A hearty vote of support for Toyota’s fulsome Avalon | SummitDaily.com

A hearty vote of support for Toyota’s fulsome Avalon

Andy Stonehouse
summit daily auto writer
2010 Toyota Avalon LTD

The following tale comes to you from a stance that may seem as precarious (and online hate-speech-enticing) as health care reform or amnesty for illegal aliens, but here goes.

I’d heartily encourage you to go out and buy a Toyota, almost immediately.

Yes, this has been a very tough quarter for Toyota, which has served as whipping boy for the entire embattled auto industry. You may also note that the public hue and cry about bailing out General Motors and Chrysler has entirely disappeared from the headlines as we turned to vilify an apparently terrible, foreign-based company.

The “unintended acceleration” stories seem to have dried up for the moment (I was in Sacramento last weekend listening to a pair of radio jocks play the San Diego runaway Prius 911 tape and I, too, began to believe that particular case was a hoax); clearly, however, Toyota still has some major PR issues to address.

In the meantime, looking at the history of Toyota’s quality and the fact that presumably every single person you know has owned (or currently owns) a Toyota, maybe we need to have a little faith in the world’s most popular automaker, which continues to (and you have to admit this is true) vigorously and proactively address its problems.

That said, I recently had the chance to drive the 2010 edition of the Toyota Avalon, and as literally the only Toyota model I’ve never tested over the last six years, I was pleasantly surprised.

Avalon figures into the larger Toyota family as sort of a Japanese Crown Victoria, a sizeable and comfortable sedan with an impressively large and comfortable back seat, and proportions long enough (nearly 200 inches overall) to require a bit of foresight when parking.

Avalon packs a Lexus-sized, 111-inch-long wheelbase (nearly identical to the ES and the GS and almost the same as the very long LS model), the primary result being a back seat passenger experience more like a 1970s American sedan than a claustrophobic import.

The appeal is also boosted by super-buttery leather seating throughout, including a front seat that felt more like a La-Z-Boy than any car I’ve driven since an actual Crown Victoria, plus a package of cabin furnishings more high end than import-frugal.

I also appreciated the Avalon’s mixture of substance and power, with enough weight (3,625 pounds) and the smooth but easily accessed, healthy 268-horsepower push of the 3.5-liter V6 engine. Braking requires a little extra effort than a smaller vehicle but was always competent and controlled; handling feel was also superb, though you do have to get used to all of the acreage.

I piloted the Avalon over the passes on a moderately snowy day and even without all-wheel-drive or super-aggressive winter tires, I still felt absolutely grounded and secure. As you may remember from some of my previous whines, such was not the case with a few SUVS this winter.

Avalon – which receives a moderate, mostly cosmetic makeover in the 2011 edition, debuted last month at the Chicago Auto Show – does sport a few details which trace its roots back a few years.

The decidedly old-school, glowing blue and white highlights and the pop-out, hideaway control panels on the dash (the radio and the navigation system) may streamline the look, but they also mean that you have to pop open the panel every time you start the car to re-“agree” that you won’t use the nav system when you drive. That navigation system is also very old-generation; an update will clearly be part of the makeover.

A power rear privacy screen, a wood-trimmed steering wheel, pushbutton starting, a very large sliding center armrest and a pass-thru gate in the rear seat also add to the car’s higher-end status.

Most impressively, I got 330 miles from a tank of gas so I believe that the EPA figure of 28 mpg highway is not off the mark.

Sound convincing? I’m confident Toyota will survive the current fiasco and, like Tiger Woods, learn to get on the PR bandwagon much, much earlier if future problems arise.

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