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Toyota is confident its new Avalon sedan can succeed where many others have failed over the years. That challenge for Avalon is to grab a share of the large family car market from the long-time favourites, Commodore and Falcon.
The Avalon goes against convention for this segment in that it is front wheel drive and also that it pits a 3.0 litre six cylinder engine up against 3.8 litre (Commodore) and 4.0 litre (Falcon) sixes. But in the long run, that may not matter at all.
Even though there remains a belief amongst some buyers that large cars need big capacity engines and that drive should be via the rear wheels, the reality is that in many ways, the Avalon is a far better car to drive, and to ride in.
Unlike Ford and Holden, who sell around 80 per cent of their Falcons and Commodores to fleets, Toyota is expecting the Avalon to have a pretty much equal split between private and business buyers.
Toyota sees the Avalon's strong points (particularly for the private buyer) as its superior refinement and build quality, its excellent ride and handling package, its quiet operation, its comfort, its interior space, its standard features and its pricing.
Though based on the USA-built Avalon, the local car has had more than three years development here. It has a unique underbody, local steering and local suspension calibration, and the Australian-built body is claimed to have significantly greater torsional rigidity than the American-built vehicle.
Other local design areas include the ABS brake system (where fitted), the seats, body electronics, the trip computer, airconditioning performance, body dust sealing and noise, vibration and harshness suppression.
The Avalon's 3.0 litre engine is basically the same as fitted to the Camry V6, but with changes to the exhaust system and the engine management electronic control unit, a little more power and torque has been found.
As mentioned, the Avalon drives through its front wheels and the transmission is an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic. Manual transmission is not available.
The only body style is a four door sedan and it comes in four equipment grades - Conquest, CSX, VXi and Grande.
Post GST prices start at $28,490 for the Conquest; the CSX costs $34,490; the VXi is priced at $37,990 and the Grande is $48,490.
All models are equipped with dual front airbags, pretensioning front seatbelts with force limiters, four-wheel disc brakes, power steering, power-operated windows, exterior mirrors and radio antenna, an eight function trip computer, driver's seat height and lumbar adjustments, a tilt steering wheel and headlamps auto-off function.
There is also remote central locking with rolling codes and owner-programmable two-stage door unlocking, and a transponder engine immobiliser.
CSX models gain airconditioning, anti-lock brakes, front side airbags, cruise control, a six speaker audio system with a single CD player, front and rear map lights, and front passenger seat lumbar adjustment.
The VXi adds climate-control airconditioning, alloy wheels, an integrated alarm system with panic mode, a remote electric boot release, power-operated driver's seat, woodgrain trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift lever.
The Grande is distinguished by its two-tone exterior paintwork availability, its unique design alloy wheels, front foglamps, leather trim, luminous instrument markings, power-operated steering column and both front seats, power tilt-and-slide sunroof, 6-CD in-dash player and headlamps auto-on feature.
Styling isn't one of the Avalon's strong points. During our time with the Avalon, typical comments about its appearance included bland, boring, lacklustre, slightly dated and inconspicuous.
On the other hand, Toyota maintains that the Avalon's appearance isn't an issue with buyers, or with those who attended pre-release clinics on the car. Perhaps that says something about the traditionally conservative nature of Toyota buyers and it will be interesting to see how the marketplace accepts the look of the car.
For buyers who want a sportier look for their Avalons, Toyota has developed an Arista body enhancement kit. The kit comprises front, rear and side body skirts, a bright chrome-finish mesh grille, and an Arista decal. For further customization, there is a choice of two rear spoilers - one is a "boot lip" design and the other is a more aggressive type.
While the Avalon's looks may leave owners divided, it's more than likely they will be united in their praise of the car's build quality. Standards of finish in the test car, and other Avalons seen at the vehicle's release, looked to be very good throughout.
The Australian chassis engineering input has obviously been beneficial, as the Avalon displays impressive levels of compliance over varying road surfaces. Along with the well padded seats, this ensures high levels of comfort for occupants.
The only occupant who doesn't fare so well is the one in the centre rear position. This person is perched higher, with less seat padding to insulate the bumps.
The car's low noise and harshness levels also contribute to occupant comfort, and to an overall relaxed feeling in the way the Avalon drives.
The Avalon doesn't offer quite as much front leg room as a Holden, Falcon or Magna, but rear leg room is better than all of them and so is overall cabin length. Rear seat width is a little less than Commodore and Falcon, but it's better than Camry and Magna.
The squared-off roofline of the Avalon makes entry and exit to and from the rear seat much easier than in say, the Falcon, with its steeply curved roof.
The Avalon has a good size boot with a flat floor, but it lacks a fold-down rear seat - just a porthole is provided behind the centre armrest.
Just as you would expect from Toyota, the Avalon has a clear, easy to follow (and use) layout of controls and instruments. The stereo and ventilation controls are particularly easy to decipher and use.
