Test Drive: 2016 Toyota Avalon

Somewhere in the land between Camry and Lexus lies the Toyota Avalon: a holdout in a world where large family sedans are rapidly being replaced by SUVs, where its aspirational interior quality is outshone by its own cousins and where the competition is packing more punch. The Avalon is an odd duck. It doesn’t really fit anywhere any more.

Toyota doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. If you want a large, well-appointed and comfortable sedan from the old school, they’ll get you into one.

But that’s not the whole story.

After all, the industry is rife with low-volume niche models that pull in only a certain crowd. And while we might talk a lot about the more enthusiast-accepted of those models why should the more comfort-oriented folk have their niche ignored?

Thankfully, Toyota doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. If you want a large, well-appointed and comfortable sedan from the old school, they’ll get you into one. Besides with the recent styling revisions and an upgrade to the interior trim (namely more convincing wood on the dashboard) the Avalon is very much a nice rig. If you are the sort of person who enjoys sedans, who likes a large car, who likes interior quality and doesn’t mind skipping a few of the mod cons – why should you have to buy an SUV?

I think Toyota realizes that. So while other brands try to improve the “sporty” credentials of their barges, the updates for 2016 have given the Avalon more of the characteristics most familiar to long-time drivers of large family sedans.

When I drove the 2015 Toyota Avalon in a comparison test with the 2015 Chevrolet Impala I said that it offered better handling and bump absorption than the Impala. Overall it was more composed. Driving it this time around I experienced some trouble settling the Avalon back down over large bumps. It rode gentler yet was still agile for its size but that pogoing seemed more pronounced. Looking through the 2016 press release Toyota touts a new “comfort tuned” suspension setting, so this is likely what I’ve experienced. The ride is softer, but it’s also a little spongier.

This edition also had trouble maintaining traction, even mild throttle inputs would set the front tires spinning. It was cold enough for the 18-inch winters (around two-three degrees) so I wouldn’t blame the tires. Even handing the tiller over to more feather-footed drivers returned a lot more wheel spin than expected. It’s not like the Avalon is a powerhouse. The 3.5 L V6 is good for 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque – which is reasonable but hardly tire-frying stuff. My guess is that the comfort suspension allows too much pitch, so when you accelerate the front gets light as the rear springs submit too willingly.

The solution? Tread lightly. Deliberate movements are rewarded with smoothness.

Fuel economy is very, very competitive for the class. I finished the week of heavy city driving at 11.1 l/100 km. The official ratings for the Avalon are 11.1/7.6/9.7 city/highway/combined. The LaCrosse, Impala and Charger are all worse (13.7/8.6/11.4, 12.5/8.2/10.6 and 12.4/7.7/10.3 L/100 km respectively). Only the Maxima at 10.9/7.8/9.5 is better. A lot of the fuel efficiency gains likely come from weight savings, the Avalon is a svelte 1,610 kg.

The Avalon engine is quieter than the Maxima, however, with very little drone or harshness and smooth shifts through the six-speed automatic transmission. The Avalon is less refined than the Buick, Chevrolet and Nissan when it comes to road noise and wind noise which is a shame given the vault-like capabilities this family exhibits in even the lower-priced Lexus offerings.

Despite having heated and cooled front seats, plus heated rear outboard seats it seemed like Toyota hadn’t flooded the Avalon’s interior with features the way Dodge and Chevrolet do. That sensation is largely in part due to the lack of power outlets. There is a very handy wireless charging tray and if you’re device accepts wireless charging, this is a great addition. My device does not accept wireless charging, and the only USB port in the car flat refused to offer power to my telephone. I’ve had this issue in two Toyotas now, and I wonder if their USB ports are the old, slow type. The USB port with the same cable worked on my little emergency power pack, and that cable in another car worked fine with my phone, so I’m convinced it’s a USB port problem.

There are coin draws, the covered console tray and the main console bin so all your cabin storage needs are met, and my large smartphone fit in any console slot I wanted to with ease.

An almost-complete set of driving aids is at hand, including blind-spot monitor, lane-departure warning, collision warning and parking assistance with a back-up camera. The one thing I missed was adaptive cruise control. Regular cruise control is so passe.

The newer, slightly larger infotainment screen is a good one with a handy split-screen format and large, easy-to-hand knobs for tuning and radio. The pseudo-buttons for common shortcuts are well defined with elegant little indentations which helps their use. The dual-zone climate controls are equally elegant in their execution and visibility. I particularly appreciated the steering-wheel controls which changed presets in one direction and individual channels in the other. The gauges and instrument cluster screen are all clear, easy to read and look premium. The steering wheel buttons that control the instrument cluster screen make good sense.

Toyota, like so many Japanese marques, takes an overly cautious approach to onscreen commands and locks out too much. I can almost understand locking out the contacts menu for your phone while driving, but selecting a contact is no more taxing than choosing a Sirius XM station. Locking this feature out will only make people dial their contacts from their handsets directly, which is more dangerous and rightly illegal. Basically, by being overzealous in their restrictions these companies are promoting more dangerous behaviour. It’s 2016, many people use Bluetooth to make important phone calls while driving. In-car connectivity should make it safer by making it easier. Not harder. Admittedly, this is a frustration that might not be felt as much by the car’s target market.

Spacing is better in the Avalon than all its competitors with 3,027 L of passenger volume, 54 L better than the next-best Impala. The flat floor makes the middle rear seat more usable and leg room plus headroom is great. I could sit behind myself with ease.

At 453 L the Avalon gives up 80L of trunk space to the Impala but only 14L to the Charger. Hopefully you don’t need any more cargo volume as there is no split-folding rear seat, only a small pass-through.

The Avalon does all the regular large-car things really decently. If you have been used to driving cars a certain way for a number of years the Avalon will feel like home for you, with a healthy dose of modern convenience added to keep you current and modern. The cabin space is roomy, the ride classically comfortable and the engine efficient yet sufficient.

It’s the classic full-size sedan formula done the Toyota way.

Warranty:
3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km roadside assistance

Competitors:
Buick LaCrosse
Chevrolet Impala
Dodge Charger
Nissan Maxima

2016 Toyota Avalon Limited
articles_PricingType 2016 Toyota Avalon Limited
Base Price $43,770
Optional Equipment None
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,660
Price as Tested $45,530
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 6.6
7 Interior
7 Fuel Economy
6 Exterior Styling
6 Performance
7 Comfort