by Tony Whitney
For 2003, Toyota has facelifted its Avalon sedan in an effort to freshen a product that competes mostly with large North American models from Buick, Ford and Pontiac. The most recognizable changes have been to the grille, front intake and foglights. There are several new
colours too. Inside the car, the instrument panel has been improved and the sun visors now have those handy extensions that slide out and block glare when the visors themselves won’t quite work.
The Avalon could be the most underrated product in Toyota’s lineup and it’s often overlooked by people looking for a large, near-luxury, sedan. This is a stylish, roomy car that’s classified as a full-size sedan in the US and is thus more than capable of accommodating five adults in comfort.
The Avalon is actually Toyota’s flagship sedan and thus overlaps upscale division Lexus’ entry-level products to some extent. Even so, it has a character of its own and fits into Toyota’s range in the spot once occupied by the luxurious Cressida of a few model years back.
For the 2000 model year, the Avalon was completely revised with fresh styling and a roomier interior. There probably won’t be any more major changes for a couple of model years. This year, the base XL model has been eliminated, leaving the fully-equipped XLS model.
Although it has the same wheelbase as the old Avalon, it’s 31 mm wider and 25 mm higher. Extra space has also been gained by moving the dash forward and the rear seat backward. The result is a much roomier cabin than hitherto – a big plus for business users who need to pack in the passengers now and again.
Interestingly, Avalon was the first Toyota to be built exclusively in the US – at a plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. The car was designed and engineered in North America too. In a surprising turn of events, the Avalon is actually exported to Japan and topped import sales charts there a while back.
Avalon styling is stately, rather than dramatic, which is probably just what most buyers in this class want. It’s a sleek and slippery shape even so, which translates into low wind noise and added refinement. The wide chromed grille hints at the car’s “upscale” status. Broad areas of glass make for great vision in all directions. I didn’t find any significant blind spots at all. A wide rear view mirror helps visibility too.
Much of the credit for Avalon refinement goes to an excellent powertrain. Power comes from a 24-valve, 3.0 litre V6 which delivers a refined 210 horsepower at 5,800 rpm. The engine, which drives the front wheels, uses Toyota’s variable valve timing system and this contributes towards lively performance. This may be a business express, rather than a sports car, but it’s pretty swift off the mark, nonetheless. Transmission is a four-speed automatic which is well-matched to the powerplant.
All Avalons come with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, a huge safety plus. Toyota has endowed the Avalon with a new active safety system that includes vehicle skid control (VSC), traction control (TRAC) and electronic brake distribution (EBD). These features are based on the braking system and contribute towards a very safe and dependable automobile.
The Avalon cabin was designed with comfort in mind, as befits a car in this class. In addition to the extra room described earlier, the seats have been re-designed and do seem more supportive. The front seatbacks are higher, an important point for taller drivers. A dual climate control system is featured and this allows driver and front passenger to select different heating/air conditioning levels. Also included is a filter for pollen, dust and pollutants as small as 0.1 micron.
Interior features worth a mention include an overhead console with a stowage compartment for sunglasses plus an integrated maplight and a built-in “Homelink” remote control that can be programmed for both home and work doors or security systems. I find these systems very handy for programming to a garage door. The power windows feature auto up and down for the drivers side.
The Avalon is a spacious, comfortable and refined automobile which should find a worthy place in executive fleets and among private buyers. It costs a little less than many rivals in this class and should keep its value very well through the usual lease or financing periods. Added to all this is Toyota’s much-praised level of quality, fit and finish. The Avalon XLS comes fully-equipped for $45,830 plus Freight, PDI and taxes.
More info can be found at www.toyota.ca.
Technical Data: 2003 Toyota Avalon XLS
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger full-size sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.0 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves, VVT-i|
|Horsepower||210 @ 5800 rpm|
|Torque||220 lb-ft. @ 4400 rpm|
|Curb weight||1570 kg (3461 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2720 mm (107.1 in.)|
|Length||4875 mm (191.1 in.)|
|Width||1821 mm (71.7 in.)|
|Height||1465 mm (57.7 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||450 litres (15.9 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 11.0 l/100 km (26 mpg)|
|Hwy: 7.4 l/100 km (38 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 year/100,000 km|