Used 2003 Toyota Avalon Review

A comfortable, though pasteurized, full-size sedan.

what's new

A few minor changes are in store for Toyota's large sedan. On the outside, you'll find freshened styling that consists of a new grille, new taillamps and redesigned bumpers. Inside, the 2003 Avalon has been upgraded with dual-stage airbags and ISO-FIX child safety seat anchor points. XLS models also have more features this year, including an autodimming driver-side mirror, rain-sensing wipers, a simulated wood-trimmed steering wheel and an optional navigation system.

vehicle overview

Introduction: It would seem buyers of full-size sedans generally aren't interested in character. Most big four-doors are dull pieces of machinery to look at and a snooze to drive. The beauty in such a vehicle lies in what it can do for the customer in terms of providing space for people and things without compromising the ride or occupant comfort. It should look upscale, but not gaudy, providing just enough glitz and luxury to let others know you have achieved a degree of success in life. Finally, such a vehicle must also be reliable and able to handle years of daily-driver tasks without so much as a whimper.

Since its introduction in 1995, the Toyota Avalon has fit this description: bland as egg whites, but solid, roomy and dependable. It's a popular seller and often exceeds the full-size sedan-buyer's expectations. Sure, the price is higher than offerings from Detroit like the Buick LeSabre and Mercury Grand Marquis,but unflappable quality doesn't come cheap. Want a Lexus but need six-passenger capacity or huge amounts of rear legroom? The Avalon is your car.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options: The Avalon is based on the previous-generation Camry platform and it shares the latter's main mechanical components. There are two trim levels from which to choose: XL and XLS. The main difference between the two is the level of standard equipment. XL will get you the basics like dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a CD player, a multifunction information display and power locks and windows. The XLS is the more luxurious version that adds extra features like a premium JBL audio system, HomeLink, remote keyless entry, heated outside mirrors, automatic dual-zone climate control, and aluminum wheels.

The Avalon can be ordered with front bucket or bench seats trimmed in either leather or cloth upholstery. Other options, depending on trim, include a premium audio system with a six-disc in-dash CD changer, a driver's seat memory feature, heated front seats, a sunroof and a 115-volt A/C outlet capable of powering small electronic devices. Also new this year is a DVD-based navigation system.

Powertrains and Performance: The Avalon relies on a 3.0-liter V6 engine. Equipped with variable valve timing, this V6 offers good fuel economy and power. It produces 210 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque, which is transmitted to the front wheels through a four-speed automatic. These horses are more than enough for city driving and highway passing, and owners can expect 0-to-60 mph acceleration times to take about 8 seconds.

Safety: One of Avalon's strengths lies in safety. The car has earned a crash-test rating of "Good" (the highest possible) from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and better-than-average scores from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Side airbags are standard, and Toyota's Vehicle Skid Control (VSC), can be added to the Avalon XLS. This system includes traction and stability control systems that can reduce the chance of hazardous skids and slides. It also includes a brake-assist system that detects emergency braking and applies supplemental pressure to reduce stopping distances. All Avalons have ABS-equipped four-wheel disc brakes. Interior Design and Special Features: Toyota's full-size car is also great for transporting people and luggage. While billed as a six-passenger car with the front bench, the middle front occupant doesn't have much legroom. We recommend getting an Avalon with the comfortable and supportive bucket seats unless there is genuine need for six-passenger seating. The trunk holds 15.9 cubic feet of cargo, and there is a locking pass-through door behind the rear seat. This pass-through allows room for longer items such as skis.

Driving Impressions: Road and wind noise is minimal thanks to thick side glass and substantial sound-deadening materials. Once moving, the Avalon's light steering and soft suspension make for comfortable long-distance cruising. It isn't a particularly interesting car to drive, so drivers wanting a bit of involvement will be dissapointed. But if all you're looking for is dependable and comfortable transportation with a minimum of hassles, the Avalon should serve you well.

edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.