Before SUVs roamed the earth in packs large enough to subtly alter its rotation, big full-size cars were the statement of success that set you apart from your neighbours. Parking a long sedan in your driveway was a way to tell everyone that you'd made it, and prior to our marketing-driven obsession with having to sportify all the things, the plush suspensions and cocoon-like comfort they offered were prized above all else in a high-end ride.
The 2016 Toyota Avalon is certainly no dinosaur, but it does serve as a link back to a time when you didn't need four-wheel drive to boast about your status in life. Sure, the front bench seat might have been relegated to the history books, but the recently updated Avalon proves there's a comfortable life to be had outside the luxury segment if you're willing to look beyond the badge.
Road Presence, Not Brand Presence
The 2016 Toyota Avalon is, in many ways, a Lexus by another name. Following the Japanese automaker's tradition of delivering a premium driving experience by way of precision rather than outright handling chops or overwhelming power, the Avalon's conservative yet appealing styling and soft suspension tuning have been enhanced for the current model year.
The changes are subtle, to be sure, what with a wider grille, new tail lights, and the decision to banish fog lights standing out as the most noticeable alterations (with fogs having been replaced by vertical light bars tucked into the front fascia). Inside, the dash has seen a few tweaks and changes, but it's nothing dramatic; you have to drive the Avalon to pick up on the additional sound insulation that has been stuffed into the Toyota's paneling.
The attractive yet understated character of the Avalon's design, coupled with the lack of premium positioning in the marketplace -- there's no option to hide the Toyota logo a la Hyundai Genesis or Equus -- targets the sedan at a very specific audience. The car's sales tripled after its complete redesign in 2013, but we're still talking about roughly a thousand folks a year who cut through the marketing hype and bypassed Lexus, Acura, and Lincoln in favour of the Avalon's anonymity. Like so many other products in the Toyota portfolio, it's a car you buy with your head not your heart, and as a result it resists the kind of purple prose typically used to advertise modern automobiles.
Soft, Smooth, and Sufficient
It would be a mistake to think that the 2016 Toyota Avalon's unassuming design conceals a lacklustre drivetrain. Pop the hood and you'll find the company's top-tier V6, a 3.5L unit that produces 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. This output is channelled to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission and, as I discovered while driving the Avalon on a rather wet afternoon, if you hit the go-pedal hard enough the wheels will hop-hop-hop in excitement until the traction control system slaps you upside the head by killing torque and smoothing out your forward progress.
I'm not trying to say that the Avalon is in any way a performance car, but with plenty of power on tap the big sedan acquits itself well when passing on the highway, and it also offers enough gumption to get you in over your head on secondary roads.
Given that the car's suspension system can be had in “soft” (Touring) and “extra soft” (Limited), you'll work hard to stay ahead of the momentum generated by the car should you choose to dig in your spurs on a twisty stretch of two-lane. Drive it like 90% of its intended audience will and this should never be a problem: The Avalon is a cruiser through and through, and I don't see anyone shopping in this end of the full-size pool being disappointed with the car's dynamics.
Power, shocks and springs that coddle, and copious amounts of interior space are joined by a features list that draws heavily from the luxury world that the Avalon skirts ever so expertly. Navigation, leather upholstery, and a push-button start are standard, but once you hit the Limited trim you're looking at heated seats front and rear, a louder stereo system, three zones of automatic climate control, cooled front buckets, and adaptive cruise control.
You also get a few more safety features: blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning are all part of the Limited package. When looking at the relatively narrow price gap between the two Avalon models, it makes sense to spend the extra $4,780 over the Touring's starting $38,990 MSRP for a stronger taste of the good life.
The Toyota's controls are relatively simple to use, too, with the big centre stack slightly tilted towards the driver to present a flat apron of capacitive buttons that respond quickly to your touch. Of course, this type of design means you'll have to remove your gloves in the winter to fiddle with the stereo or adjust the heating, which is irritating but a sign of the times when it comes to interior aesthetics. At the very least there's a genuine volume knob as well as a second dial for tuning the radio, along with two smaller, fiddly knobs for the seat heaters/coolers on the console. The 2016 Avalon also features a very useful wireless charging tray for your mobile devices stuffed under the dash, which itself conceals a small storage compartment that keeps electronics out of sight when parked.
Keep On Keepin' On
The 2016 Toyota Avalon isn't the quickest car in its class (that honour would go to the Ford Taurus SHO) nor is it the most opulent (a title snagged by the all-new Nissan Maxima). What it does deliver is a pleasing combination of premium features and above all size at a price that would see you shopping one-segment-down in the luxury world. If you could care less about the badge plastered on your big car, and if your bootleggin' days are behind you, then the Avalon is calling your name.