1995 Toyota Avalon
1995 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge


By Chris Chase

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Toyota Avalon, 1995-1999

Toyota launched its high-end Lexus line in 1991 in order to break into the luxury market. At that time, many buyers associated Japanese companies like Toyota with economical cars, making a “high-end” Toyota a tough sell.

Perhaps because it was pleased with how Lexus’ first few models had been received, Toyota felt that 1995 was the right time to introduce the Avalon, its luxury sedan. Following in the footsteps of the Cressida, the Avalon used a more modern front-drive platform based on that of the Camry (the Cressida was an older, rear-drive design).

The Avalon also borrowed the Camry’s V6 engine, though for the Avalon, it was tuned for a few extra horsepower (192 vs. 188 in 1995). Power increased to an even 200 in 1997 and 1998 brought a mild, mid-cycle redesign. Along with the V6, the Avalon used the Camry’s four-speed automatic as the only transmission choice.

Verdict

Highs: Low prices, classic Toyota reliability
Lows: Boring looks

The 1997 model’s extra few horses must have been really efficient ones: fuel consumption dropped that year to 11.3 L/100 km (city) and 7.1 L/100 km (highway), from 11.8 and 7.6 L/100 km for 1995 and 1996 models.

While Toyota has had some reliability issues in a few of its newer models, it’s fair to say that this first-gen Avalon has been quite robust in the long term.

1998 Toyota Avalon
1998 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

One specific issue to comment on: Consumer Reports notes suspension problems in first-gen cars, and a quick search on ToyotaNation.com brought up a post that mentions the front upper strut mounting plate as the cause of a persistent front-end clunk.

Amazingly, that seems to be the only really common issue with these cars. Remember, though, that you are dealing with a car that’s at least a decade old, so if you find a used Avalon that looks promising, the final word should go to a trusted mechanic.

Crash safety in early models was either “marginal” – according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) offset frontal test method – or good enough to earn four and five stars for driver and front passenger protection in a frontal collision from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Structural changes made with the 1998 redesign improved the IIHS’ evaluation to “acceptable,” but the NHTSA’s frontal crash ratings remained the same. However, the NHTSA did conduct side impact tests on the newer models and gave these cars five stars for front seat occupant protection, and four for rear seat occupant protection.

1998 Toyota Avalon
1998 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge

Used Avalon values range from $4,200 for a 1995 XL model to $8,225 for a 1999 XLS version. Those prices are, at most, only a few hundred dollars more than a top-of-the-line Camry, and at least $1,000 less than a Lexus ES300 (which, coincidentally, is also based on the Camry).

Of the Camry, ES300 and the Avalon from the late 1990s, the Avalon’s the one I’d choose as a used vehicle. These cars depreciated far more quickly than the Camry did (a 1999 Avalon XLS originally sold for $10,000 more than the Camry XLE, but is now worth just a few hundred more than the Camry); also, the Avalon can be had for far less than the Lexus, but offers almost as much luxury, never mind more interior space, than the ES300. For a nice car on a small budget, the first-gen Avalon is hard to beat.


Online resources

ToyotaNation.com is my favourite Toyota web portal; it has a decently busy Avalon discussion section. Like the other car forums at truck-friendly TundraSolutions.com, the Avalon section is quiet; and apparently, there aren’t many Avalon fans at ToyotaFans.net.


Recalls

Transport Canada Recall Number: 1997155; Units affected: 4,825

1997: Under extremely low temperature operating conditions and infrequent brake operation there is the possibility that condensed moisture from a surge tank might seep into the brake booster vacuum hose and freeze. Over time, the ice may accumulate and eventually plug the hose, thereby eliminating the vacuum assist to the brakes. The increased pedal pressure required to apply the brakes could lead to an increase in stopping distance and a possible vehicle accident. Correction: brake vacuum hose will be replaced with a newly configured version.


Manufacturer’s Website

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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