2000 Toyota Avalon Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Toyota re-engineers its full-size sedan.
Twenty or 30 years ago, is this what people imagined the 2000 sedan would be like? Did engineers expect such solid, pragmatic progress to take place (and no car is a better example than this Avalon), or did they expect the public to want to be blasted into the next century by cars akin to spaceships? (Think of the instrument panels of the '70s.) Toyota's execution of the automotive future of those unglory days is here, and it is… not out there. It has a reason. It doesn't look spacey at all.
Two models of Avalon are available: XL ($21,195) and XLS ($29,755).
Both models use Toyota's proven 3-liter 4-cam V6. This engine has been refined for 2000. Now with variable valve timing, it produces 210 horsepower with 220 pounds-feet of torque.
XLS adds automatic climate control, a driver information display (compass, trip computer, outside temperature and calendar functions), fog lights, aluminum alloy wheels, rear map lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The Avalon isn't much to look at. Its best features are electronic and mechanical. That isn't to say it's unattractive, it's just not eye-catching. It looks like a Toyota sedan. If you want to travel in comfort and safety while going unnoticed, this is the car.
One of the objectives of the 2000 makeover was sharper exterior styling, and that has indeed been achieved, and cleanly. Toyota calls it 'dynamic,' which is true relative to the former Avalon, but the styling is still reserved. On the same platform as the 1999 model, the 2000 model is an inch wider and taller, and there's 26 percent more glass, some of it between the C-pillars. It's more cab-forward, with a steeper windshield and rounded A-pillars. The optional seven-spoke aluminum 16-inch wheels are a visual blessing. The expanded wing-shaped halogen headlights and wide grille with vertical rails provide a slightly toothy smiley-face look. An air dam under the molded front bumper provides an subtle racy touch, and optional flowing trapezoidal fog lamps are needed to complete the facial aesthetics. But maybe Vintage Red Pearl would have drawn more out of the lines than our Desert Sand Mica, otherwise known as gray.
The list of interior features is long (especially with our Option Package 7). The new Avalon is roomier inside. The increased width is given to shoulder room, and the front seat (ours was a leather bench with wide armrest) is raised one inch, easing entry, while the cowl is pushed forward four inches.
The rear seat is raised and pushed back one inch for visibility and legroom. Despite the elevation, high windowsills make the chamber feel deep. When the wide rear armrest is dropped, access to the trunk allows convenient carrying of long, narrow objects.
Ample doses of burled walnut. Good, simple switchgear. Solid control stalks. Is that a leather boot on the column-shift lever? Superb leather-wrapped four-spoke steering wheel, feels lovely in your hands. Big cupholders all around, redesigned. Grab handles over all four doors. Flip-out coin pockets in the front doors. Healthy micron air filtration. Soothing electro-chromatic mirrors that self-adjust to reduce glare. A new dual climate-control system provides independent climates for driver and passenger - and the knob is a nice touch, literally, because there's just one of them to control both sides.
The data system is … well, aren't they all mostly just toys? The Avalon's 'multi-information display' is in a big rectangular window in the center of the instrument panel. The compass is necessary (or should be), and miles to go before empty might be comforting if you're prone to push it to the last drop, but all the stuff after that - momentary gas mileage? - sometimes puts this instrument on the same overkill level as your VCR.
The optional leather is plush, in two-tone beige/ivory. The feel of the leather, the doses of walnut, the big recessed instrument panel, and especially the inside shape of the C-pillars, all make the Avalon interior reminiscent of a Seville. That shouldn't be surprising, as the Toyota Avalon was designed and built in the USA and its development team was led by a 10-year veteran of GM's large-car division.
If the Avalon is merely nice at a standstill, it's an eye-opener on the road - if you pay attention. But the car's big trick is that little attention is required. It works so well! Toyota couldn't have asked for better work from the guys in NVH (noise, vibration, harshness). At nearly anything less than full throttle, you'd swear you were coasting. All we could hear on a rainy day was a creaking in the windshield wipers, like an old screen door opening and closing, opening and closing.
