Test Drive: 2011 Toyota Avalon XLS toyota car test drives
2011 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2011 Toyota Avalon

Since its introduction in 1995, the Toyota Avalon could never be described as a car that made the earth move for luxury car shoppers. It plays in an awkward part of the field as an upscale car wearing a mainstream nameplate, competing for sales with premium brands.

What makes the Avalon an even tougher sell is that it goes head-to-head with Toyota’s own upscale Lexus brand. And in this fight, Lexus wins, selling 10 of its ES 350 – a similarly-priced and slightly smaller car – for every Avalon that leaves a Toyota store.

In case you’re one of many who have never even heard of the Avalon, here’s the deal. It’s based on the same platform as the Camry and ES 350, and uses the same 3.5-litre V6 and six-speed automatic transmission found in those cars. The Avalon is bigger in every exterior dimension, with its 45 mm (1.7 in.) longer wheelbase the most significant difference.

Test Drive: 2011 Toyota Avalon XLS toyota car test drives
2011 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

That extra length between the axles makes for a roomier back seat, but the 20 mm (about half an inch) in extra height contributes to a notable bonus in headroom compared to the ES 350, especially in the front seat. You’ll notice more elbow room in the Avalon too, thanks to an extra inch in overall width.

Many modern cars’ seats generate some sort of comfort complaint from my wife, who has a bad back. Kudos to the Avalon then, whose front chairs she – and I – found very comfortable and supportive, even after covering the 900 kilometres between Baltimore, Maryland and Ottawa in one day. My complaint was a lack of lateral support, which was notable even in a car designed for anything but corner carving.

In back, legroom is very generous, and a nearly flat floor makes for more comfort with three passengers in coach class. As a bonus, the split rear seatbacks recline individually, the only downside to this being that the seatbacks don’t fold down to expand cargo space. There is a pass-through for long cargo, though.

Test Drive: 2011 Toyota Avalon XLS toyota car test drives
Test Drive: 2011 Toyota Avalon XLS toyota car test drives
2011 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

The 408-litre trunk is smaller than a Camry’s and tiny compared to the cargo capacity offered in other $40,000-ish full-size sedans such as the Ford Taurus/Lincoln MKS or Buick Lucerne.

The redesigned interior does away with last year’s busy dash layout, including radio controls that could be hidden away under a flip-down panel. Now, you get a more attractive centre stack that also makes the controls on it easier to use. All Avalons come with navigation as standard (it was an option last year), and its screen is front and centre, flanked by sound system and navi controls, with a very simple HVAC setup below. It all works nicely, and it’s put together well: this Kentucky-built Avalon (all are built there for exclusively North American consumption) sported one of the best-quality Toyota interiors I’ve seen in a couple of years.

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