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Posted: October 25, 2009

Executive Wheels: The Avalon’s too good for its own good

It should've been a Lexus

Jeff Rundles



A couple of weeks ago I was blessed with the delivery of the 2010 Toyota Avalon. I say blessed because in just about every way an automobile can be stunning - appearance, feel, handling, performance - the Avalon is a stunning vehicle.

But - there's always a but. Something's not right, and it took me a while to figure it out.

This 2010 Avalon is a carryover from 2009, and it is therefore a part of the third generation of the Avalon, covering the model years 2005 - present. The car was originally introduced into the US market in 1994 as a 1995 model, and was built on the Toyota Camry platform, just stretched from a mid-sized sedan to a full-sized sedan.

 That first generation ran through 1999, and the second generation, with some nice styling upgrades, ran from 200 through 2004, also a stretched Camry. With the complete redesign in 2005, Toyota dropped the front bench seat option and, in this front-wheel-drive car, made the rear floor flat to increase rear-passenger leg room.

Then in 2008 Toyota, while not redesigning the car, refreshed it to accommodate all of the new technological advances becoming so prominent in the competition. It went to a 6-speed automatic transmission, put in a built-in remote key (all you have to do is have the key in your pocket; everything is then push-button), made accommodations for Bluetooth integration and, in 2009, made Vehicle Stability Control standard.

These are all nice additions, to be sure. But oddly enough sales just basically dropped through the floor. Sales figures show how a car becomes dated, and why is gets redesigned.

From 2000 through 2004, the run of the second generation, Avalon US sales went from 104,000, to 83,000, to 69,000, to 51,000 and dropped to 36,500. Obviously, the model was getting stale. When the third generation debuted sales leaped in 2005 to 95,000, fell to 89,00 the following year, then to 73,000 in 2007, and then took a nose dive to 43,000 for 2008 - all this before the current recession that caused auto sales drops all over.

Why? I don't believe for a second that the sales drop has to do with the model getting stale - this 2010 model is about as far from stale as you can get. The reason, I am firmly convinced, is that this Avalon shouldn't be a Toyota. It should be a Lexus, in the Toyota luxury division, because it is luxury in every respect and the most expensive passenger car in the Toyota line.

I really believe that anyone looking at a car like this is going to buy a Lexus or an Infiniti or a BMW or a Mercedes or an Acura. The person drawn to Toyota, for a million wonderful reasons, I believe, isn't looking for this type of car.

So there you have it. I loved the Avalon, but it should be in the Lexus line. If you re-badged it - and that's all you'd have to do - no one in a Lexus dealership would notice, and at these prices - top-of-the-line Avalon Limited carries a MSRP of $35,285 - it would sell like hot cakes.

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As I said, it's luxury personified. Inside it is as beautiful as any car on the market. Very handsome dash, easy to see and use controls. I especially liked the LCD screen for reading all of the info, like radio station, navigation, climate, etc.


It seems smaller, is tucked under the dash so light glare is no problem, and it seems less distracting than in other cars. The wood grain is beautiful, the brushed chrome accents very nice and smudge-free, and I also very much appreciated the hideaway cup holders. In the back seat, the room is impressive, and the truck is very large.

Outside, the car is very handsome and very substantial, with quality styling lines and an aggressive grille.

The real test, though, is the driving. This car features a 3.5-liter V6 with 268 horsepower , and it is as powerful as it is smooth. I drove it all over town, on the highway, up into the mountains to Genesee, with several passengers, and I never even gave the power a thought. It passed with ease, without lurching up to speed. Also, with the 6-speed automatic transmission, it operated so smoothly it felt as though I was in a $60,000 car. Gas mileage is also quite good: 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway, 23 mpg combined.

On the handling side, also no complaints. Very smooth operator, this one. No lean, very nimble for quick lane changes, excellent mirror coverage. I felt in complete control all the time and really enjoyed piloting the vehicle.

About the only downside is that the car is 2WD (front, and nice; it felt like a rear-drive car) and I like any vehicle with AWD, which is not available here. Having this car with an AWD option would be a big plus, especially here in Colorado and everywhere else it snows.

As I mentuioned, the base price on the Limited model is $35,285, and that included a lot of nice stuff - all the usual power gear, of course, but also a power moonroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic high-beams, rear window sunshade, dual-zone climate control, LED turn singals that appear in the outside mirrors, ABS all around, anti-theft with engine immobilzer, rear reclining seats, and it comes standard with a great sound system.

My test-drive model added a $2,000 Voice Activated DVD Nav system (easy to use) with JBL Synthesis AM/FM/ 6-disc in-dash CD with 12 speakers, Bluetooth, and satellite radio enabled. For $300 they added 8-way adjustable front seat with variable heat, and $199 for carpeted floor mats and trunk mat. Add $750 for destination charges, and the bottom line is a respectable $38,534.

Wonderful, yes, but it should be a Lexus.


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Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at

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