2003 Toyota Avalon XLS
2003 Toyota Avalon XLS. Click image to enlarge

By Jeremy Cato

Few used cars are as likely to be trouble-free as the Toyota Avalon, which last received a complete makeover for 2000.

Some have called the Avalon a Lexus with Toyota badging, and I think it’s a relative bargain. With a little work, you should be able to find a three- or four-year-old Avalon for about half its original sticker price.

True, the Avalon is a somewhat bland looking four-door – the kind of near-luxury car a recently retired person might walk into a dealership and buy for their mum or dad. Yet in terms of quality, roominess, safety, ride comfort and value you’d be hard-pressed to find a better used car.

The redesign Toyota gave the Avalon for 2000 resulted in a stretched version of Toyota’s best-selling Camry mid-size sedan. This car has a roomy interior and it delivers a comfortable and civil driving experience. The cabin is welcoming, there’s a spacious trunk, and on the road you’ll experience a quiet and supple ride.

Some facts: for 2000, Toyota added width (25 mm or one inch), height (also 25 mm) and pushed the dashboard forward 100 mm (four in.). As well, the designers shifted a bit of front seat space to the rear, and raised the rear seat height 25 mm to give the folks back there a better view of the world.

Under the hood is 3.0-litre V6 (210 horsepower) that delivers adequate and smooth power. This is a solid and reliable powerplant, with a clever variable valve timing system and enough zoom here to haul this front-wheel-drive sedan to 100 km/h in the eight-second range. The electronic automatic transmission delivers timely and hard-to-feel shifts. Used buyers should be alert to a sludge issue that cropped up and grabbed the attention of Toyota’s service people.

In terms of quality, well the lack of service bulletins and only one recall since 2000 speak volumes. Take a walk around a used Avalon and you’ll be unlikely to find even a single misaligned seam. Take a drive and you shouldn’t hear any squeaks or rattles, either.

If you’re looking for facts, take note that in a recent J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, the Avalon emerged as one of the 10 best cars sold in North America in terms of problem-free operation. Not surprisingly, Consumer Reports puts it among the recommended buys.

The quality thing should come as no surprise. The story begins with the fact Camry and Avalon share a lot in common, including the basic chassis and elements of the power train. So how did all this come about?

Well, the Avalon had its debut as a 1995 model, the first six-passenger sedan offered by a Japanese company in this country. It has always been a stretched version of the Camry. Like the Camry, the styling has been pretty plain, to the point of being almost invisible.

It’s a similar story for the Avalon’s unsurprising ride quality. The steering is precise and while this is no sport sedan, the Avalon recovers nicely in quick transitions. The Avalon’s closest rival in terms of all-around quality and driving dynamics is the Buick LeSabre. Buyers should test drive both back-to-back.

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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