2011 Toyota Avalon Limited

The thing about the 2011 Toyota Avalon Limited: It’s clean and contemporary. “Clean” is the sort of word that people sometimes use as regards used cars.

The thing about the 2011 Toyota Avalon Limited: It’s clean and contemporary.

“Clean” is the sort of word that people sometimes use as regards used cars. Which couldn’t be further from the use here. Rather, while the word may not be precisely accurate, sitting behind the wheel of the Avalon, surveying the IP and noting the appropriate and deft use of materials, I simply get the sense that this is really a fresh—even refreshing—execution. Open, airy.

And they’ve pulled off one thing that ought to be something that every designer of a non-luxury car ought to go to school on: They use a “wood grain style and leather wrapped shift knob & steering wheel.”

A

Yes, the “wood grain style” means that it is plastic. It is not wood. It looks like wood. It looks more like wood than plenty of real wood executions in cars look like wood. That’s because the plastic wood—or plood—is not high-gloss. Rather, it is matte in both color and texture. It is understated. It has a good hand texture. All too often, the use of plood is so over the top with gloss that it is almost as though it is “Interior by Cover Girl.” Arguably, there is more than a forest’s worth of actual wood in cars that have so much lacquer on them that it could have an effect on Lady Gaga’s makeup kit.

And as for the rest of the plastics, including the metal-like trim, they are also well done.

However (it had to be coming, right?), there is one thing that I find to be a bit off-putting. There is the fabric affectionately known as “mouse fur” used for the headliner. And it goes beyond the headliner down the inside of the A-pillars. And the Limited grade has a 12,-speaker, 660-watt JBL Premium Synthesis audio system with a 12-channel digital amp that provides rich sound. But the speaker covers in the A-pillars seem anything but premium. That is, they appear as though they are crocheted. Your eye runs down the A-pillar then there is this bizarre fabric rectangle that’s color-matched to the mouse fur. And there are tiny little openings for the sound to escape. A minor thing, but once you know its there. . . .

A

The back seat is a zone of comfort. The rear seat will actually recline, and the floor is nearly flat, so it is really a nice place to be in. Spacious. By way of comparison, consider another large car, the Ford Taurus. Here are the rear seat dimensions for both vehicles:

Headroom: Taurus 37.8 in Avalon 37.5 in

Legroom Taurus 38.1 in Avalon 40.9 in

Shoulder room: Taurus 56.9 in Avalon 58.2 in

Hip room: Taurus 55.8 in Avalon 56.2 in

Which puts the people in the back seat of the Avalon in a much better position.

However (it had to be coming, right?), there is a sacrifice that is made to get that space:

Truck space: Taurus 20.1 cu ft Avalon 14.4 cu ft

It all depends on where you sit.

A

For 2011 there is a new front clip, including a more substantial grille and projector headlamps. There are redesigned rocker panels, as well as more chrome trim. At the back there are new taillights which, like the front lamps, employ LED light pipes.

Under the hood there is a 268-hp V6 mated to a six-speed automatic, a combination that provides respectable performance for a car of this type (you are unlikely to shift the gear selector out of “D” at a light to race someone in a Taurus Limited).

A

One thing that strikes me as a real weakness in this vehicle is that from the point of view of interior technologies, Toyota is lagging. Yes, there is a touch-screen navigation system and XM, but compared to the competitors, it all seems somewhat clunky and tired. While Toyota is rolling out with a whole new multimedia system, Entune, the car as Driven didn’t have it. The existing interface is a real sore point in an age of ever-improving smart phone screens (i.e., if you can have a really sharp, cool interface on your phone, shouldn’t you have one that costs about 200 times more? The price as Driven was $38,884, which started with a base MSRP of $35,685.).

However (it is the last time), I really enjoyed driving the Avalon. When I mentioned that to one of my Gen X colleagues, he immediately asked about whether I was up to date on my AARP membership. . . .

Selected Specs

Engine: 3.5-liter, DOHC 24-valve, dual VVT-iV6

Horsepower: 268 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 111.0 in

Length: 197.6 in

Width: 72.8 in

Height: 58.5 in

Curb weight: 3,616 lb

EPA fuel economy: 20/29 mpg city/hwy