Car fanatics have always fallen in one of two categories. You’re either crazy about the speed and crave the adrenaline of going fast, or you’ve got a particular affinity for cruising through the city nice and slow. Truth be told, neither category is mutually exclusive and many individuals (like myself) fall in both categories. Toyota’s top contender in the latter category is the Avalon.
Now in its fourth iteration, the Avalon’s existence has struck me as a bit of a conundrum. Everyone knows about the existence of Lexus, and it’s at this point that someone should address the elephant in the room, the ES350 that shares its platform and underpinnings with this Avalon. With that thought in mind, I gladly accepted the chance to take the 2015 Toyota Avalon Limited for a week and take a crack at what I always perceived as a bit of a dilemma.
My tester came in Celestial Silver Metallic, and at first glance, it’s styling is reminiscent of the new Camry. However, while the Camry’s styling is a bit more aggressive, the Avalon takes on a more conservative stance. Save for the gaping front grille and the coupe-like roofline, there’s nothing else about that car that shouts, “Hey look at me!” which isn’t a bad thing given the target demographic of the car. In a word, the design of the car fits in perfectly with what you’d expect from the segment.
Comfort is the name of the game inside the Avalon, and above all else, I think this is where Toyota has really excelled. The big Toyota greets drivers with plenty of real and faux leather and the company has taken a leaf from Lexus by offering some really nice touches to the details too. The armrests are nicely padded and even the cup holders are wrapped in faux leather. For those that opt for the Premium package (an extra $3100), Toyota includes a power rear window sunshade, premium JBL audio, radar cruise control, automatic high beam, 3-zone independent climate control, and heated rear seats.
A special mention goes out to their intuitive infotainment system too (and extra points for dressing it up really well too)! The system features a large center stack touchscreen followed by a smaller rectangular screen for the HVAC controls. Surrounding the two screens are a bevvy of capacitive buttons. However, unlike other manufacturers that insist on using them (we’re looking at you here Cadillac), these buttons work surprisingly well and are easy to find even while driving. An L-shaped ridge encloses each button, making it particularly easy to find using muscle memory while driving. My only niggle with the system is that the top two buttons are obstructed by the steering wheel and your hand has to make a slightly awkward reach around to get at each of these buttons.
While those at the front are definitely pampered well in the Avalon, those in the back haven’t been forgotten either. The full-size sedan offers plenty of rear legroom, heated rear seats, and independent climate control for the rear seat passengers as well. Taller individuals will be glad to know that the slightly tapered roofline hasn’t really affected the rear headroom either.
Under the hood lies Toyota’s 268 hp 3.5L V6, an engine you’re no doubt familiar with if you’ve had any experience with a V6 from the Toyota lineup. While the Avalon may weigh near 3600lbs, the 268 horses in the V6 still propel the car up to speed surprisingly quickly. Mated to the 6-speed automatic transmission (the only available transmission for the Avalon, by the way) power delivery is incredibly smooth. The Avalon features three drive modes, Eco, Normal, and Sport. Eco mode reprograms the transmission to shift earlier in the RPM range and decrease the load on the A/C compressor. Meanwhile, Sport mode holds the gears just marginally longer and stiffens the electric-assisted steering wheel by a little bit.
In my experience, you’re better off ignoring the Sport mode altogether and leaving the car in Eco or Normal. The car features one of the lightest steering wheels I’ve ever laid hands on. The suspension absorbs most of the bumps on the road with ease, and Toyota has done a wicked job of sound deadening so you can forget about hearing that V6. A sports car, the Avalon is not. Not by a long shot in fact, but as a smooth city cruiser? The car does a great job. The JBL premium audio is surprisingly bass heavy but otherwise adequate. Put on your favorite channel on Sirius XM (or your favorite album) and take your time cruising through the city to your destination.
And thus, we return to that elephant in the room. What about the Lexus ES? At an as tested price of $42,980 with the Premium package, the Avalon tops out just where the Lexus ES starts. Oddly enough, if you want some of the features that the Avalon offers (in Limited + Premium package trim) such as Pre Collision warning systems and automatic high beam, you’ve got to opt for the fully loaded Executive package (that costs $51,100). For those who can live with more subdued styling, a Toyota badge, and the absence of a few luxury touches (like a wood grain steering wheel or a panoramic sunroof) the value of the Avalon becomes suddenly apparent. It might not be a Lexus, but for a few grand less, you get 90% of a Lexus and to some, the value is much better than the big shiny “L” badge at the front of your car.