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2011 Toyota Avalon Limited Review

With Buick no longer producing what I like to call “THE senior special”, with soft, cushy, and inoffensive offerings like the Park Avenue and Lucerne, there was an open spot for another car-maker to take the reigns and produce a vehicle for those who don’t care about flash or driver interest.

That car-maker is Toyota, and that car is the Avalon.

Now, the Avalon is not a new model for Toyota. In fact, this four-door sedan has been around since 1998. The first generation was not much more than a slightly larger, slightly plusher Camry. Now in its fourth generation, the Avalon has grown into a full-size, quiet cruiser.

For 2011, the long 197.6-inch vehicle (now classed as a full-size vehicle) has a revised body that flaunts a sharper front end with new projector headlamps, stronger creases in the front fenders, and new LED taillights. Even with the new lines, there is still a sense this car is more about comfort and solidity than standing out in the crowd. Take for example the small 17-inch wheels; they look out of place on this class of car, which usually comes with a larger size wheel. All in the conquest for that smooth, supple ride.

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Inside the Avalon, that theme continues. The front seats are as large as your favorite La-Z-Boy and are quite comfortable despite the lack of sufficient side bolstering. But that’s fine, as occupants simply settle into the seat for the long haul. And if need be, the front seats in my Limited test model can either be cooled or heated to anyone’s liking.

With a total interior volume of 107 cubic feet and with a width of over six feet, there is plenty of room in the Avalon for five full size adults. The rear is just as comfortable and spacious as the front buckets, and can actually recline backward almost two inches to help riders relax and get comfortable. When Ford stopped making the Crown Victoria, the New York Taxi Commission would be happy with a fleet of these.

A pair of hooded gauges that are back-lighted by a cool, soft blue reside behind a rather large steering wheel. On that wheel are over 13 buttons and switches to control everything from the radio and Bluetooth phone to the voice-activated optional navigation system and even controls for dual-zone automatic climate control are present. To the right lays the six-inch touchscreen that houses the rudimentary controls for everything listed above, which multiple buttons littered on three sides.

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And that is my only quibble about the interior. While the space and comfort is terrific, the layout up front is not. With that large steering wheel, important controls are blocked, such as the mirror controls as are both the turn signal and windshield wiper stalks.

Then there is the button-unfriendly center stack, which left me constantly hunting when I wanted to switch from navigation to the phone, for example. In addition, the interface has a feeling of outdated. Inputting information or making changes are intuitive, but the system is slow to react when changing albums on your iPod or typing in an address. And damn you Toyota for lawyering up the navigation system while the car is in motion.

The drive does make up for the negative bits.

All Avalons are propelled by one engine, a 3.5-liter, DOHC V6 shared with a laundry list of other Toyotas. The engine produces 268-horsepower and 248 lb. ft of torque at 4700 rpm. Transferring that power to the two front wheels is a six-speed automatic transmission.

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The 3.5-liter is a smooth engine that provides ample power. That mid-range torque helps give this big Toyota a surprising burst of acceleration. Too bad the transmission is a bit reluctant to downshift, a known feature in most Toyotas. But again, this car is not about wickedly quick shifts, as they are liquid smooth going in either direction.

The long wheelbase and those 17-inch wheels offer a decadently smooth ride on straighter roads. The Avalon is super quite, with little road and wind noise intruding inside. Any major bumps are felt a little blip on the radar between the suspension absorbing everything and those cushy seats taking care of the rest.

If there is a need to take back roads, the Toyota holds its own incredibly well. As probably the biggest surprise with the Avalon, corners and uneven roads do not affect this car at all. Sure, the steering doesn’t really talk very much as to what the front end is doing, but there is very little roll and nearly no float with the all-independent MacPherson suspension. Tight corners do scrub off speed; however the car can handle higher speed corners with aplomb that I have never felt in a Toyota sedan.

2011 Toyota Avalon Limited

This vehicle was a surprise. I expected it to be about as fun as driving my grandparents’ house. But with its clean, inoffensive look and solid driving habits, it may appeal to a larger market. The interior does have some foibles, but the luxury features that come with the Limited model (leather, Xenon headlights, keyless access and start, 660 watt JBL stereo, navigation and rearview camera) will only cost $37,884.

From the company that produces such awful four-wheeled appliances like the Corolla and Camry, and sells a vehicle that actually works well while being somewhat enjoyable to drive is quite astonishing. I hope the rest of the cars from Toyota will follow on a similar path.

