2005-2012 Toyota Avalon: All-American Toyota a bit too authentic
To craft their ‘most American’ sedan ever, you’d expect the designers at Toyota’s CALTY studio in California to recast the 2005 Avalon bigger, roomier and more powerful.
Yet in their fervent desire to make it an authentic American ride, they might have gone too far.
“Frequent visits to the dealer for a variety of repairs including replacement of the intermediate steering column, repair of a faulty airbag system, oil leak and replacement of driver’s side leather seat,” recounts one frowny Avalon owner online.
Toyota had faithfully recreated the time-honoured American car ownership experience. Uh, well done.
Built in Kentucky on a stretched version of the Camry?s front-drive platform, the first Avalon arrived in 1995 to give Toyota loyalists a new top-rung sedan. It was groomed to steal buyers away from Buick and Lincoln showrooms, too, offering such cultural throwbacks as a front bench seat and column-mounted gear selector.
By the time the third generation was released in early 2005, product planners recognized that a bench held little appeal for aging Boomers, so the new Avalon dropped it, but ? in a nod to their expanding waistlines ? presented an even larger cabin.
The Avalon cast a formidable shadow: The redesign added 10 cm to its already long wheelbase and 15 cm to its overall length, plus a touch more width and height.
The luminescent instrument cluster, broad swaths of woodgrain appliqu? and metallic trim, fine-movement controls and good sightlines made for an appealing cabin. Oddly, though, some owners long of leg found the driver?s position confining.
No such problem in back, which could cosset three adults in comfort. Not only was the floor as flat as Saskatchewan, but the seatback could be adjusted for rake. The trunk was smaller than the class average, however.
Motivating the third-gen Avalon was a new all-aluminum DOHC 3.5 L V6 that was actually a destroked (by 12 mm) version of the 4.0 L V6 that powered the 4Runner. Featuring Toyota?s first variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust sides, the 2GR-FE motor was good for 280 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque (revised SAE measurements dropped the numbers to 268 hp and 248 lb-ft the following year).
The lone engine worked through a single transmission choice: a five-speed automatic with manumatic function. The Avalon used independent struts all around fortified by thicker anti-roll bars, as well as four-wheel ABS disc brakes and electronic brake-force distribution.
The Avalon got a mid-cycle refresh for 2008; chiefly, a new six-speed automatic transmission replaced the five-speeder, and the car gained a revised grille and bumper treatment. Toyota?s big sedan would get another styling tweak, along with a new dashboard, for 2011.
ON THE ROAD
In a magazine comparison test of six large front-drive sedans, the Avalon came out on top, beating the Chrysler 300 and Nissan Maxima on the strength of its unassuming motor. No kidding: zero to 96 km/h came up in 6 seconds flat, besting the athletic Maxima by a tick.
?The 3.5 L V6 is tremendously powerful, it jettisons this car along with the thrust of a Saturn-V rocket,? one owner boasted online.
The suspension remains somewhat American-car wallowy. If you can find the Touring package (with its telltale spoiler), it comes with a firmer suspension and larger tires that deliver sporting pretensions, albeit with some off-putting harshness over broken asphalt.
For all its thrusty vigour, the Avalon?s V6 is a remarkable fuel sipper. Owners reported excellent highway economy (8.0 L/100 km) and decent mileage in town.
For those who like their sedans big, comfy and capable of lunging at holes in the traffic, the Avalon does not disappoint. It both coddles and hustles like an old Buick Wildcat. Unfortunately, the Avalon shares another attribute with America?s land yachts: It can present frustrating mechanical faults.
The most common complaint involves a poorly-designed rubber hose that routes hot high-pressure oil outside the engine block. The rubber deteriorates over time and can rupture unexpectedly, causing the engine to go dry and destroy itself.
As part of a recall, dealers have an improved replacement rubber hose, although many owners want the all-metal oil line that is more dependable. Check to see if this repair was done before purchasing the vehicle.
Numerous other complaints centre on jerky transmissions (requiring a reflash), bad ignition coils, faulty steering columns, leaky moonroofs, cracked dashboards, short-lived HID headlamps, broken radios and chipping paint.
2005-2012 Toyota Avalon
What?s Best: Bigger than some condos, stealth rocket, miserly with fuel
What?s Worst: Small trunk, jerky transmission, oil-spill disaster
Typical GTA prices: 2005 – $11,000; 2011 – $27,000
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