The only exception regarding ease of use of controls (in my view) is the foot-operated parking brake, which also requires a foot action to release it. I'd prefer a hand lever every time.
With its fairly upright styling, the Avalon provides good vision for both driving and parking. One negative aspect of front wheel drive is that the Avalon's turning circle is larger than for both the Falcon and the Commodore.
Just as it is in the Camry, the 3.0 litre quad cam multi-valve engine in the Avalon is a delightfully smooth and responsive unit. The engine combines beautifully with the four speed automatic transmission to provide very pleasing levels of performance.
Acceleration times were near identical to a previously tested Camry V6 which is not surprising, given that the Avalon's slightly increased power and torque compensates for its extra 60 kg mass.
The Avalon can also hold its own up against Falcon, Commodore and Magna, as even though it lacks the absolute power and torque of their larger capacity engines, the Avalon's eagerness to respond makes up for that. The Avalon is also a little lighter than the Falcon and the Commodore.
Fuel consumption proved to be excellent during our normal testing, though it deteriorated noticeably when towing (see Towing section). At 9.9 litres/100 km overall, the Avalon was shaded only by a 2.5 litre Hyundai Sonata previously tested (9.8 litres/100 km) and was well ahead of the Falcon and Commodore (both 11.6 litres/100 km).
As already mentioned, the four speed automatic has a smooth, precise action that complements the engine very well. It 'kicks down' readily when extra performance is required for overtaking and the like, and was never caught out being in the wrong gear or changing up or down unnecessarily, as is sometimes the case with other engine/transmission combinations.
Toyota engineers have got the suspension tuning just right (as far as I'm concerned) as it's compliant enough to give a comfortable ride and at the same time, provide the Avalon with handling that is very sure-footed and predictable. Even when the car is pushed fairly hard, it maintains its composure and is easy to handle.
The Avalon is a front-wheel drive car without the nasty vices that used to be associated with this configuration and it's really no longer an issue to worry about when buying.
Front wheel traction can be broken with too harsh acceleration on loose or slippery surfaces, but then the same result will occur with the back wheels on a rear wheel drive car, and a loss of control is more likely.
The CSX test Avalon had the benefit of anti-lock braking and it pulled up in short distances during emergency stopping checks, with only moderate pedal effort required. Resistance to fade was satisfactory, though several stops from high speed on our test track did result in the front brakes getting fairly hot and losing some efficiency.
With a heavy duty towing package that includes body reinforcing brackets and a load levelling device, the Avalon has a maximum towing capacity of 1600 kg. By comparison, the V6 Camry has a maximum towing capacity of 1200 kg.
With a standard towbar, the Avalon's capacity is 1200 kg with trailer brakes, or 750 kg without trailer brakes.
To test the Avalon's towing ability, we borrowed a caravan with an aggregate mass of 1340 kg and put it over a regular test route used for this purpose. The Avalon acquitted itself very well on both performance and handling. However fuel consumption increased dramatically, rising to an average of 22.3 litres/100 km.
Though the new Toyota Avalon isn't big on visual stimulation, it does have plenty of attractions for both drivers and passengers.
Drivers are sure to appreciate the silky, responsive performance of the Avalon's high-tech 3.0 litre V6 engine, the smooth operation of its automatic transmission, the sure-footed roadholding, and the overall ease of handling and driving.
Passengers will enjoy the ample interior space available, the levels of comfort, the quiet operation and the comprehensive range of luxury and convenience features on all models.
Overall, the Avalon impresses as a highly refined and well built family-size car that offers a very competitive mix of performance, ride and handling, overall driving enjoyment, space and equipment. About the only aspects that could hinder its appeal are its styling and the lack of a wagon version.
Test vehicle supplied by Toyota Motor Corporation Australia Limited.
|Price of vehicle tested||$48,490|
Foot operated parking brake
|Country of manufacture||Japan|
|Warranty||3 years, 100,000km|
$28,490 - Conquest
|Number of cylinders||6|
|Engine size||3.0 L|
|Induction||Electronic fuel injection|
|Claimed max power (kW)||145 kW @ 5200 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||284 Nm @ 4400 rpm|
|Wheel size||15 "|
|Type||Power assisted rack and pinion|
|Turns to lock||3.0 m|
|Width (including mirrors)||2013 mm|
|Fuel capacity||70 litres|
|Max towed mass (trailer plus load)||1600 kg|
NRMA Theft Rating
|Points on scale 0 - 120 (high score is best)||74|
Acceleration - Test results
|50 - 80km/h||4.3 secs|
|60 - 100km/h||4.3 secs|
|0 - 80km/h||6.5 secs|
|0 - 100km/h||9 secs|
|Best recorded during testing||9.0 L/100km|
|Worst recorded during testing||11.7 L/100km|
|Average on test||9.9 L/100km|
|Distance to stop (from 80km/h)||28.5 metres|
|Interior noise at constant 80km/h||66 dB(A)|