Before You Buy

  1. I just purchased a 2011 Toyota Avalon Limited Nav (Exterior: Sizzling Crimson Mica / Interior: Black Bordeaux Perforated Leather). I was considering the following family sedans: 2011 Acura TL, 2011 Hyundai Genesis, 2011 Lexus ES350 and 2011 Toyota Avalon. The Hyundai got eliminated pretty early given that I live in Colorado and RWD vehicles do not feel at home in the snow. The Hyundai interior felt cheap and unappealing. Next vehicle that I marked off the list was the Acura. The Acura felt quite small inside. The suspension felt quite hard. I am aware that the Acura is more like a sport sedan; consequently a smooth ride isn’t a sport sedan characteristic. Having two small kids comfort is a priority to me then again the Acura is the most stylish inside and out in my opinion. If you are looking for attention, the Acura is the one to get. Badging status or attention is not what I am looking for; for that reason the Acura got marked off. My final decision was between the Lexus and the Toyota Avalon. Why did I go with the Avalon? Well, both are based on the Camry platform however the Avalon is larger (The Lexus qualifies as a mid size luxury sedan, while the Toyota Avalon qualifies as a Large upscale sedan). Seating in both cars gave me the following impressions: The Lexus was smaller (-1 on my list since rear legroom and front headroom is important to me), The Avalon has a great deal of legroom plus the rear seat reclines. The engine is the same in both cars and both are front wheel drive (Acceptable for the snow). Interiors fit and finish: To me the Avalon was in the same level that the Lexus detail and material wise (Even though they are in two different categories. Luxury sedan vs upscale sedan). Driving experience: The Lexus felt a bit sportier and lighter on its feet. The Avalon feels larger, because it is. I drive carefully within the speed limit for that reason sport handling is not what I wanted. I wanted comfort. Don’t go around thinking the Avalon doesn’t handle, it does pretty well (Just not Lexus ES like well). Powertrain: The same 3.5 V6 six speed transmissions, both have enough balls to handle just about anything. MPG: The same on the Lexus and the Avalon (24mpg). Since badging status is not important to me, and to get a Lexus with comparable packaging would cost around $8k more. The Avalon was the smarter choice. I was looking for a smooth large luxury or upscale sedan, and that’s what I got with the Avalon. Finally. If you are planning on owning any of these vehicles above for a longer period than their manufacturer warranties, be wise and stay away from the fancy badging status. Toyota and Hyundai won’t hurt you as much on the service and part departments. The only thing that I’ll be missing about the Lexus is the Lexus VIP service. Lexus will indulge you with loaner vehicles and VIP treatment. Toyota however will not. Toyota will not treat you any differently if you get the Avalon or the Yaris. I’m ok with that; I’m a simple man.

    1. I have been looking at the Avalon 2011 & 2012. I own a 2000 Avalon and love it! I need to pass it off to my son who needs it for school in a different state and I know how much I’ll miss it. I loved this review and agree with it totally. I have not seen the Crimson color, but I have seen the black bordeaux interior and positively love it! My problem is that I don’t want a black car and the only other color that I think I’ll enjoy is the crimson. This combination does not exist in New England. I am worried of how the two colors look together. There is no comment or description on this feature of your car. I read every word hoping you would, do you care to comment on this color combination or will anyone else comment on it? I’ll have to pay an additional $1000 to have one shipped to New England as well as purchase the vehicle sight unseen. It’s the combination I’m concerned about, that interior looks great in the black vehicle, but the upkeep of a black car is more than I want.

      1. Hello Mariann,
        I am happy to hear that you are considering the Sizzling Crimson Mica / Interior: Black Bordeaux Perforated Leather color combination. This color combo really works well together. In my opinion that is. I ordered this combination without ever seeing it before. Just beautiful. My 2011 Avalon is fully loaded (Limited w/ Navigation, floor mats, Invisible mask and rear bumper applique). As far as the year, there is no difference between the 2011 & 2012. Go to the link and see the color combo;


        Now, The Avalon is the car that sells the least in the Toyota lineup by far, for that reason do not let your dealer hustle you. My sticker price was just a few dollars shy of US$40000. After much fighting I only paid US$33495. for my 2011. I’m not saying that you could get the same price I got,” considering that I had the free time” to fight the dealer. I fought the enemy (Dealership) for weeks until they gave up and just gave me the price I wanted to pay for. I can be annoying and persistent like that. LOL. Plz, just don’t let them hustle you. The Avalon audience group is roughly 65 old therefore you have the last word on the negotiation table. I’m only 39 years old but I really love this vehicle.
        Best regards,

        1. Newt,

          Thank you for your reply. You cleared up any concerns I may had. The pictures are beautiful. I am not one to be excited over a car but I do love the Avalon as you do and I too am not over 60 yr’s old.

          I cannot thank you enough.

          Best regards,

  2. After owning an Avalon for almost 2 years this is probably the best review I read particularly on handling corners. I don’t like center consoles unintuitive viewing and really liked the simplicity of rear view mirror camera image. Unfortunately, the 2012 and 2013 removed the reclining rear seat feature and made the front seats smaller. Bad move. Also the front passenger seat requires more controls. In short love this car!

    1. Thanks for the comment Dennis, I’m sure it’ll help others looking at which year to buy.

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