EXPERT REVIEW

The Morning Call and Mcall.com's view

My friend Nick has this Cadillac fixation. In most people this would mean buying any number of beautiful boats that Caddy has produced over the years.

But you don’t know Nick.

How else could you explain his purchase of a 1963 Cadillac hearse? Needless to say, there’s plenty of room to party in the back. Not wanting to miss a chance of a lifetime, I took a ride in it, in the back.

Brave? Yes. Serene? Certainly.

So what does this have to do with the new Toyota Avalon?

Maybe it’s the serenity. The Toyota Avalon has it in boatloads, even though it’s no boat. But it’s clearly built for those who like to pilot big Detroiters.

If you think that this is just a foreign car and would rather pilot, say, a Ford Crown Victoria, you may be surprised to find out the Avalon is built in Kentucky; the Crown Vic comes from north of the border and is officially a foreign car based on its parts content.

Anyone thinking about a traditional American car should take a look at this sophisticated large car, even if you’re not ready for that last ride.

For like a hearse, the Avalon is all about serenity and freedom from discomfort, even though it’s less noticeable than Nick’s hearse. The back end is a really nice styling job, with a smartly rendered post-modern look. The front end features a chrome grille that’s almost too big. Angular sheet metal thankfully removes the blobiness that plagued the previous design. There’s nothing here to offend, with enough moxie to make the car noticeable. The slick styling job was done by Toyota’s California design studio.

The doors are large, making the car easy to get in and out of. Once inside, you’ll find the only Japanese nameplate with a split bench seat option. Bucket seats with a console will be more commonly found, but the test car had the bench. They’re nice and deep, with good height to them. They need a bit more lateral and lower back support, something that becomes apparent only on long drives.

The quiet compliant ride masks a chassis that really handles well. This car keeps its track, going exactly where it’s pointed. Steering effort is light and numb, in the best big car tradition. It’s quiet enough that all those Montovanni CDs will sound just wonderful on the JBL AM/FM/cassette/CD sound system. A 6-CD in-dash changer is quite convenient. Two power points are included, a 12-volt and an optional 115-volt for powering such items as a laptop.

Power amenities abound, including a universal garage door opener, leather seating, power moonroof, automatic door locks, automatic headlamps, power windows with driver’s side auto-down, power seats, dual automatic climate control, and a multi-function electronic information display.

The controls rest in a very American-looking horizontal dash that’s rendered in quality plastics. Slightly recessed, the dash adds to the feeling of spaciousness that this car provides.

T hat feeling is real, just sit in the back. Few cars have more room in the back. With a fold-down armrest with integrated cupholders, this is a very nice way to ride to grandma’s house.

If you think its main mission is comfortable, fuss-free transport, you’re right. But the Avalon is quite a sophisticated car. The chassis is shared with the Camry, but the engine comes from Lexus. Although the Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES300 all share the 3-liter V6, both the Avalon and ES get variable-valve timing. This gives the Avalon a muscular 210 horsepower. Available on the XLS, but not on the base XL, is Toyota’s Vehicle Skid System — Toyota’s name for traction control and anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes bundled together with a brake assist feature, which adds to braking in an emergency situation.

But as good as the handling is, or as good as the amenities are, serenity is the name of the game.

Will it get your heart racing? Of course not. But this solid, serene ride is the best Buick Toyota ever built.

>> 2000 Toyota Avalon

Vehicle type: Full-size 4-door sedan
Engines: 3-liter DOHC V6
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 107.1 inches
Length: 191.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,428 pounds
Cargo volume: 15.9 cubic feet
Tires: P205/65r15
Base price, base model: $25,195
EPA rating: 21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
Test mileage: 23 mpg
Fuel type: Premium
>>

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