|Year Tested:||July 2000|
|Vehicle Make:||Toyota Avalon|
|Insurance:||Get a quote|
|Equipment & Features|
|Comfort & Space|
|Handling & Braking|
Australia's big two, Falcon and Commodore, now have a serious competitor. Toyota Avalon will surprise many people with its smooth flowing performance, excellent on road ability and spacious interior. In some ways the Avalon brings a new level of refinement to the large car class.
For it to be a success however, Toyota need to sell the drab styling, convince the traditionalist who believes a large car must be rear wheel drive, and live with the fact some sales will be lost because of its inability to haul the heavier loads, such as a large van.
If a car's ability to stand out in the crowd and turn heads as you drive down the street is a major priority in your buying decision, then cross Toyota's new ultra conservatively styled Avalon off your list.
But, if it is smooth flowing performance, impeccable road manners and an ability to get the job done in a quiet efficient manner that you're looking for, the Avalon will appeal.
Toyota has its sights set squarely on the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, which combined account for over 70 percent of the medium to large, six cylinder car market. A check of exterior dimensions shows that the Avalon is marginally smaller than these two but it's only a matter of millimetres and Avalon certainly qualifies for the large car class.
interior and styling
Avalon's styling may not be as curvaceous and modern looking but it does have some practical advantages, particularly in terms of rear head room. A squarer shape to the door openings provides easy access and, with the front wheel drive configuration, Toyota has been able to use the available interior space efficiently. Without the large transmission tunnel cramping everything up there is a more open feel to the cabin, and anyone in the middle position of the rear seat will really appreciate the extra space for their legs. Sitting three large adults across the back of each car, we found the Avalon is at least a match for Commodore and a little more comfortable than Falcon due to its seat shaping. The amount of leg room in both the front and rear will also surprise most people as will the spacious boot.
In typical Toyota fashion, the presentation at the wheel is bland but efficient. Driving ease is what it is all about with the switches and controls conveniently placed and operating with a positive feel. Once again, looks can be deceiving as the large front seats do not appear to have much shaping yet we found them supporting and extremely comfortable. Interestingly Toyota have chosen to use a foot operated park brake which works well but just seems a little out of character with the familiarity of all the other controls.
Available in sedan form only, the Avalon comes in four specification levels - Conquest, CSX, VXi and Grande. All are powered by the same 3.0 litre Quad Cam engine and available in automatic only. The base model Conquest we drove comes relatively well equipped in terms of creature comforts like power operated window and mirrors, dual front airbags and remote central locking. Unfortunately, to keep the entry level price down some of the most desirable features like air conditioning (a must have in this class), ABS, cruise control and the newly introduced front seat mounted side airbags, (all standard on the three other models) are extra cost options on the Conquest.
While the Avalon is based on a 1994 U.S model, Toyota's local engineers have interwoven Camry parts and undertaken an extensive development program to refine the running gear for Australian conditions - and it certainly shows in the way the car drives.
performance and driving
Beneath the bonnet, the silky smooth Camry 3.0 litre quad cam V6 engine has been upgraded to suit the performance demands and expectations for a bigger car. Delivering 145 kW at 5,200 rpm and 284 Nm at 4,400 rpm, it develops more power and torque and has different driving characteristic to the Camry. Although smaller in engine capacity than the 4.0 litre Falcon and 3.8 litre Commodore, a higher level of technical sophistication and refinement provides satisfactory compensation for most situations. Avalon relies on revs rather than brute strength.
It feels a very relaxed and easy car to drive. The ultra quiet cabin and smooth, comfortable ride however, tends to disguise just how good the performance actually is. In outright acceleration our tests show it is as quick as Commodore or Falcon over 400 metres and the 60 to 100 km/h passing time is a couple of tenths of a second faster, due partly to the rapidly responding automatic, while overall it's more fuel efficient. Our test car averaged 10.4 l/100 km with a best of 9.2 l/100 km and the worst was 11.3 l/100 km.
The electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission, featuring a clever adaptive shift which alters the change pattern in accordance to driving style, operates in a very unobtrusive manner but always seems to be in the right gear at the right time.
Well weighted steering provides superb response and road feel, while extensive work calibrating the suspension has achieved a fine balance of ride and handling. While the emphasis is on comfort, the ride is flat and controlled with a surefooted and forgiving nature, when pushed to the limit. On dirt roads you can not help but be impressed by the way suspension soaks up large bumps and how stable the car remains, even in loose gravel.
Under hard acceleration on a wet road we did experience just a touch of torque steer, which was not a problem, but more a gentle reminder that the Avalon is a front wheel drive car.
Like the steering, Avalon's four wheel disc brakes have an excellent pedal feel and the car stops reassuringly in normal use. On test however, we found in a panic stopping situation it was difficult to avoid rear wheel lock up without ABS as the nose dives dramatically due to the soft front suspension and the rear becomes light.
The maximum recommended towing capacity of 1600 kg means the 3.0 litre, front wheel drive Avalon can haul a respectable size van, but it's still no match for Commodore or Falcon which have maximums in excess of 2000 kg.
Overall the Avalon has a solid feel and the build quality is very good, although there is still room for improvement in the attention to detail of some trim fittings. Luckily cup holders are not a measure of a car's quality because the Avalon's failed almost every time we tried to use them.
Based on Toyota's past history and the fact that the major mechanical components are a refinement of proven parts we expect Avalon's reliability to be good.
* As measured on road test.