The last time Toyota sold sex-on-wheels it
came arrived in the form of the flying flagship known as the Supra. The Supra holstered an inline six with twin turbos sending over 300 horses to the rear wheels (335i anyone?). But Toyota’s mid-market meteorologists knew which way the wind was blowing. So they sent their one trick pony car back to the factory to be made into rubber and glue. Now Toyota has two flagships with the combined excitement of rubber and glue: the granola Prius and the grandpa Avalon.
Honestly, I love boulevardiers. Big power and cushy seats speak to my inner geezer. Why speed when you can waft? So I approached my Avalon XLS tester with all the anticipation of a Boca Raton resident about to sample a new early bird special from a dog-eared deli menu. As for appearance, well, normally I’d say a car’s looks are subjective. But when it comes to the Avalon’s sheetmetal, I don’t have an opinion.
OK; it looks like a fat Camry. Cancel my pistonhead street cred card, but I like the way the Toyota Camry looks. Unfortunately, this full figured version loses some of the Camry’s interesting features. OK, it ditches ALL of the Camry’s interesting features– save the one they SHOULD have deep-sixed: the Bangle butt.
Taken as a whole, the Avalon left me thinking about marshmallows– which is good if you’re holding hot chocolate and graham crackers at a camp site, not so good if you’re a car buyer who appreciates a finely turned fender. Not that the average Avalon buyer allows such lascivious thoughts into their heads, God forbid.
Strangely, the interior doesn’t reflect this blander-is-better ideology. Instead, Toyota’s designers opted for a thoroughly modern motif. Oh, that definition only applies if you consider giant sheets of matte-finished silver plastic the latest word in contemporary styling. For me, it’s a retro-modern thing; my parents’ ‘88 Nissan Maxima sported a similarly “modern” faux nickelfest. A few years later it looked like someone went crazy with a sandblaster.
I digress. Besides the wannabe metal skin, my tester’s interior was suffused with wannabe wood. To paraphrase the venerable Spice Girls, “If you wannabe my lover, skip the tacky wood trim”. Especially when it’s misaligned from the doors to the dash. Oops.
Ergonomically, the Avalon didn’t challenge my arthritis. Aspiring Starfleet pilots will feel right at home working the space age climate control buttons. As the car’s target market can [vaguely] recall propeller-driven air travel, the Avalon’s translucent buttons are an odd choice. They also bring the dashboard material count to six: fake brushed metal, chrome, wood, translucent rubber and standard plastic. Too much the magic bus.
If you’ve ever driven the Toyota Supra, you’ll know exactly how the Avalon doesn’t drive. The Avalon’s 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve Dual VVT-i V6 purrs like a tranquilized cat. Although the sedan’s schizophrenically frugal mill (22/31) has enough grunt (268 horses) for brisk straight line acceleration, it ain’t gonna happen. Tip in is more like “ooze in.” Full-bore acceleration is fully boring, sonically speaking.
The Avalon felt a little floaty on the highway. More surprisingly, the car’s suspension isn’t as bump-absorbent as you’d expect– although I’m sure there’s a prescription medication that can eliminate the issue for the Avalon's core clientele. Steering feedback is nonexistent, which abates torque steer, but makes driving a challenge. The process is multifaceted. First, you turn the wheel. Then you look where you’re headed. Then you make corrections. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Avalonistas might be thinking “there goes another adrenalin afflicted car reviewer asking a luxury car to be a sports car.” Not at all. I’m asking the Avalon to be a calm, confident and relaxed cruiser. You know: a proper luxury car. Aside from that fact that the Avalon is crammed with all the high tech gadgets that
old people most buyers will never be able to operate, the sedan lacks that luxurious X-factor that makes you go “ahhhh”– instead of “I wonder if we’re having leftover pot roast for dinner.”
When the first generation Avalon was introduced, those in the know dismissed it as nothing more than a bigger Camry. Well, nothing’s changed. Which leaves me wondering: why would anyone buy an Avalon? For around $4k less, you can get the better looking, better driving Camry with nearly all the same features. You can buy a Hell of a lot of Metamucil with that kind of money.
By the same token, if you’re really in the mood to blow 35 large on a front wheel-drive Toyota sedan, why not move on up to a Lexus ES350? It looks better, snobs better (think higher resale value) and the Lexus dealership treats you like Mr. Big Shot Moneybags. Huh. And here I was thinking Toyota had ditched performance to be the sensible brand.