Toyota stiffened the body and chassis by 22 percent, with a slight reduction in curb weight coming with more aluminum alloy. An active hydraulic engine mount changes its dampening rate electronically according to engine activity. A new foam underbody coating silences flying stones. Sound insulation includes a redesigned door-sealing system and thicker window glass. The suspension has been tightened, with new rear links and a larger stabilizer bar. Toyota claims a 2-decibel drop in interior noise at 60 mph.
The ride is flawless. Handling via rack-and-pinion steering is tight, even direct. While some still call such feeling 'no character,' we think 'purity' is a better call. Oh, the chassis can be felt lightly rising and falling over undulations, but that's not a flaw, it's a soft balance appropriate to the car. We haven't taken the Avalon on a long trip, but we feel safe in saying our bones won't feel a thing after hours in the saddle.
Michelin 205/60R16 tires were impressive in the wet. We aimed for narrow rivers in the road that stretched for half a mile at a time, places where water collects in the worn spots from tire tracks, and at 60 mph we could have taken our hands off the steering wheel. We could see the water, we could hear it, but we couldn't feel it. We hit a shallow double pothole in the river. We heard a light thump, but scarcely felt it. We drove over a washboard unpaved road. We felt it, but not much.
Then we got a little daring in the wet, blasting through a two-lane sweeper heavy on the throttle at 65 mph. The traction control connected in the middle of the turn, three or four times on and off, each time for a mere instant, and the car's direction stayed true without our having to do a thing except point it the first time. Something faster, smarter and more sensitive than us was doing all the tricky work.
We mashed the brake pedal as hard and fast as we could. Excellent anti-lock brakes said, 'No problem. Thumpeta-thumpet-thump, there you are.' We were stopped before the final splash landed. Because we were full on the pedal, Brake Assist wasn't triggered. Brake Assist applies the brakes full force if a sensor thinks that's what you need based on how quick and how hard you hit them. It was invented because most drivers don't brake hard enough in panic stops with ABS.
We accelerated away, feeling 210 horses rush the car along at a pace no Avalon buyer is likely to find inadequate. The upshifts of the four-speed electronic transmission were … well, where were they? We never felt them.
We saved the most exotic for last: Vehicle Skid Control. It's a Lexus hand-me-down, remaining innovative as it moves along from $50,000 cars to $30,000 ones. It's a lot of option for $850. No, it's a steal for $850. Get it.
Vehicle Skid Control keeps you from sliding off the road. Electronic sensors measure four forces to detect a slide ('when the direction of travel does not correlate with driver steering inputs,' in robot language), which may be either at the front or rear wheels. Using throttle or brake intervention, VSC makes the appropriate adjustment in grip. For example, if your tail is sliding out to the left on a right-hand turn, VSC will cut the throttle and apply the brakes to the left-side wheels. It won't take over the steering wheel, but with the other corrections it won't need to.
We found a hard-packed logging road, vacant on our rainy Sunday and slick from oil as well as water. We found a sharp curve with g.
Toyota knows its Avalon buyers. It claims that a league-leading 51 percent of them buy another Avalon, plus another 26 percent move up to Lexus, or at least buy another Toyota. So maybe no attention-grabbing fanfare is needed. They'll discover the car, if they haven't already.
This is a great sedan, though it seems like the dignified styling could use a bit of swoop or flash to match the performance. We'd love to see a jet-black Avalon with a lowered nose and Vintage Red Pearl flames streaming from that toothy grin. But we may be the only ones who feel that way.
XL ($25,195); XLS ($29,755).
Options As Tested
Option package #7 ($1,940) includes heated front seats, 6-disc in-dash CD changer, 205/60R16 tires, aluminum wheels, power front bucket seats with driver seat memory, leather upholstery.
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