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Since it was first introduced, in 1994, Toyota hasn't exactly posted huge numbers with its full-size Avalon. Although it has all the usual Toyota virtues, it has tended to be overshadowed by the best-selling Camry.

In 2005, the company decided to do something about it and gave the Avalon a complete restyle and makeover.

At the top of the to-do list were visuals. The previous generation of Avalon was a little on the uninspiring side when it came to body style. Some critics quipped at the time that it was perfect for the market it was aimed at: slightly out-of-date seniors.

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Toyota's solution: make it look like a Camry. After all, that's the platform it was built on, and it has traditionally featured many of the same styling cues as its smaller stablemate.

The styling was still far from being revolutionary, but it was pleasing to the eye and more contemporary-looking than its predecessor. As always, the Kentucky-built Avalon was still aimed at an older group of buyers and an avant-garde body style was neither wanted nor appreciated. Conservative was the key word then and now.

That didn't apply to what was under the hood, however. For 2005, the Avalon received a lively 3.5-litre, twin-cam V-6 that developed 280 horsepower at 6,200 rpm. That was up some 70 horses from the previous version. It was mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature, which was the only choice.

Fuel consumption, always a concern, was pegged at 11.0 litres/100 km in the city and a comparatively thrifty 7.3 L/100 km on the highway.

In keeping with its overall refined nature, the drivetrain of the new Avalon remained a paragon of smoothness and responsiveness. Despite its conservative trappings, it actually went like the clappers. You could reach freeway speed from a dead stop in well under seven seconds - easily.

A pair of discreet chrome exhaust tips were the only hint of the car's performance abilities and it definitely qualified for sleeper status. Indeed, the Avalon's hot-rod performance was totally out of character with its low-key image, but welcome, just the same.

As you might expect, it had its share of engineering highlights and modcons. Even the base XLS version came with leather interior, dual zone climate controls, simulated wood trim, auto-dimming rear-view mirrors and all the usual goodies you'd expect to find on an upscale automobile.

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There was also a Premium version with a DVD navigation system and an even more upscale Touring model with up-rated suspension.

Safety equipment included anti-locking brakes, front, side, knee and side-curtain airbags and a vehicle stability control system. There was no traction control system offered with the base model, which was kind of unexpected, but there you go.

Still, for its $39,900 starting price, the new Avalon was a lot of automobile and could almost pass for a Lexus in terms of quality and fit and finish.

One safety recall to report from Transport Canada. It concerns a possibly faulty steering yoke that may not have been properly welded to the steering column during assembly. It could cause loss of steering and dealers will replace the entire steering mechanism, if necessary.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has this glitch on file, too, as well as an alert for sketchy side-curtain and knee-impact airbags. These two may not have been installed properly during assembly and, in an accident situation, may not provide adequate protection for vehicle occupants. This particular problem may also apply to certain Lexus and Scion models. Again, dealers will take care of the problem, gratis.

Nineteen technical service bulletins are on file with NHTSA. These include things like a "knocking noise" coming from the power sunroof, body leakage when it rains, power door lock issues, minor oil drips from the engine and various electrical glitches. Many of these items take the form of service advisories, rather than life-threatening flaws.

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Aside from some minor complaints about the new engine, Consumer Reports magazine gives the redesigned 2005 Avalon top marks in every category. It does gripe about the ride quality, which it claims can be "floaty" at highway speeds, but still give the model a "better than average" rating for predicted reliability.

Market research firm J.D. Power, meanwhile, is effusive in its praise of the '05 Avalon, giving it "among the best" or "better than most" marks in just about every area. The exceptions seem to be interior design quality and feature accessories design quality. Nonetheless, it garners a "most appealing full-size car" rating from this organization.

As is often the case with Toyota products, the Avalon has held its value well. You'll be lucky to get a four-year-old model for less than $18,000 these days and the Touring version seems to be at least $1,500 more expensive than the base XLS.

2005 TOYOTA AVALON

Type: Full-size, four-door sedan

Original Base Price: $39,900; Black Book : $20,950-$21,475; Red Book: $17,500-$18,175

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Engine: 3.5-litre V-6

Horsepower/Torque: 280 hp/260 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic/five-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 11.0 city/7.3 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Ford Five Hundred, Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala, Pontiac Bonneville, Cadillac STS

globeauto@globeandmail.com

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