2015 Toyota Avalon Limited Road Test Review

By : Trevor Hofmann
  Are you looking for a premium experience but don’t want or need the pricy luxury segment badge? Toyota has long offered a less expensive yet just as appealing alternative in its full-size Avalon, a front-drive V6-powered luxury sedan based on an elongated Camry platform. With elegant styling, strong performance, impressive fuel economy and a level of refinement that many so-called premium brands don’t aspire to, the Avalon should be seriously considered by Camry XLE V6 buyers who want a little more size and a lot more pampering. The Avalon hits most premium class marks with alm.......
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
           
 
You could be forgiven for mistaking Toyota's Avalon for the new redesigned Camry. Such a comment wouldn't have been made
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
a year ago, but the new Camry's design team certainly took inspiration from the brand's full-size flagship sedan for its 2015 redo.

The current Avalon has been with us since 2012 when it arrived as a 2013 model, and for the most part remains unchanged for the 2015 model year. In my opinion this is a very good thing, as today's Avalon is not only the best looking, most impressively finished and best equipped of its kind to ever hit the road, but it's also one of the more appealing full-size luxury models offered within its class.

Well-appointed large sedans aren't as plentiful as they once were, at least here in Canada where models like Hyundai's Azera and Volkswagen's Phaeton no longer exist, not to mention cars like the Mazda Millenia and Mitsubishi Diamante which are
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
no longer offered anywhere, but then again today's mid-size sedan is now so large that many come close to qualifying for full-size status, reason enough for some would-be players not to even offer an Avalon competitor. For instance, Honda's flagship sedan is the very Accord that battles the Camry for mid-size sales glory each and every year, while other volume brands don't bother with this segment here in North America either. Certainly Hyundai offers the Genesis, but like the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger it's a rear- and all-wheel drive model with powerful optional V8 performance that targets a different type of clientele. Ditto for the Ford Taurus, at least in its top SHO trim that features turbocharged all-wheel drive. Rather, the more comfort-oriented Avalon goes up against the
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Buick LaCrosse/Chevrolet Impala dizygotic twins, the Kia Cadenza and longtime rival Nissan Maxima.

While it would be tempting to delve into each rival and compare it to the Avalon, I'd rather show you why Toyota's flagship four-door might be the better choice than a fully loaded Camry XLE V6. First, you'll need to accept that an Av cost you a little more, but also that you'll get more car, literally. The Avalon rides on the same stretched Toyota K platform as the Lexus ES 350, adding 45 mm (1.8 inches) to the current Camry's wheelbase and 110 mm (4.3 inches) to its overall length, while the larger Toyota's width expands by 15 mm (0.6 inches). This results
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
in a total passenger volume increase of 158 litres (5.6 cubic feet), found mostly in the back seat, and 17 litres (0.6 cubic feet) of additional trunk space. None of these numbers seem significant on their own, but in total they add up to a noticeable difference. Still, it's the more refined exterior styling and better attention to detail inside that makes the Avalon worthy of the extra coin.

First off, the Av's large lower grille is a more stately shape plus there's more chrome from front to back, while its rear lights are totally unique and absolutely gorgeous. The entire car appears longer, wider and lower for a sleeker appearance overall, and guaranteed you won't be seeing as many Avalons coming around the corner as Camrys, so the bigger sedan benefits from more exclusive cachet. While Toyota
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
has improved the new Camry's interior despite only being a refresh inside, especially with respect to electronics that are now state of the art with a new high-resolution infotainment display that's actually a bit larger than the Av's at 7.0 inches compared to 6.1 (or 6.95 inches, depending on where you gather your information from Toyota's retail website), the difference between the two cars' cabins in every other respect is night and day.

It's obvious Toyota wanted to show off its design capability, as every inch of the Avalon's interior is eye candy. For instance, the stitched leather-like dash top comes to a unusually refreshing point as it meets the driver, appearing to hover overtop the primary dials and ancillary digital gauges that come enshrined in a gorgeous
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
dark chrome-trimmed package. The look is enhanced by thick dark chrome trim on the steering wheel, around each vent, on the centre stack and lower console, the door trim and each door handle. Truly, if you're not into metal brightwork the Avalon isn't for you, but while other cars that offer up as much chrome can come across garish, somehow Toyota made it all look totally tasteful in the Av. Combined with some of the nicest interior finishing offered in the mainstream volume sector, with beautiful woodgrain along the instrument panel, premium details such as cloth covered pillars front to back (these not available on the Camry or any other mid-size model from a mainstream brand), plus all the expected luxury accoutrements and more, brilliant heated/cooled seat controls that with a push rise up out of the lower console before rotating right
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
or left for heat or ventilation, as well as the best touch-sensitive switchgear I've ever experienced.

