It’s official: it’s hip to be older. This marks the year that the last batch of Baby Boomers turns 40, activating the salivary glands of carmakers everywhere. Finally, marketers realize that their target consumers oughtn’t merely be composed of belly-button-baring youngsters, but rather an affluent, mature populace. The 2007 Toyota Avalon is aimed squarely and unapologetically at this crowd. With a base MSRP of $31,325 and an as-tested price of $35,734, the 2007 Toyota Avalon is a serious commitment. The EPA pegs city/highway mileage at 22/31.
First Glance: Big, in a small way
The Toyota Avalon is classified as a full-sized sedan, a species currently occupied by such stalwarts as the Ford Crown Victoria and Chevrolet Impala. The Avalon manages to look smaller and sleeker than those slab-sided vehicles, thanks to a crisply creased character line that runs the length of the car and a handsome front fascia that extends to a sculpted hood. Like most big four-doors, the rear overhang seems excessive, especially considering that its trunk volume of 14.4 cu.-ft. is puzzlingly small for this class.
That brings up an interesting question: Wherefore the Avalon? On the surface, there’s one reason that it exists in conjunction with its perennially popular smaller brother, the Camry: it’s a bigger car, 8 inches longer overall. And rear accommodations (link goes to photo) are generous, with a flat floor and seats that can recline 10 degrees to make for three happy rear seaters. But when viewed next to Camry specs, the Avalon’s actual measurements of 40.9 inches of rear legroom and 58.2 inches of shoulder space create an advantage of a mere 2.3 and 1.3 inches, respectively. And the Camry gives you as much as 15 cu.-ft. of trunk space. Think of the Avalon as a large shirt that wears roomy medium.
In the Driver’s Seat: Nice, from a bit of distance
As of late, Toyota vehicles have not lived up to their reputation of quality fit-and-finish. The Avalon was no exception; my Georgetown, Kentucky-built test car had some obvious build problems, such as the otherwise handsome faux-wood trim that didn’t quite line up and gaps in the panels that should’ve possessed a greater degree of conformity. The cabin was blissfully free of rattles, however, and attention to such details as the solid, consistent feel of the control buttons and the high quality of the materials around the cabin should be noted. The audio and climate controls were separate, as they should be, from the navigation system interface, and easy to use. They were backed up by steering wheel-mounted controls.
There were two main panels to access the controls to the 12-speaker JBL audio system, which delivered wonderfully multilayered sound, and the buttons to manage the navigation system. With both panels closed, the center stack was clean and minimalist. As helpful as the voice-activated navigation system was, it lacked the simple, intuitive elegance of other Toyota systems. Ease of use is subjective, however, and some time spent with the owner’s manual should help even the technophobe feel comfortable in the car.
On the road: Want a jolt? Chug a Rock Star
Power from the 3.5-liter V6 was plentiful, and those reminiscing about big-block American engines won’t miss their V8s. With 268 horsepower, the Avalon has no trouble merging onto the freeway or speeding away from a red light. Impressively, I got a combined fuel mileage of 24 mpg. It’s mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature. Shift shock, which is the harshness and vibration you sometimes feel when an auto tranny shifts gears, was evident, although it was able to find the correct gear every time. Given its bigger size, I was pleased with the Avalon’s tight turning circle.
Not quite as impressive: important safety features like stability control, traction control and Brake Assist (which detects panic braking and assures full stopping power is applied) are pricey options on all trim levels. It’s unusual to find a car with a base MSRP of over $30,000, as my LS-trimmed Avalon was, without these essential tools as standard.
Journey’s End: Cannibalized by its own sibling?
Except for Nissan, Toyota makes the only other full-size Japanese sedan available for 2007, the new and opulent Lexus LS 460 (at twice the cost). Having driven the two back to back, I can say that the Lexus doesn’t offer twice the bang for the buck. However, if you can give up a bit of space for your rear passengers, the Toyota Camry may provide a more cost-effective alternative. Vehicles like the Toyota Camry and Avalon may not the most exciting sedans on the road, but there’s a reason why they’ve become some of the our most popular cars – a refined ride and a sense of well being that comes from driving a vehicle legendary for its reliability and durability.