'Enthusiasts" more often than not gravitate to cars with styling that literally jumps off the pavement and performance capable of ripping it up in chunks but there's a sizable segment of buyers quite content driving something more, well, sedate and sensible.
It is to these good folk, who in their own more understated fashion likely still care quite as much about what they drive as those whose enthusiasm is more overt, that Toyota has sold a steady if not spectacular - unless you consider about a million impressive - number of examples of its full-size Avalon over the past decade and a half.
And why it injected a little rejuvenating Botox into the current aging matriarch of its sedan family to tauten any perceived sags or wrinkles - the third generation went on sale early in 2006 and was polished up a bit a couple of years later - and edge her a little further into the electronic age. The changes should keep the fleet's grand dame alive and kicking - or at least performing her always smooth and stately waltz - until a fourth generation appears, perhaps in 2013.
Which would be a year or thereabouts after the new Camry bows, which is important as it is this mid-size Toyota that has provided the basic platform architecture and mechanical components for the Avalon since its mid-'90s launch - although the Avalon is longer, wider, taller and roomier than the Camry. The platform and components are also shared with the slightly trimmer-sized Lexus ES350.
The Avalon, now only available in XLS trim and priced at $41,100, isn't just significantly larger than the top-of-the-range Camry, but takes a substantial $5,000 bigger bite out of the bank account. An ES 350, however, starts at just $1,050 more, which must make it a little confusing for potential buyers.
The styling changes are about what you'd expect for a nip and tuck: new grille, multi-reflector projector beam headlights, front fascia, chrome rocker panels, LED rear lights, reshaped fascia and exhausts and foldable, heated, self-dimming side mirrors that incorporate turn signals.
Improving outward appearances is always important - although the Avalon still blends better than it stands out on the average streetscape - but how owners feel on the inside is probably more so.
Changes for 2011 reflect this with a new instrument panel and bright Optitron gauges, steering wheel with additional functions and a redesigned centre stack with touch-screen navigation standard, a back-up camera, USB input port, Bluetooth connectivity, and satellite radio which you can now listen to on a 660-watt, 12-speaker JBL sound system. Headrests have been redesigned front and rear, too, to complement a safety package that includes seven airbags.
The Avalon's spacious cabin looks pretty Lexus-like with leather covering broad-based front seats that provide little lateral support, something that won't be relevant to most who sit in them. The rear bench will hold three and has a reclining backrest. Given the size of the Avalon, the trunk, at 408 litres, is actually smaller than that in the Camry.
Wood trim on the doors, steering wheel and console add that look and touch of luxury to this interior, which is effectively climate controlled, has big knobs and dials - and while electronically upgraded, it is not with anything too hard to figure out - and is quiet at highway speeds. The new headlights will brighten your night-time driving experience to a worthwhile degree.
The Avalon will also meet the expectations of those who decide to buy one in terms of power, ride and handling. It is powered by a 3.5 litre V-6 engine rated at 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque, which a six-speed automatic - that you'll only notice in operation if you're paying attention - delivers to the front wheels.
Those aren't bragging horsepower and torque numbers, but are more than effective enough, providing 0-100 km/h acceleration in about 7.2 seconds and for passing or merging a spring from 80 km/h to 120 km/h in about 4.5 seconds. Fuel economy is rated at 10.6 litres/100 km city and 6.8 highway, which isn't too bad and it runs happily on regular gas.
Not surprisingly, the Avalon's suspension is tuned to produce a calm and cushiony ride, which it does, but unlike full-size luxury sedans of old it manages to do this without bobbing and weaving like an empty plastic water bottle in a spring freshet. The steering has reasonable feel and the response from the front wheels is nicely linear and body lean is controlled well enough to deal with modestly abrupt avoidance manoeuvres. It's not unpleasant to drive, in other words.
2011 Toyota Avalon XLS
Type: Entry luxury sedan
Base price: $41,100; as tested, $42,520
Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 268 hp/248 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city/6.8 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Buick Lucerne, Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus, Hyundai Genesis, Lincoln MKZ, Volvo S80
Globe rating for the 2011 Toyota AvalonOur ratings guide
There's enough control built into the suspension to make its driver feel confident he or she is actually in control, but it's obviously been optimized for comfort.
Not too adventurous, but not unpleasing to the eye. And its size gives it a visual presence.
Brought up to date with a few additional electronic gizmos, the Avalon's insides are attractive, functional, roomy and, above all, comfortable.
Size, electronic driving aids, multiple airbags and high ratings from organizations that rate vehicle safety make the Avalon a good bet.
For a vehicle of this size with more than decent power, the Avalon's fuel economy ratings are more than acceptable. Driven conservatively, it won't do much harm.
(out of 10 / Not an average)
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