I've tried them all and so far touch-sensitive buttons and controllers rarely live up to the hype, some even reacting opposite to input, increasing audio volume when sliding the finger to the left to decrease, performing similarly with HVAC fan speed, and so on. The Avalon's touch-sensitive buttons, however, worked flawlessly, and they're gorgeous as well. When I originally tested a 2013 version a couple of years ago I referred to these buttons as "hockey stick shaped cutouts", and they still look that way to me. I'm thinking the car's Newport Beach, California
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Calty design team were inspired by the Los Angeles Kings' 2012 Stanley Cup win, but then again this portion of the design probably got the green light way before spring of that year. Either way I like it, along with the entire metal-finished audio/HVAC interface. While they don't really do anything more effectively than a conventional plastic button would, they work in a much more refined manner, not experiencing any of the slop and wiggle that even plague premium cars while delivering a high-tech feel. The overall centre stack is a thing of beauty, the entire upper left portion visually melding into the driver's environment.

I
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
mentioned a moment ago that the Av's touchscreen display is smaller than the new Camry's, and while some might find this a negative don't count me amongst the detractors as there are enough tablet-sized screens vying for attention these days. What matters most to me is quality, and the display resolution is sharp and crisp while all the blacks are a deep black and colours nice and bright. Navigation is standard with fabulous looking graphics and excellent functionality, while the standard reverse camera did its job well enough, although a 360-surround view system like some of the Av's competitors offer would have been appreciated. The standard SMS- and email-to-speech feature was a big bonus, mind you, and worked perfectly during my test, while the audio system displayed artist, song and album artwork when hooked up to my smartphone.

I
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
will only refer to the base stereo's specs, being that my car had the upgraded JBL system, although I've tested an Av with the entry-level nine-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA system before and found it plenty impressive, its aux and USB plugs handy, Bluetooth streaming and satellite radio up to par with competitors, and overall sound pleasing. You can access either audio system via buttons on the steering wheel spokes of course, while the leather-wrapped wheel also offers thumb access to cruise, voice recognition and Bluetooth functionality, plus a tilt and telescoping steering adjustable below column and paddle shifters just behind.

The standard leather-clad seats are heatable up front, the driver's eight-way powered
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
perch including lumbar with memory settings, the front passenger's four-way powered, the HVAC system dual-zone and automatic with air filtration and rear seat heater ducts, the rearview mirror auto-dimming, the powered windows auto up/down all around (also not the case with the top-tier Camry), while access comes via proximity-sensing remote that also actuates the pushbutton ignition system, aluminum scuff plates greet you on entry, automatic projector style halogen headlamps with a double-eye projector ellipsoid system (PES) that combines high and low beams into a single unit, plus fog lamps and variable intermittent wipers with a mist feature enhance frontward visibility, a powered moonroof makes things feel airy overhead, power-adjustable and heatable side mirrors with integrated turn signals improve rearward visibility, and an integrated garage door opener is there when returning home.

The
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Avalon's standard 18-inch alloy wheels (an inch larger than the Camry XLE V6 albeit the same as the sportier Camry XSE) aid in traction for better handling and quicker, safer stopping power, the latter provided by four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist, while Vehicle Stability Control helps you maintain road-holding confidence in inclement weather and traction control will get you going in the first place. Standard passive safety includes a total of 10 airbags with driver and front passenger knee blockers and rear-seat side thorax airbags joining the usual six.

My tester was a Limited model, so it featured even richer, supplier leather covering the seats with perforations for front cushion ventilation, the driver's seat getting a variable-length lower cushion for 10-way power while the front passenger seat is upgraded with four additional powered adjustments for a total of eight.
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Additionally, Limited trim adds ambient interior lighting, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming side mirrors with integrated puddle lamps, and a slick TFT LCD full-colour climate control panel, not to mention ultra-bright HID headlamps, LED daytime running lights, uniquely finished alloy wheels, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert.

