If you're a car manufacturer about to undertake a model freshening or redesign, it's important to have a clear understanding of what your vehicle means to the buying public. With its revamp of the Avalon, Toyota has shown that it has this understanding. The Avalon's appeal has always rested with its capacity to deliver a lot — by way of luxury features and comfort — for a relatively affordable price. The 2011 Toyota Avalon benefits from a freshening that builds on this promise.
The sedan gains added luxury and value, thanks to a standard features list that has grown to include amenities such as Bluetooth hands-free phone and music streaming, XM Satellite Radio and USB and auxiliary connections for iPods and other music devices. Cabin ergonomics have been enhanced: The center stack's interface has been moved a bit closer to the driver, making it easier to reach. The car's sheet metal has also been spruced up with more chrome and redesigned headlights and taillights that feature snazzy LED light bars.
Despite its assorted nips and tucks, though, the Avalon remains rather anonymous. It won't catch your eye like the strikingly angular Ford Taurus or wow you with its stylish interior like the Buick LaCrosse. That probably suits the Avalon's traditional fan base just fine; this sedan has never been about glamour. There are other choices in this segment with more personality, but with its huge cabin, simple-to-engage controls and class-leading rear legroom, it's hard to beat the 2011 Toyota Avalon when it comes to sheer comfort and ease of use.
Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 good for 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque. In city driving, the engine proved to be strong and capable. At the track, the sedan powered its way from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds; this makes it quicker than comparable versions of the LaCrosse (7.5 seconds) and the Taurus (7.8 seconds). Shifts from the six-speed automatic transmission were just as smooth as the engine's seamless performance.
Brake pedal feel was a bit on the squishy side, but fade resistance was adequate. Stopping distance is average; at the track, the Avalon stopped from 60 mph in 129 feet, placing it ahead of the Taurus (131 feet) but behind the LaCrosse (127 feet). Given the car's focus, steering is as you'd expect: It's on the light side, geared more toward ease of use than sportiness.
Given its soft suspension and somewhat slow steering, the slalom course isn't exactly the Avalon's natural habitat. The big sedan lumbered round the cones at a leisurely 57.9 mph. This speed is below average for the segment, and trails that of the LaCrosse (62.3 mph) and the Taurus (60.3 mph). Track testing involving sudden changes of direction clearly isn't its thing, but in normal driving around town, the 2011 Toyota Avalon proved to be perfectly adequate around corners.
Toyota deserves credit for what it's been able to pull off with the Avalon's V6. The engine delivers power that helps the Avalon shine as one of the quickest choices when it comes to straight-line acceleration; despite this, the mill is more fuel-efficient than the V6s that motivate rival models. EPA fuel-economy ratings place the Avalon at 20 city/29 highway/23 combined mpg, ahead of the 3.6-liter LaCrosse (17/27/21) and the 3.5-liter Taurus (18/28/22). Edmunds observed fuel economy was 22 mpg combined, in mostly city driving.
A serene ride has been and remains the Avalon's calling card. Things sometimes get a bit floaty, but never unpleasantly so — unlike in, say, the Buicks of yesteryear, this sedan won't have you reaching for the motion sickness bag. For greater feedback and a more engaging ride in this segment, though, look no further than a current Buick — the very capable LaCrosse.
The front seats are distinguished by their relatively flat seat bottoms and seatbacks. The seats' flatness makes them easy to slide into: a plus for drivers with mobility issues. This trait also helps them easily accommodate passengers of wider girth. Consequently, the seats don't offer much support around hairpin bends, but if canyon carving's on the itinerary, you're in the wrong car for more than one reason.
Rear seats are similarly flat, and offer a feature that's rare in this segment: reclining seatbacks. These seatbacks offer a greater degree of tilt than we've seen in other models that offer this amenity. Accommodations in both rows are quite spacious, and rear legroom is class-leading. The wide rear seat and the sedan's flat rear floor make fitting three adults in the back row a breeze. Wind and road noise are mostly absent from the cabin.
The 2011 Toyota Avalon is a car that has much to offer shoppers of varying ages. Still, there's no denying that historically, prospective Avalon owners tend to be older, and it's clear that Toyota has considered their needs with the design of the sedan's cabin.
All the controls are within easy reach, and the interface on the center stack is tilted forward for ready access. Controls are straightforward, with buttons that are large and well spaced and fonts that are easily legible. Of course, this is a plus not just for older drivers, but for all drivers who value simplicity. Outward visibility, too, is excellent from all angles.
Those within the Avalon will never be at a loss when it comes to finding places to hoard their knickknacks, since in-cabin storage space is generous. The glovebox is sizable and the cabin is dotted with roomy bins — you'll find them on the doors and in the center console.
Drama-free ingress and egress are facilitated by the sedan's huge door openings. The second row, especially, has the sort of long openings that had one of our editors comparing them to a limousine's. Of course, with long door openings come long doors, and these can present some challenges when parked in tight spaces.
Flat rear seats and ample rear legroom make child seat installation an effortless undertaking. There's more than enough room for a rear-facing child seat placed behind the driver seat, even if the driver has the stature of Kobe Bryant.
With 14.4 cubic feet of room available, the Avalon's large trunk has more space than the LaCrosse (12.8 cubic feet), but less than the Taurus (20.1 cubic feet). Golf clubs and a standard-size suitcase fit with room to spare. The 2011 Toyota Avalon offers a narrow trunk pass-through (via the rear center armrest) for some longer items, but folding rear seats aren't available.
Design/Fit and Finish
Though most would probably agree the Avalon isn't a looker, its sheet metal is, by and large, inoffensive enough. There are lots of flat surfaces — a character line or two would perhaps help relieve the monotony. However, the car does have a large, distinctive grille (new for 2011), and this helps add some visual interest.
Presentation within the cabin is clean and straightforward, if a bit plain. We found our test car's beige-and-black color scheme attractive, teamed as it was with wood and metallic accents. Materials quality was decent, as was build quality.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2011 Toyota Avalon's generous dimensions and excellent safety ratings (the 2011 model earned the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety's "Top Safety Pick" award) make it a shoo-in for those seeking safe, roomy family transportation. It's a must-see both for older drivers and those with certain mobility challenges as well, thanks to its wide door openings, flat seats and easy-to-use controls. Those with the sort of neck and back problems that necessitate purchasing a car with the smoothest ride are also advised to take a look at Toyota's big sedan.
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