If you want a 5-year-old Lexus with low miles, consider the 2010 Toyota Avalon. Or, at least, that's how we felt about the car when we saw its DVD-based navigation system.
But its driving character was not quite Lexus-like. It features a veneer of luxury, and the seats feel plush, even offering heating and cooling in the Limited trim version. But its ride quality was not quite up to that of the, its equivalent in the Lexus lineup, nor was its stereo.
The front-end styling did, however, appeal to us. Its big grille aspires to luxury car stateliness, and headlight casings show a unique, angular design. Lower air intake and fog lights make up a shape that echoes that of the headlights and grille. Down the sides the Avalon looks more pedestrian, merely borrowing worn cues from the auto designer's handbook such as wheel arches and a pronounced beltline. A wide C pillar makes for an interesting rear perspective.
Like the ES 350, the Toyota Avalon is in no way sporty, or intended to be such. Its big and roomy cabin is designed to fit a lot of people comfortably. The wheel turns easily and the car glides forward easily. Play in the wheel suggests an unconcerned driving style.
But where the ES 350 offers a comfortable ride, the Avalon's comes across a little hard. Bumps in the road are felt in the cabin as jolts. Rough pavement makes the car vibrate more than we would like. A front-wheel-drive platform, the Avalon wallows if taken too fast into a turn, so we got used to cruising and enjoying the scenery.
This engine appears in many Toyota and Lexus cars.
The Avalon gets a comfortable amount of power from its 3.5-liter V-6: 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque, suitable for passing on two-lane highways. This variable valve timed engine is pretty basic in Toyota's lineup, seeing widespread use.
It comes mated to a six-speed automatic, a transmission that generally operates quietly. Standing on the gas pedal leads pretty quickly to a step down in the gears, and the car lets its revs hover around 5,000. The transmission also has a manual mode, really only good for engine braking on long descents. After moving the shifter for an up or down shift, expect to wait a while for anything to happen.
Thanks in large part to the transmission's six gears, the Avalon gets a very nice 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway in EPA testing. During our driving, which mostly mixed city and freeway miles, we averaged 22.2 mpg, a very reasonable number for a V-6.
The Avalon's infotainment system mimicked the look of that in the Lexus ES 350, with readable 2D maps that also showed traffic information. Lacking among the destination options was Lexus' new Enform telematics system, no surprise there. Toyota does not have a similarly functioning counterpart to the Lexus system.
Although using a similar interface as in Lexus models, this navigation system is DVD-based, and it lacks the Enform telematics option.
Being DVD-based, we expected sluggish performance from the navigation system, but it actually calculated routes and found address entries quickly enough. However, we had it set to search for addresses in California, requiring it to index fewer street and city names as we entered letters in its virtual keyboard. Go to a different state and you have to reset the state in the navigation system.
The cabin tech has kept up with rest of the world in other ways. For example, the navigation system dynamically changes its route if it finds traffic jams ahead. And the Bluetooth phone system downloads contact lists, making it possible to use voice command to dial by name.
The stereo also features Bluetooth streaming audio along with iPod integration and satellite radio. iPod cables plug into a console-mounted USB port, a convenient location. But as we found with previous Lexus and Toyota iPod integration, browsing music libraries is incredibly slow. Each time we scrolled down a page in an artist or album listing, the new page would appear blank for a little while until it managed to populate.
The iPod interface worked frustratingly slowly as we tried to browse music.
And another problem we've seen in other Toyota company cars is that music played from an iPhone, using the iPod cable plugged into the USB port, suffers from cracks and pops. The iPhone might be partly responsible for this poor performance, but we've only found this problem in Toyota and Lexus models.
The navigation system comes with a four-CD changer, with the slot hidden behind the LCD. This configuration is not elegant, requiring the whole LCD to motor down and out of the way.
The JBL audio system was good, but not great. It doesn't come close to the finely detailed sound from Lexus' Mark Levinson audio systems. But its 12 speakers manage to surround the cabin well and rise above the average. We heard some reasonable bass from the system, but highs and mids were slightly muddy.
Although our car did not come equipped with it, an adaptive cruise control system is available. Like the older DVD-based navigation, the cruise control uses a laser to determine the speed of cars ahead. This system was previously used on the Lexus RX, until it was swapped for a radar-based system.
The 2010 Toyota Avalon blurs the lines between the Toyota and Lexus brands. It is hard to justify this model, at close to $40,000, when you could get a Lexus ES for similar money. Performance-wise, the Avalon is clearly designed for simple transportation, somewhat like a max-Camry. We like how Toyota was able to wring good fuel economy out of the V-6. But the drive technology is pretty average, as Toyota has not even gone to an electric power-steering unit.
There are some good features in the cabin tech, such as the Bluetooth phone system and voice command. The navigation system is usable, but only offers 2D maps. And when searching for addresses you will have to specify the state. The iPod integration is frustratingly slow when browsing for music.
Although somewhat mundane, we like the exterior styling for the angular headlights and grille treatment. The cabin tech interface is also a good design, easy to use and aesthetically pleasing.
|Model||2010 Toyota Avalon|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6, six-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||20 mpg city/29 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||22.2 mpg|
|Navigation||DVD-based, with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible four-CD changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||JBL 12-speaker 360-watt system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, backup camera|
|Price as tested||$38,188|