On the Road: 2016 Toyota Avalon

Newly facelifted for 2016, sporting the family grille that defines Toyota’s lineup, my Avalon test car this week remains the rock solid flagship of the company.2016Avalon-34

Beneath the cosmetic appearance, the basics stay the same beneath the skin – engine, transmission, etc. carry over into the new model year, as does the borderline-luxury car feel of the passenger compartment inside the most full-sized of Toyota’s sedans.

My test vehicle, a top-line Avalon in Limited trim lacks very little in the cabin to separate it from true Premium segment cars; displaying comfortable and leathery seating surfaces, electronic creature comforts (and a suite of safety features).

2016Avalon-1It does lack a couple of things I would like to see though (specifically, my test car does not have a heated steering wheel, which makes me sad because it is freezing outside and I hate grabbing a cold wheel), but this brings me to a point:

I have this one friend who always points out that, as a spoiled media weasel, I may have become unrealistic in my expectations – I learned this when whining one day about some car that didn’t have keyless start (apparently, LOTS of people don’t have keyless start), so I don’t dare mention the lack of heated steering to him, for I will get no empathy.

That aside, my Avalon Limited (with no additional option packages) contains almost everything else one might want. Blind spot monitoring is one of the best warning and prevention systems that has come along in the recent past; a navigation app that displays both on the center console info screen and also in between the gauges over the wheel; where an animated arrow helps with turn-by-turn instructions.2016Avalon-18 2016Avalon-15

As with anything Toyota makes, all the controls are easy to understand and presented in a straightforward layout, from stereo to climate controls (and, conveniently, the climate controls are grouped separately on the center stack, so that they can be operated without going into sub-menus on the touch-screen interface).

The only feature on the vehicle that required a look at the manual was the inclusion of a wireless charger plate on the door of a center-console compartment – a clever bit of technology that will charge various phones and devices just by placing them on it, if the devices are compatible. (Incidentally, turns out none of my devices were compatible with the charger, and this is just one more thing that I can’t expect any pity from my friend over).

The Avalon rides beautifully and quietly, obviously a good highway cruiser, but thoroughly enjoyable in urban settings, too; and maintains its upscale feel with an engine that effortlessly handles acceleration with a potential 268 horsepower (and 248 lb.-ft of torque) behind the new grille; a 3.5 litre six-cylinder.

A six-speed automatic transmission is the only choice for Avalons, and handles itself well in any of the selectable drive modes (Sport, Eco or normal, depending on your preference). The car isn’t sluggish in any mode, and Sport peps it up noticeably in terms of accelerator response. It handles well in general daily operation, and brakes very well; the only real detraction, for me, is the rather ‘light’ feel calibrated into the steering.

That’s just me though, the steering is tuned to be appealing and comfortable for the broadest range of drivers (and remember: spoiled media weasel. Why, if it was up to me, everything would be as tight and instantaneously unforgiving as a high-end German sports sedan, and would of course also be heated. Don’t tell my friend).

With a cabin rivaling big-car competitors like Taurus or Impala for spaciousness (and naturally, Avalon provides the best rear-seat environment of any of Toyota’s car lineup), it is a car to be considered if you have a need for something this size; and don’t blanch at the price.

While it doesn’t push its sticker price into the big-bucks territory of the ‘true’ premium sedans of similar size, the Avalon isn’t a bargain buy, either, especially in the Limited trim of my test car.

This one, without options and before taxes, comes to $43,770 but check out your choices at Toyota.ca

Fact file
Trim level: Limited
Price as tested (before taxes): $43,770
Options on test vehicle: none
Freight: $1,660
Configuration: front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.5L 6-cylinder / 6-spd automatic
Power/torque: 268 hp/ 248 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular (64L)
Fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 11.4 city, 7.6 hwy
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 12.8 over 231 km
Warranties: 3 years/60,000 km (basic)
Competitors: Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus, Lexus ES350, Nissan Maxima

Strengths: styling, quiet interior, smooth ride

Weaknesses: expensive, needs a couple more features

Report Card (out of 10):
Fuel Economy: 5 – I was using it in some punishing temperatures, so this is not the best I could have wrung from the V6
Equipment level: 8 – all the desirable stuff, some of the more esoteric flourishes of Premium cars.
Price: 7 – pricey, especially the Limited
Styling: 8 – Great new face and pleasing lines
Comfort (front): 8 – Good seats and lateral room.
Comfort (rear): 8 – the most spacious of any Toyota sedan
Handling: 7 – light steering feel, secure braking
Performance: 7 – plenty of power from the V6
Storage: 7 – similar to most full-size sedans
Overall: 7 – A solid, big-car offering from the top of Toyota’s lineup.