Some cars are marketed to families and women, and some are not. The Toyota Avalon falls into the latter category. I hate to sound all gender-centric, but this is a perfectly nice car that's made absolutely no effort to appeal to my demographic. It's not like there's a sign on the door that says "Dudes Only," but the Avalon just doesn't offer much in the warm and cuddly department. I can't really explain it, but when I drive this car I feel like I'm driving my dad's car, not my own. And I'm afraid that's kind of what Toyota is going for with this full-size sedan.
Don't get me wrong; the Avalon is a highly enjoyable vehicle. The interior is roomy, airy and very comfortable. The huge backseat provides plenty of room for passengers of all sizes. In fact, my kids were hard-pressed to kick the back of my seat. They managed it, of course, but it required effort on their part. Fortunately, I wasn't bothered by the occasional bump because my big squishy driver's seat adjusted in eight ways to provide the perfect fit. These comfy seats not only offered variable heat, but, wait for it ... air conditioning. You know how when you're wearing shorts on hot days your legs can get all sweaty and stick to the leather? It's gross, and air-conditioned seats solve the problem. Cool air flows through perforations in the leather to cool your backside. It's an odd sensation, but it sure beats the icky alternative.
Naturally, there's tons of techie stuff in the Avalon. The Limited version comes with keyless entry and start, Bluetooth wireless link, a six-disc CD changer and satellite radio (with 12 speakers and a subwoofer, no less). There's also dual-zone automatic climate control and laser-guided dynamic cruise control that maintains a set distance between cars. The V-6 engine offers plenty of punch for my lead-footed tendencies, and the ride is smooth as glass. If your kids need that rumble to nod off at nap time, the Avalon isn't going to work for you.
What does make some noise is the power moonroof. Any time that roof or any of the windows were open, there was a loud vibration that actually hurt my ears. I couldn't stand to drive at anything faster than parking-lot speed with anything open. I even resorted to engaging the window lock so none of the windows would open without my permission. I can't tell you how mean my kids think I am for that. This may have been isolated to my test car, but if you're considering an Avalon, make sure to open a window during your test drive to make sure.
The Avalon makes a few gestures toward families, but they seem rather weak to this mommy. The Latch connectors in the backseat are buried in the upholstery, and the seat belts actually duck into recesses in the seat when not engaged. It's like the Avalon was saying to me, "OK, put kids in here if you must, but don't make a habit out of it." The rear seat belts just aren't made to be easy to use; they run and hide when little fingers reach for them. Even when I tried to assist they were difficult to manage with one hand. I get the sense the backseat is meant for macho tough guys like my husband who have no intention of wearing a seat belt unless the car makes an intolerable amount of noise about it or a police cruiser comes into view. Maybe it's just me, but I think seat belts should stick up and poke passengers in the backside to prove the point; buckle up, folks.
In more than a few ways, the Avalon reminds me of the huge American cars of mobster fame. Soft leather seats, a roomy backseat and, of course, a cavernous trunk. Every time I opened it up I couldn't help wondering how many bodies would fit nicely in there on their way to sleeping with the fishes - it's that giant. There's a nifty raised compartment to the side that's perfect for securing a gallon of milk so it doesn't roll around on the way home, but the two cargo hooks are too low to the floor to do much good containing grocery bags. Still, the sheer cubic capacity is impressive: think Grandma's luggage or trips to Costco.
Toyota's flagship sedan is sleek, roomy and a pleasure to drive. It comes loaded with covered compartments and plugs for all your technology. It offers luxury and style at a not-unattainable price. But be forewarned, it'll only let a mom drive it if she promises not to hang anything cute from the rearview mirror.
*For more information on the 2008 Toyota Avalon and its safety features, visit Cars.com. With questions or comments regarding this review, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
LET'S TALK NUMBERS
Latch Connectors: 2
Seating Capacity (includes driver): 5
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove On): Good Times
2008 Toyota Avalon
Base price: $34,415
Price as tested: $38,625
Engine: 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6
Fuel: 19/28 mpg
Ground Clearance: 6"
Turning Radius: 18.5'
Cargo space: 14.4 cu. ft.
NHTSA Crash-Test Ratings
Driver's side: 4 Stars
Passenger's side: 4 Stars
Front occupant: 4 Stars
Rear occupant: 4 Stars
Rollover resistance: 4 Stars