Vehicle Overview
After receiving front and rear styling updates for the 2003 model year, Toyota’s largest passenger car essentially stands pat for 2004. Vehicle Stability Control is newly available on the XL sedan, but little else has changed.

Last restyled for 2000, the upscale front-wheel-drive family sedan is considerably more distinctive in appearance than the automaker’s class-leading midsize Camry sedan.

In terms of exterior dimensions, the Avalon is one of the smaller models in the full-size passenger-car class. The Avalon is related to the previous-generation Camry, which was redesigned for the 2002 model year. Both models are built at Toyota’s plant in Georgetown, Ky. The base XL and more costly XLS are available with either five- or six-passenger seating.

Flashier in appearance than the original Avalon, the current model features a wider grille and a lower air intake that complements the steeply angled windshield and rear window. The Avalon’s A-pillars are rounded, but the most dramatic characteristic on this car is its rear-end appearance, which is highlighted by large taillights. A chrome accent goes above the rear license plate. Built on a 107.1-inch wheelbase, the Avalon is 191.9 inches long overall.

The Avalon’s seating configuration is a matter of choice. Front bucket seats or a three-place bench can be installed, which yields space for five or six occupants, respectively. No other Japanese passenger car offers seating for six people, and the rear seat has more legroom than many competitors. Models equipped with the 50/50-split bench seat in front use a column-mounted gearshift lever. A perforated leather interior package is optional in the XL sedan with bucket seats.

Extras on the XLS include rain-sensing wipers, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with woodgrain trim, automatic climate control and heated mirrors with an auto-dimming feature on the driver’s side. The optional DVD navigation system uses a detachable remote control.

The Avalon’s trunk volume is close to 16 cubic feet, but the space looks even larger. A big opening makes it easy to load bulky items, and a small pass-thru section in the rear seatback permits owners to carry long objects, such as skis.

Under the Hood
Toyota’s 3.0-liter dual-overhead-cam V-6 engine develops 210 horsepower and mates with a four-speed-automatic transmission.

All-disc antilock brakes and seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard. Traction control, Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control electronic stability system and emergency Brake Assist are available. Multistage front airbags and LATCH child-safety seat anchors are installed.

Driving Impressions
Even though its exterior dimensions may be smaller than those on other full-size models, the Avalon makes efficient use of its available interior space. People sometimes criticize Toyota for lacking excitement, but the Avalon’s styling can’t be called subtle or bashful.

Consumers who like the comfortable ride, smooth and easy driving, ample performance and unfettered refinement of the Camry may easily fall for the Avalon. Owners get all of the Camry’s attributes plus greater interior space and some additional amenities. The extras cost more, but they might be worth the price if it means getting a very civilized automobile that will still be worth something at resale time.