2011 Toyota Avalon
The 2011 Toyota Avalon isn't a head-turner; some might even describe this full-size sedan as vanilla, but that shouldn't be a bad thing. The Avalon is the equivalent of an exotic vanilla that's a little richer than the others.
While it's missing the wow factor, the 2011 Avalon is comfortable, roomy and uncomplicated, a plus for some parents.
My test Avalon in particular conjured visions of vanilla with its beige interior. I wasn't expecting to fall in love with it, but I also wasn't expecting to be as pleased with it as I was. The 2011 Avalon has been redesigned, so it looks slightly more sinewy than its predecessor.
My test car came with a 268-horsepower V-6 engine that was powerful and quiet. I liked it; it actually felt like it was made for the mom who's on the road all day. It almost made me feel pampered because it was so quiet, pleasant and peaceful when my kids weren't in it. Oh, and it takes regular gas. That's the cherry on top.
Because the Avalon isn't your average vanilla, it costs a little more. The base price is $33,195 and the Limited trim starts at $36,435.
The 2011 Avalon is good-looking, with some swooping lines and a refreshed grille that are updated enough to make this girl feel modern, but not hyper modern.
It's easy to get in and out of this sedan because of its low step-in height. The doors open a little bit wide, but not so far that kids sitting in the car have to stretch to close them. Parents may complain that the doors are low — leading to head bonks when getting the kids into the car — but that's going to happen with almost every sedan out there.
The trunk is a cinch to open and close. This full-size sedan has a full-size trunk that can easily carry groceries or a stroller. A double-stroller could be a tough fit, so make sure to bring it with you if you're going for a test drive.
The Avalon has a 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 that's paired to a six-speed automatic. It gets an EPA-estimated 20/29 mpg city/highway.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
The five-passenger sedan's interior is incredibly roomy, and there's some really great storage that helps keep things neat and stashed away. There are covered, lined cubbies as well as seatback pockets and bins. With Toyota's gadget-holder, a smartphone or MP3 player can be secured in the cubby and the cords fed through an opening at the bottom of the center console. I hate cord messes and love this simple, refined solution.
I thought the instrument cluster looked like WALL-E, but my husband corrected me; it looked more like EVE, the shinier, sleeker robot in the animated movie, "WALL-E." The cluster was rimmed in a brushed metallic plastic, and the car also had matte wood accents (take that, fingerprints!) and leather seats with contrast piping. It looked quite nice and somewhat upscale without being overboard. My test car had heated and cooled seats. The power-adjustable driver's seat, with its multitude of adjustments, made me so comfortable; I loved that I could extend the lower seat cushion to fit the bend in my knees.
Bluetooth was easy to use, and I finally figured out how to connect my smartphone while my iPod was connected. I was sure I'd have to run them independently and was pleased that I could do both. Streaming music is such a great feature; it automatically starts playing where it left off every time you get back in the car. It's quickly becoming a favorite feature that I'm having a hard time living without.
In the backseat, there's no hump on the floor, making it easy for kids to get out of the car at the school dropoff lane. I loved this. Add to that the fact that the Avalon's rear seats recline, and my kids could be chauffeured around and feel as pampered as a CEO. When the kids weren't in the backseat I could set my purse on the floor and not have it fall into a footwell and dump its contents everywhere. The only quibble I have is the rear cupholders are a little shallow, so watch those taller beverages you may pass back there.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
The 2011 Avalon has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn this safety nod, a car must receive the top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact, roof-strength and rear crash tests. It almost must have an electronic stability system, which is standard on the Avalon. The Avalon earned four stars out of five in a rollover crash test conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The frontal and side crash tests haven't been completed.
The Avalon also excels when it comes to child-safety seats. In MotherProof.com's Car Seat Check of the Avalon, the testers were able to fit three car seats across the backseat. A booster seat, a convertible and a rear-facing infant seat all fit well in the Avalon, and a perfect fit is much more likely with the sedan's reclining rear seats. The two sets of lower Latch anchors are a little difficult to get at, but not curse-worthy. I was so pleasantly surprised by this because usually something's gotta give in the car-seat department. You can't have it all, but it would seem that you can in the Avalon.
The Avalon's standard safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist, front-wheel drive, traction control and seven airbags, including a driver's knee airbag and side curtains for both rows.