Overview: With the Toyota Avalon’s midcycle refresh having been unveiled for 2016, we felt it was appropriate to take a final spin in the current version, which has been on sale since 2013. While this might seem like an unexciting assignment, the Avalon—shockingly—isn’t boring. (Well, the conventional, V-6–powered model reviewed here isn’t; the hybrid version is quite sanitized.) Indeed, this car proves that a Toyota product actually can be among the more interesting entries in its class, which includes, among others, the Chrysler 300, the Dodge Charger, the Chevrolet Impala, and the new Nissan Maxima. In fact, the Avalon finished first out of six in our most recent comparison test involving the segment.
BUILD YOUR OWN | RANK IN SEGMENT
What’s New: Since its full redesign for 2013, the Avalon has soldiered on mostly unchanged. Last year, Toyota added a standard backup camera and a one-touch, three-blink turn-signal function. This year, the XLE Touring Sport trim level came online with standard HID headlights and black-painted 18-inch wheels. Paddle shifters also were fitted to every model, having previously been available only on select trim levels. Buyers can still choose among base, Premium, Touring, and Touring Sport versions of the XLE—we drove the last model for this review—while the top-flight Limited comes just one way.
What We Like: Once favored almost exclusively by the senior set, the Avalon made a remarkable about-face in its most recent redesign. For starters, Toyota buttoned down the suspension, tuned accuracy into the steering, and injected the entire package with a healthy dose of style. Even with pretty much zero mechanical changes since 2013, the Avalon still impresses with its nicely damped body motions, confident handling, and smooth and relatively stout V-6 engine, which can muster a 6.1-second zero-to-60 time.
The interior’s wrapped dashboard, comfortable seats, and flashes of chrome trim are attractive, and the center stack’s capacitive-touch controls go against type by being large, easy to manipulate, and quick to respond to inputs. Our favorite bits include the substantial, weighted volume and tuning knobs, which remind us of those from classic stereo equipment and are extra satisfying to use, as well as the digital climate-control readouts that remind us of old Toyotas’ signature digital clocks. Overall, the Avalon remains a surprisingly compelling alternative to the one-size-down, but one-class-up Lexus ES350. As a member of the extended Toyota family, the ES350 shares its 3.5-liter V-6 with the Avalon, but the similarly priced Avalon serves up just as much luxury with more style and more interior space.
What We Don’t Like: At speed, a surprising amount of tire roar permeated the cabin of the Avalon we drove, something we don’t recall experiencing in our previous tests of the regular model and the hybrid, although wind noise is hushed. One complaint that does carry over from past Avalon experiences has to do with the transmission’s Sport mode programming, which doesn’t seem to do much beyond providing ever-so-slightly quicker shifts. Furthermore, the six-speed automatic transmission is easily tripped up by abrupt throttle lifts during even medium acceleration; the transmission hesitates noticeably while figuring out whether to hold the current gear or upshift. Finally, the Avalon remains front-drive-only, which we don’t particularly mind but may put off shoppers in all-wheel-drive-crazy Northern climes, especially when so many competitors offer it.
Verdict: The full-size, front-drive Lexus that Lexus doesn’t make.