It's not your grandma's Avalon...or maybe it is. Grandmothers these days are more active and tech-savvy than they've ever been, so it makes sense that the large 2014 Toyota Avalon Limited -- a vehicle with a reputation as a Granny Camry -- has also become more active and tech-savvy in its latest generation.
Toyota has done a good job, I think, injecting new life into this once stodgy marquee. The slick, current generation Avalon is hardly recognizable when compared to the upright chassis of the previous generation. Its dashboard tech now features Toyota's Entune app integration and futuristic wireless phone charging. Though the more youthful Avalon still retains its primary mission as a big comfortable sedan, it seems to go about its daily drive with just a bit more pep in its step.
Wireless charging for wireless tech
In the center of our Avalon Limited's dashboard, you'll find the 7-inch touch screen for the Entune infotainment system. But first, let's talk about the capacitive shortcut keys surrounding that screen. I'm usually not a fan of capacitive buttons due to their lack of physical feedback, but the Avalon's buttons feature nicely machined indentations in their brushed-metal surfaces and offer auditory feedback for most functions.
The navigation system features only 2D maps with no 3D building or topographic data, but the graphics are crisply rendered, and the street names fairly easy to read. Traffic data is received by this system, but I didn't notice any real effect on the routes chosen by the navigation algorithms.
The navigation system also features a decent voice command. My biggest issue was with the need to separately input city, street, and house number, rather than just speaking the entire address in one go. However, I was pleased with the great accuracy of the system's recognition when I spoke street names and with the very useful on-screen prompts to guide the user through the process.
Just below the main screen is a smaller color screen that displays climate control information for the three-zone HVAC system. Both screens are very easy to read, even in direct sunlight, and quite resistant to glare. Lower-trim Avalon models make use of a monochrome LCD for climate control information. Rounding out the climate-control feature set are heated and ventilated seat surfaces for the front buckets, controlled by a pair of pop-up knobs on the center console.
Front and center on the console our review model was equipped with a Qi charging charging pad that's integrated into the cover of a storage bin. When a compatible phone (or a phone sleeved in a Qi charging case/adapter) is placed on this pad, the Avalon begins to wirelessly charge the device's battery. It's very cool and very seamless. You can learn more about the specifics of wireless phone charging in.
I noticed that while the flat, leather-surfaced wireless charging pad was great for more sedate excursions, the phone can slide out of the sweet spot during more "spirited" driving. Since I don't think many potential Avalon owners will be carving canyons, this minor issue is outweighed by the wireless convenience. If you own a compatible phone, this charging pad is money well spent.
Working well with the wireless charging is wireless connectivity. The Avalon Limited featured standard Bluetooth for audio streaming, hands-free calling, and text-messaging. Text messages can be automatically read aloud by the system, and canned responses, such as "I'm driving, call you back later" can be fired off with a few screen taps.
Joining Bluetooth in the list of audio sources is a single-slot CD player (hidden behind a motorized face), AM/FM radio with HD Radio decoding, satellite radio tuning, and USB and auxiliary inputs with iPod connectivity. There's also connectivity with a variety of online services via Toyota's Entune app running on a paired smartphone. Audio can be streamed from Pandora and iHeart Radio. Reservations can be made with MovieTickets.com or OpenTable. And destinations can be searched with Bing, Yelp, and Facebook Places.
All of those audio sources reach the user's ears via an 11-speaker JBL Synthesis audio system that is very clear, gets very loud, and is ridiculously bass-friendly. Apparently, Grandma likes her bass down low. This system performed well with punchy rock tracks but almost seems like it was tuned with hip-hop in mind. This seems like an odd trait for a car that's historically been targeted at an older driver, but not an unwelcome one.
Essential safety tech
The center stack's touch screen doubles as a display for the standard rear camera when reversing. The camera's feed is very sharp, giving a wide and clear view of the rear. I liked that view also includes dynamic guides that move with the steering wheel. However, I noticed that the camera's view quickly got blurry when driving in the rain, due to the lens being covered in moisture.
Also standard at the Limited trim level is a blind-spot monitoring system that uses sonic sensors to detect vehicles in the sedan's blind spots while driving at highway speeds. It's a nice feature to have, but with very good 360-degree visibility, the Avalon doesn't really need it. The blind-spot sensors are also repurposed as rear cross-traffic alert sensors when reversing, notifying drivers of approaching vehicles while backing out of a parking space.