2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Michael Clark

Photo Gallery: 2008 Toyota Avalon

Every nameplate needs a top-line offering. We can split hairs on the psychology of ego needs and the running score with the Joneses, but this scribe sees the issue a little more clearly. Whether it’s a Chevy, Kia, or this week’s Toyota Avalon XLS, the common thread is this; the dealership wants to keep you in the brand until Mr. G. Reaper sends you a registered letter.

As the Toyota lifecycle customer progresses from Yaris to Avalon, the expectations of what is acceptable will dramatically change. To put it another way, the level of comfort and convenience provided at the upper echelon should involve minimal checks of the option boxes. There are three grades of XLS; standard equipment at $41,840, the Premium Package at $45,120, and the Premium Navi savvy at $48,635. This week’s comfort gauntlet runner is the Premium unit, sans Navi.


Cabin

Controls:

2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS. Click image to enlarge

There’s seldom a surprise in the Switch Department for any Toyota, and the Avalon carries the tradition through in fine style. The steering wheel has both tilt and telescope functions, with separate levers for each. Steering wheel-mounted controls include audio mode, HVAC controls, and phone dial functions for the integrated Bluetooth system, a Premium Package exclusive. The set-up and sync functions for this author’s Blackberry were simple and quick. Voice quality with the Clark inner circle failed to return any complaints. Windshield wipers include an auto setting, which worked surprisingly well during the fall rainy season. Power exterior mirrors are heated, when the rear defrost switch is engaged. The JBL Synthesis audio upgrade uses a hidden head unit, behind a tasteful dampened door. Auto up/down window lifts exist for the front passengers only. The power sliding sunroof is standard fare, with seamless operation. The Optitron gauges provide a great read, as does the blue-hue audio/HVAC/phone function screen, which sits in the location where the Navi system would go. The screen can also be blanked out, disappearing into the blackness of the gauge cluster.

Convenience:

2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS. Click image to enlarge

It’s a bumper crop of cubbies for the Avalon, each serving a unique purpose. There’s a dash-mount door below the audio door that reveals a thin cavity, without a powerpoint. It seems to be whispering ‘wallet’. It has a rubbery pad on the floor of the cubbie, which can be removed, but it’s a guess as to whether or not it should be. I chose the former, discovering two rubber nibs that were never going back in. A quick twist, and the nibs hit the pavement, allowing the rubber biscuit to be removed and replaced with ease. Sorry Toyota; send me the bill.

2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS. Click image to enlarge

Behind the shifter is a cavity with a flip-back door, revealing a removable cell phone holder, and a 12-volt powerpoint.

The main console has a sliding armrest, which flips back to reveal a removable coin tray, and an MP3 jack with powerpoint. The front cupholders are hidden by another door, with a removable cinch mechanism with average grab. The rear flip-down armrest has dual cupholders, with no cinch. There are HVAC vents on the rear of the console, with two settings; ‘Off’, and whatever climate mood the front passengers are in. The front doors have tip-out door pockets, with standard pockets for the rear passengers. Both front seatbacks possess storage pockets. The locking glove-box is ample, and flock-lined.

Seats:

2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS. Click image to enlarge

The Premium goose means eight-way power adjustment for front driver and passenger, with both seats receiving multi-step heat controls, and powered lumbar support. The rear outboard seating positions have the ability to recline, through an indent lever on the seat bottom. Leather is tasteful, and of good grain. Rear head restraints are of the shingle variety, providing good rearward vision.

Fit and finish:

I’ve had issues with Kentucky-built Toyota’s in the past. The good news is that gaps and tolerances on the Avalon are issue-free. My only head-scratch is the hideous choice of plastic woodgrain for the interior trim. Switch to Piano Black, Jack. Now.

Safety features:

Dual frontal bags with passenger occupant sensor are joined by front seat side-mounted airbags, curtains front and rear, and a driver’s side knee airbag. The current Avalon design scores the top mark of ‘Good’ in frontal and side impact tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (www.iihs.org.)


Spare/trunk/cargo

2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS. Click image to enlarge

There’s nothing worse than showing up to Carmen in the valet lane with an emergency spare, especially if it’s in Clown Yellow. The Avalon boasts a full-size spare, with matching alloy wheel. The flooring material on top of the spare is an engineered wood product, with genuine durability. The jack is found under a passenger side fenderwell access panel, and the tools are clipped to the underside of the wooden floor panel. The trunk is well lined, with access panels for taillight replacement. The power trunk release has a lock-out switch, located in the glove compartment inner rim. The seats are non-folding, though a locking pass-through does exist for skis and the very odd 2-by-4. Roadside assistance is still an extra-cost option of $84.95 per annum for this Toyota.


Engine

2008 Toyota Avalon XLS
2008 Toyota Avalon XLS. Click image to enlarge

Displacement: 3.5 litres of V6 mill, with 268 ponies to thrill. The Avalon only weighs 95 pounds more than a V6-equipped Camry, allowing it to find 100 km/h in the 7-ish second range. Fluid fill points: there’s ‘think’ afoot! Check out the elongated and articulated neck of the master cylinder. All of the remaining fluid fill points are easily marked and accessed. Headlamp bulb replacement looks dealer-only, as does the replacement of any major components. It’s a tight fit for this mill, which will probably compound labour costs in the long run.


Clarkey rating

If I had to drive a sensibly-priced luxo barge, the Avalon is definitely in the running. If you’re not a staunch Toyota supporter, the Hyundai Azera is definitely nipping at the Avalon heels, especially if the Azera finally gets Navi for a price tag of 40-large. To compete, the Avalon needs to raid the company parts bins, throwing in a back-up camera, memory seat, maybe even a folding rear sunshade. Do that, and the Avalon will easily snag five stars, instead of this week’s four-star showing.

Next week: 2008 Honda Accord

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