Ask a fan of English folklore what Avalon is, and the response could well be: the place where King Arthur is buried. Ask a car fan what Avalon is and the response will be: a car that's just as quiet. Because when Toyota implores you to "Feel The Tranquility" in their ad copy, they speak the truth. The overall driving experience of Toyota's Avalon XLS is: quiet. Start with the styling. Not offensive, although not terribly memorable either. Easy to lose in a mall parking lot. Quiet. This car is cat-quick, although it's really just a fat Camry, plumped up a couple of sizes. So you get the Camry's quiet 24-valve, double-overhead-cam V6. Good for 192 horsepower and 210 pound-feet of torque, this mill will move the Avalon with great gusto. But the thrill is insulated and removed from the driver. You don't feel connected to the engine bay. You'll just notice that you're moving faster. The four-speed electronic automatic is almost invisible. One never feels or hears transmission shifts in this car. The handling is a cut above the Camry, with less body lean. But overall, this is a front-drive family car, so you won't find yourself scrubbing rubber off the line. The whole experience is astonishingly tranquil. The size of this car was dictated by its marketing. Meant to take on the Big Three's line of large family sedans, the Avalon is available with a bench seat and column-mounted shifter. Skip it. The bucket seats are so nice and comfy (if a bit short) that the support they offer is worth optioning the sixth seating position. Cruise control, power windows, power door locks, air conditioning, tilt wheel, dual cup holders, auto-off headlamps and a four-speaker cassette stereo are standard on the base XL. Opt for the upper-level XLS, and standard features include automatic climate control, premium cassette audio system, anti-theft system, keyless entry, map lights, variable intermittent wipers, auto on-off headlamps, outside temperature display, leather-wrapped steering wheel and fake wood trim. The emphasis here is on tranquility and comfort with room for lots of people and cargo. The premium audio system is one of the best available at any price. With its 12-CD trunk-mounted changer and simple controls, this sound system helps fill the car's quiet, cavernous interior with first-rate sound. There are controls to adjust the mid-range as well as bass and treble. The only thing missing is steering-wheel mounted controls. People will tell you the Avalon's a cut-rate Lexus. It is and it isn't. In an effort to keep this car distinguished from Lexus, there are certain luxuries you can't get on the Avalon. Heated leather seats, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, real wood trim and on-board computer are some of the little luxuries unavailable on the Lexus. Better to think of it as a big, well-appointed family car. Certainly, from a safety standpoint, this is true. All seating positio ns get three-point belts. Dual airbags are standard, as are anti-lock brakes. Traction control is optional. All Avalons also meet 1997 side impact standards. There are a couple of small design faux pas, rare for a Toyota. There's no coin-holder. Although a felt-lined tray does substitute, the change rattles. Also, the transmission mode button is mixed in with controls for the climate control. Some of the dash plastic is hard and cheap. But these are trifling matters on an otherwise impeccably built car. If you're looking for luxury, look at a Lexus. But if you want lots of room in a quiet, understated manner, look at the Avalon. Its overall demeanor and character is like the island that Arthur is buried on. Quiet.
AVALON XLS Standard: 3.0-liter DOHC V6, four-speed automatic transmission, power rack-and-pinion steering, power four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, tinted glass, dual power outside mirrors, aluminum alloy wheels, power bucket seats, cruise control, dual cup holders, tilt steering wheel, center console with storage box, digital clock, premium cassette, automatic climate control, power windows, power door locks, outside temperature gauge, theft deterrent system, keyless entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, cloth seats, auto on-off headlamps. Optional: Leather-trimmed seats, premium AM/FM/cassette/12-CD changer audio system, carpet mat set. Base price: $27,448 As tested: $30,241 EPA rating: 20 mpg city, 29 mpg highway Test mileage: 23 mpg
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