Toyota’s Avalon drives upstream
When Toyota’s large Avalon first hit the road in 1994 as a 1995 model, it was the very essence of bland in a four-door front-wheel-drive sedan. Kind of reminded me of a Buick during that era; a bit on the wobbly side with the kind of aesthetics and road manners that work for the vast majority of vehicle operators that consider a car an appliance.
In its second and third iterations, Avalon got a bit nicer but its road manners were still very suspect for someone who likes to drive. That changed with the fourth generation, sharing a chassis with the redrawn Lexus ES sedan that’s gone more sporty itself over the years after languishing in the same, so-what varietal category where Avalon once lived.
Now the 2015 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring is exactly what it purports to be: a touring sedan and one that handles road imperfections in sprightly manner and undulating roadways like they’re there to be conquered. In other words, this Kentucky-bred sedan has become a car that can grow into the category of “world class”. It’s taken quite a bit of calibration by Toyota’s engineering staff, I’m sure, to get Avalon to where it is today. Job well done, gang!
Looking at this new Avalon sedan, you know it’s a Toyota from the front end that carries the central emblem surrounded by brightwork, small lights and a gaping intake with five horizontal (black) bars. Fog lights are set deep into that front end and the look is one of power and symmetry as the hood flows to the windshield with minimal rakes. There’s a single high body crease along the sides while the rear of this full-size sedan slopes from the long rear window toward the array of rear lights and a low opening trunk.
Under the hood, Toyota gets serious with this car, which has a 3.5-liter V6 engine that puts out a capable 268 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 248 lb-ft of torque at 4700. An electronically controlled 6-speed automatic transmission with sequential paddle-shift availability keeps well-planned gearing flowing seamlessly. Well calibrated MacPherson struts with offset coil springs at both end are responsible for the great road feel, while the electric power steering isn’t nearly as numb as usual.
Ventilated front and solid disc brakes bring this 3505-pound car to an easy halt and help prepare it for a turning circle of 40 feet, not the greatest, but that’s to be expected for a car this size and weight. As is often the case, Toyota equips this vehicle with three drive modes: sport, normal and eco. We kept the Avalon in Eco mode on the long trip from Chicago to Indianapolis, where we were working the 61st Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, the largest NHRA meeting of each season. That allowed the fuel mileage, using regular unleaded, to easily match EPA suggestions of 12/31/24 from the 17-gallon tank.
This 2015 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring has gorgeous creme brûlée mica paint that accentuates every curve; the sedan’s near-white interior gained a few Goodyear freckles after our weekend at the drag strip – sorry Toyota – but we were all, three humans and a petite dog, very impressed by the contours and comfort of the seats on long drives, the amount of soft plastics inside (not normal on most Toyota cars) and the value of this vehicle, which has a list price of $37,130 including the sole option of carpet floor mats for the interior and trunk.
Toyota uses a good proximity key for entry and egress; inside the cabin is businesslike and still welcoming. While front passenger seat leg room is marginal for an exceptionally tall person – one of our passengers was a full 6’4” – it was fine for the rest of us. We found it easy to pair the phone and we liked the gentle voice on the GPS system that exists with the navigation system. Toyota continues to use dual controls for tilt/slide functions of its sunroof but all else is modern and upscale.
The Avalon’s steering wheel has audio inputs on the left, while the right side controls the phone and trip computer display. A trunk remote (it can also be opened using the soft touch pad at entry) is at lower left of the dash. It’s not terribly easy to see either the fuel or temperature gauge displays, each set at the base of the tachometer and speedometer, respectively. They tend to get lost a bit in daylight but are day to see at night. The navigation and trip display panel set within a good, 7-inch screen that also contains the backup camera does show the amount of juice on the paired phone and its capability to receive and send calls, texts and emails.
At start-up the navigation screen is split to the audio and map; by tapping either one it goes to full-width of the screen, another nice touch. Toyota added light touches to the turn signals and a single pass for the wipers, both of which we needed a bunch this trip. We could have popped up and turned the seat heaters but with very hot days they sure weren’t necessary. We would have liked HID headlights; to get them one must order the XLE Touring Sport.
There are airflow outlets for rear-seat passengers, who have plenty of space to unwind behind driver and front-seat passenger (even the big, 6’4” guy). The 16-cubic-foot trunk swallows just about anything and there’s also a 60/40 fold to increase storage capability. Speaking of storage, there’s an open cubby at the base of the center stack with full inputs below it, also available in the bilevel covered center storage.
This 2015 Toyota Avalon rides on 225/45R 18-inch Michelin tires on 10-spoke alloy rims. With this setup and the very nice suspension, the ride is good and stable, but the Avalon is prone to movement in very high winds, which we encountered on our trip back to Chicago (a huge rainstorm too). it’s very quiet inside this machine but you can still hear road noise, which is what a proper driver should expect.
The 2015 Toyota Avalon handled Indiana’s back roads quite nicely and was up to the task of passing on two-lane byways. For the ride north, much of it off the highway thanks to construction, we kept the car in Sport mode and thoroughly enjoyed side-road jaunts amongst the fallow corn fields. We love this sedan in Sport mode for its power, steering and gearing, putting it back in Eco makes it a bit more of a numbing ride.
No longer a Buick clone (and this is a compliment), the 2015 Toyota Avalon XLE Touring is an excellent family/business touring machine. Toyota’s got this full-size sedan on the right track.
Words and Photos By Anne Proffit