I mentioned that my loaner's audio system was branded JBL, which resulted in wonderful clarity and deep resonant bass tones from its 11 speakers, and additionally meant that my test car was fitted with the Premium package that also adds automatic high-beams, dynamic radar cruise control, three-zone independent climate control with rear seat switchgear, heatable rear outboard seats, a powered rear window sunshade, and a pre-collision system.

From
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
a driving perspective, while the top-line V6-powered Camry and each Avalon model gets Toyota's silky smooth 3.5-litre V6 tuned to mete out 268 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque and mated to a proven six-speed automatic, you'll need to move up to the new Camry XSE to get the Av's standard paddle shifters that made the driving experience more engaging. That sporty Camry XSE feels more competent in the corners, but there isn't a Camry made that coddles as effectively on the highway as the Avalon. The longer wheelbase helps soak up road imperfections and more comfort-oriented suspension is even amenable on the roughest of inner-city roads, while standard Drive Mode Select lets you dial in a more engaging Sport setting or eke out as much fuel-efficiency as possible in Eco mode.

With fuel prices remaining high despite today's lower price per barrel of oil, especially
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
so where I live in Vancouver, I set the Avalon to Eco in slower traffic and let the car stretch its legs in Sport mode when the road opened up, only leaving it in Normal mode when my mind was indisposed and I forgot to change it manually. When driven cautiously the Avalon actually achieves impressive combined fuel economy, coming very close to the V6-powered Camry despite weighing 58 kilos (128 lbs) more. Just how Toyota achieves this is anyone's guess, but nevertheless the numbers speak for themselves, the Avalon rated at a claimed 11.3 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 9.6 combined and the Camry V6 getting a five-cycle EnerGuide rating of 11.0 city, 7.7 highway and 9.5 combined.

It's possible the Avalon's lower overall height makes it slightly more aerodynamic, part
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
of the reason it's also quieter at speed, but this likely has more to do with the efforts Toyota has put into reducing engine and road noise through extensive sound deadening. Either way, the Avalon is wonderfully serene on the highway and ideally isolating from busy city noise too, making for a true luxury experience no matter the outward surroundings.

Such attributes contribute to the Avalon's overall goodness. It's a true flagship sedan that's as enjoyable for wiling away the miles as it is to sit and stare at. While impressive in every way the Av isn't trying to compete with premium brands at all, but rather offers a top line alternative within the Toyota family to someone who might otherwise be interested in a full-load Camry. For me, it's well worth the extra coin from a Camry XLE V6, especially because of its more attractive and much more refined interior.

The
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
only big disadvantage to moving up from the Camry is the loss of 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, the Avalon only offering a fold-down centre armrest with centre pass-through due to its more comfortable individual bucket-style rear seats - a common reality in the premium class. That will be a deal-killer for avid skiing families and those who transport long items that require more side-to-side room than a pass-through provides, but for the remaining luxury set it'll be a moot point, the rest of the car so good that the upgrade is a no-brainer.

What's the price difference? The Camry XLE is competitively priced within its segment at $34,800 plus $1,650 for freight and pre-delivery preparation compared to $38,185 for the base Avalon XLE, a difference of $3,385, although the top-line
2015 Toyota Avalon Limited
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Camry comes standard with a 10-speaker JBL audio system whereas you'll need to spend more for the Avalon Limited's 11-speaker JBL upgrade. The Av gets standard radio data system however, but that hardly makes up for the top-line Camry's standard LED headlights, yet the Camry XLE V6 oddly enough doesn't include front fog lamps (the driving lights look like vertical fogs, but Toyota sets that point straight on its retail site), turn signals within the mirror housings and LED brake lights, all standard with the Avalon. The Av also gets two more power settings for the driver's seat lumbar, the aforementioned driver-side memory seat and mirror settings, adjustable rear headrests, low tire pressure warning, and a maintenance reminder, but blind spot detection is optional. As mentioned all of these items need an upgrade to the $40,280 Avalon Limited that included more as well, while my Premium packaged tester's MSRP came to $43,380 plus freight.

No matter how you look at it, the Avalon represents good value. Its exterior styling is arguably more appealing, especially from the rear, while its interior is a cut above the Camry and most of its competitors, even those priced closer to $50k. Where most in this category lack originality, the Avalon delivers a creatively penned cabin that delights at every turn, resulting in a truly inspired luxury experience that deserves serious consideration by those wanting all the storied reliability of a Camry yet desiring a more stimulating environment.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)
 
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