Stealth Luxury | 2017 Toyota Avalon

March 2017 View more

It’s perhaps easy to overlook the Toyota Avalon. Slotted between the best-selling Camry (the sales leader among all US cars for fifteen years now) and the perennially popular Lexus ES350 sedan, the Avalon is a bit of a niche player in the Toyota/Lexus universe. And big cars in general have taken a bit of a drumming from the high-riding crossovers that keep grabbing more of the market.

But the Avalon shines in its role as a full-size, smooth-riding, front-wheel-driving sedan. Redesigned for 2016, it rolls into 2017 with a few tweaks—and carrying over all of the positive attributes that have made it a go-to choice for stealth luxury buyers who want space and comfort, but aren’t willing to give up on power.

Like many sedans these days, the Avalon can be had with traditional, gas-only propulsion or a hybrid gas-electric setup. (There’s no plug-in version yet.) The hybrid version stands out because it’s the only full-size hybrid car you can buy without a luxury badge. But the gas-only version stands out, too, because the gas engine is a big V6, not a four-cylinder (turbocharged or not) like you’ll find under so many mid-sized hoods.

That V6 is one of the best reasons to consider the Avalon. By the numbers, it’s 3.5 liters big and 268 horsepower strong—yet still manages to deliver 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway, according to EPA estimates. Those figures are impressive.

So is the Avalon’s seamless acceleration. Paired with a six-speed transmission, the Avalon launches quickly and gracefully. Better, the transmission seems to shift only when gear changes are really needed. Unlike some of the latest seven-, eight-, and nine-gear transmissions, the Avalon’s does not feel like it’s always shifting up to eke out a fraction more fuel economy.

The Avalon’s suspension and steering are decidedly tuned for comfort. Don’t let the presence of paddle shifters and a “sport” mode fool you: Most Avalon buyers will be attracted more to the softly luxurious ride than to the potential for high-speed cornering. It’s good news, then, that the comfortable seats and extremely quiet cabin are willing collaborators in the quest for a straightforwardly pleasant driving experience.

The cabin also aims for a sort of visual quiet. It’s full of nice materials and flush electronic buttons, with an angled console and easy-to-read gauges. Colors are muted, front seats are heated and rear seats boast a surfeit of leg, head and hip room.

The Avalon earned a five-star safety rating, and all models now come standard with a host of active safety features like “smart stop technology” and “lane departure alert.” Toyota’s “dynamic radar cruise control” (which is arguably more for convenience than safety) is also standard. Many of these features were previously standard only on the most expensive Avalon, so the 2017 delivers more value than before. Unfortunately, two of the best safety tools—a blind-spot monitor and a rear cross-traffic alert system—are only available on higher-end models.

The 2017 Toyota Avalon comes in five flavors (eight if you count the three hybrid models). The XLE starts the bidding at $33,250; the buy-in for the top-of-the-line Limited is $41,050. In between, prices rise as the models accrue features like a moonroof, LED headlights, larger wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and heated rear seats.

There are no standalone options to choose, so pick your trim level and you’re done with the order sheet—just one more way that the Avalon feels smooth.