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Second-hand: 2005 Toyota Avalon

Young drivers usually start out with something old and tired with which to learn the ropes of car ownership.

Young drivers usually start out with something old and tired with which to learn the ropes of car ownership.

But what will your final car look like? What is it about human nature that compels us to seek out the largest land yacht possible, even as our spines curl from old age and we’re destined to peer out from between the steering wheel spokes?

For those of us fortunate enough to live that long, Toyota has given us the Avalon. It may be the last car we aspire to drive before the doctor or the kids take the keys away.

CONFIGURATION

Built on a stretched version of the front-drive Camry platform, the 1995 Avalon was the first Japanese-brand car sold in North America rated as a full-sized sedan.

Conservatively styled to a fault, it’s not hard to see why the Avalon got the nickname “Japanese Buick.”

It used the same dual-cam 3.0 L V6 and four-speed automatic transmission found in the Camry, but enjoyed a slight power boost to 192 hp. Buyers could choose between standard front bucket seats or a three-place front bench that made it a true six-seater.

Engine output was enhanced to an even 200 hp for 1997; otherwise, the first-generation Avalon remained largely unmolested through its production run. The car won fans for its commodious back seat and smooth nature.

For 2000, the second iteration of the car earned fresh – if ungainly – styling and slightly expanded dimensions in height and width. The chassis was stiffened and the familiar powertrain benefited from Toyota’s VVT-i variable-valve timing, gaining 10 hp.

Antilock braking and side-impact airbags were standard, while automated Vehicle Skid Control and Brake Assist systems were optional. New standard features included dual-zone temperature control and a trunk pass-through for long, skinny cargo.

The third-generation Avalon arrived for 2005, signaling a change in the automaker’s big-car philosophy. No longer content to market a retiree’s conveyance, Toyota recast its largest car to be bigger still – but to drive like a smaller, more athletic sedan.

The handsome redesign added 10 cm to the wheelbase and 14 cm to its overall length.

Up front the split bench seat was banished forever, leaving only a pair of stiff buckets.

Powering this latest Avalon was Toyota’s new 3.5 L V6, rated at a muscular 280 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, along with a sophisticated five-speed automatic tranny.

All models featured antilock four-wheel disc brakes, front side airbags, curtain side airbags and a driver’s knee airbag.

ON THE ROAD

Given its Camry genes, the Avalon proved to be a silky operator right from the start. In a magazine comparo with a Buick LeSabre Limited, a 2000 Avalon beat the Buick at its own game, proving to be quieter, more refined and better finished.

The Kentucky-built Toyota was not quite as swift, however, taking 8.4 seconds to reach 96 km/h, while the Buick could do it in 8.1.

The redesigned 2005 Avalon was a markedly improved performer in every way.

Highway velocity came up in just 6.0 seconds flat, and it could generate 0.79 g of grip on a circular skidpad. The Touring suspension was criticized for being too stiff on broken pavement, however.

Despite the high-output engine, the Avalon was good on gas. Owners reported getting better than 8.0 L/100 km on the highway.

One caveat: owners discovered the Avalon has an aversion to snow. Despite its front-drive configuration, it could be a handful on snowy streets. This is one car that should definitely wear winter tires.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

“The Avalon has a good bit of power, cavernous rear passenger space, reclining rear seats, excellent build quality and a luxo-plush ride,” rhymed off the owner of a ’05 model.

Think of an Avalon as a super-Camry and it’s easy to see why it’s such a crowd pleaser, though its lofty sticker price has prevented it from selling in big quantities in Canada.

The Avalon should have benefited from Toyota’s bulletproof reputation, but we found evidence of some nagging quality issues.

Owners of earlier Avalons were stung by oil sludge problems that afflicted other Toyota models that used the same 3.0 L V6 engine, including 1997 to 2002 Camrys, Highlanders, Siennas and Lexus ES and RX 300s.

Toyota extended the warranty on this engine to eight years, which may not be sufficient for second and third owners today. Earlier models were also cited for their frequent brake rotor replacements.

The 2005 and newer Avalon has an affliction of its own. Some owners have been experiencing hesitation, bucking and binding problems in the five-speed automatic transmission that doesn’t always go away when dealers “reflash” the controller.

“It has been a wonderful car with the exception of the transmission, which hunts, searches, hesitates and shifts hard,” reported the owner of an ’06 model.

Beyond the transmission woes, owners have noticed myriad creaks and rattles, numerous unsightly paint chips and blemishes, and faulty steering columns that have been recalled.

The Avalon strives to satisfy a forgiving older demographic, but it stumbles in a couple of key areas. Maybe the Avalon is more like a Buick than Toyota had bargained for.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Chevrolet Impala, Mazda 3 and Mitsubishi Galant. Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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