2011 Toyota Avalon
2011 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

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2011 Toyota Avalon

St. John’s, Newfoundland – When I told a friend I was going to Newfoundland to drive the 2011 Toyota Avalon – on the Avalon Peninsula, of course – his response was, “Do they even still make that model?”

Yes, they even still do, and with numerous changes to greet the 2011 model year. It isn’t all-new, but it’s substantially “refreshed,” primarily in its styling and in several new features and technologies.

It may seem a bit odd to continue offering this Toyota flagship sedan, since it casts a shadow into Lexus’ territory, but it’s part of a company strategy to offer vehicles in every segment – in this case, the only full-size sedan in the Toyota stable. There are also more than a few buyers who want the features and performance of a Lexus, but aren’t comfortable driving the more upscale nameplate. Toyota moved 280 Avalons off dealer lots last year, but with the upgrades on the 2011, along with the surge in interest that tends to greet most new models, it expects to sell between 350 and 500 this year. It’s already on sale, with a target demographic of men between 35 and 55 years of age, many of whom are expected to move up from a Toyota Camry.

2011 Toyota Avalon
2011 Toyota Avalon
2011 Toyota Avalon
2011 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

Despite its Japanese badge, the model is a red-blooded American: designed and engineered in California and Michigan, built in Kentucky, and available only in North America.

The Avalon’s powertrain remains the same as in the 2010 model, but front and rear styling is new; inside, there’s a redesigned dash and centre console. For 2010, the Avalon came as the XLS, at $39,285, with an available Premium Package that took the price to $45,845. This time around, all of that is bundled into a single trim line, also called the XLS, which comes in at $41,100. The only available option is a premium pearl finish in place of the standard metallic colours, for an additional $220.

The Avalon uses a 3.5-litre V6 engine, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Producing 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a sedan at this level: it’s very quiet and capable with a stout powerband that does what’s asked of it at every position on the throttle. Passing trucks uphill on the highways along Newfoundland’s craggy cliffs proved effortless, and response on the pedal is smooth and linear at all speeds. The six-speed is a good fit and it moves almost imperceptibly between the cogs. It can be controlled manually, but only via the shift lever; there are no paddles on the woodgrain-and-perforated-leather steering wheel. This isn’t about sports performance, but moving people from A to B in luxury fashion. Published fuel figures are 10.6 L/100 km (27 mpg Imp) in the city and 6.8 (42) on the highway. In a roundabout way, a Toyota spokesperson confirmed rumours of an Avalon hybrid by saying that the company’s goal is to provide a gasoline-electric model in every segment in which it competes – which could also explain why it’s keeping such a low-volume car. If a Camry hybrid’s not luxurious enough, and you justifiably don’t want the forgettable Lexus HS 250h, an Avalon hybrid would be a tasty choice.

2011 Toyota Avalon
2011 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

Engine power goes strictly to the front wheels; although some competitors in the large-car segment offer all-wheel, it would both add to the price and, as Toyota’s reps pointed out, distort the almost-flat rear floor that makes this car viable for three passengers across the rear seat, as I discovered when being ferried around St. John’s to a dinner stop.

Any bumps and road imperfections stop well before they get to the cabin – there’s even a felt liner in the rear wheel wells (and has been since the first models, so don’t worry about its longevity in winter) to muffle the sound of stones being thrown up against the inner fenders. The steering is pleasantly light and just right for the car: it feels more substantial than a Camry, but it’s not a sports sedan and isn’t meant to be. The brakes have good bite and stop the car with confidence. A brake override system will be added to all Toyota models by the end of calendar-year 2010, in response to the recall situation, and the Avalon has its already in place.

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