition are available. A fully loaded Avalon Limited could easily pass for a Lexus on the inside.
Although Toyota has never joined the domestic manufacturers in offering a V8 option, the current Avalon is among the quickest big sedans in this price range, thanks to a very potent 3.5-liter V6. For 2008, Toyota has upgraded the previous five-speed automatic transmission to a new six-speed, the result being minimal gains in acceleration and fuel economy -- which were already above average anyway. These qualities, along with a quiet and composed ride, make the 2008 Toyota Avalon an excellent choice for a road trip. The one thing Toyota's full-size sedan doesn't offer is sporty handling, and buyers who revel in back-road travel will probably find Chrysler's 300 Limited or 300C, or the Nissan Maxima, more to their liking. For consumers who cruise the interstates, though, the Avalon's high level of refinement should more than compensate for its lack of athleticism.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A large sedan, the 2008 Toyota Avalon is available in four trim levels: XL, Touring, XLS and Limited. The base Avalon XL starts you out with 16-inch alloy wheels, electroluminescent gauges, cloth upholstery, a power driver seat, a tilt/telescoping wheel, reclining rear seats, dual-zone automatic climate control and a nine-speaker stereo with an in-dash CD changer and an auxiliary audio input. The Touring model is meant to be more sporting, and to that end it offers firmer suspension tuning, 17-inch wheels, xenon HID headlights, black leather upholstery and faux aluminum interior trim.
The luxury-themed Avalon XLS loses the HID headlights and reverts to softer suspension tuning but gains lighter-color leather and wood-grain interior trim. Additional standard feature content on the XLS includes a sunroof, an eight-way power front passenger seat, heated outside mirrors and auto-dimming capability for the rearview and driver-side mirrors. The top-of-the-line Limited adds keyless startup; rain-sensing wipers; perforated leather seats with memory, heating and cooling; power-adjustable seat-cushion length for the driver; an upgraded 12-speaker JBL sound system; Bluetooth and a power rear sunshade.
Many of the upscale features on the XLS and Limited are also available as options on the lower trims. Other options, depending on trim level, include a navigation system, satellite radio and laser-based adaptive cruise control.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive Toyota Avalon is motivated by a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. For 2008, the EPA estimates the Avalon will deliver 19 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway, with a combined average of 22 miles per gallon.
Standard safety equipment on the 2008 Toyota Avalon includes antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers and a driver-side knee airbag. Stability and traction control are optional across the board. In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Toyota Avalon earned a perfect five stars in all frontal- and side-impact categories. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety testing, the Avalon earned the top score of "Good" for its protection of occupants in frontal-offset and side-impact crashes.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although the metallic-trimmed Touring model can come across as a bit austere, any Toyota Avalon feels upscale and inviting, thanks to its glowing Optitron gauges, attractive and ergonomic control layout, and high-quality materials. Movable panels conceal the radio and navigation controls when they're not in use, and this gives the dash a sleek appearance. The front seats are wide and accommodating, particularly in the Limited, which offers both ventilated seats and a seat-cushion length adjuster. The rear seats are quite comfortable as well. Legroom is abundant even by full-size sedan standards, and a manually reclining back cushion allows passengers to stretch out on long trips. A 6-footer can sit in back with more than enough knee and headroom, and with a nearly flat floor, getting three across on carpool day is no problem. One minor annoyance is the inability to fold the rear seats, though the 14.4-cubic-foot trunk offers plenty of usable space.
Not surprisingly, the 2008 Toyota Avalon is at its best on the open highway. The cabin remains quiet, the ultra-smooth V6 engine has plenty of passing power and the suspension never feels harsh, even with the Touring model's firmer calibrations. The Avalon is no athlete, but this full-size Toyota carries itself with reasonable composure on winding roads. The steering is too light to feel sporty, but it responds to driver input in a precise, fluid manner. Additionally, a tidy turning circle makes the Avalon feel unexpectedly nimble on tight city streets.