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Review: 2014 Toyota Avalon Limited (6th place)

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This review is part of a ten-car comparison of large sedans. The Avalon is ranked sixth place of ten.

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6th Place: 2014 Toyota Avalon Limited
Summary review

The Toyota Avalon used to be very clear about what it was: a spacious, cushy, quiet luxury sedan. It was not stylish, it was not at all sporty. There were no compromises. It wasn't for everyone, but if it was for you, it was a great fit.

The latest version of the Avalon, which came out as a 2013 model, has less of a clear focus. It's definitely a very different car than it once was. Most of its former strengths and weaknesses have been eliminated. It's no longer especially roomy, and it no longer has an especially smooth or quiet ride. In exchange, it has better handling (though it's still not sporty) and sleeker styling (though still not necessarily eye-popping).

One thing the Avalon isn't is cheap. Comparably equipped to the other cars in this comparison, it had the highest out-the-door transaction price of these 10, at just over $37,000. (This is offset somewhat by best-in-class fuel economy and two years of free scheduled maintenance.)

If you are looking for some of every quality, and are willing to pay a lot for that, the Avalon may prove to be a compelling choice. But there's little that it does outstandingly well. Whatever your top priority is, odds are not good that the Avalon provides it as well as a number of able competitors. If you bought one, you likely wouldn't be disappointed, but careful shopping would likely yield a better fit.

No extremes

Some reviews have either slammed the Avalon for poor ride quality or praised it for nimble handling. For better or for worse, this reviewer observed neither trait.

The ride isn't pillow-soft and outstandingly quiet like Avalons of yore (and a few competitors), but it's neither noisy or uncomfortable either by the standards of the class. This Toyota is the lightest, lowest, and narrowest car in this comparison, which does help its handling, but the super-light steering isn't terribly responsive, and overall the Avalon feels more maneuverable than agile. And while that's not at all a bad thing compared to a few cumbersome competitors, it's not exactly going to cause any excitement.

The carryover 3.5-liter V6 does remain competitive, though, providing smooth, strong performance and class-leading fuel economy. The EPA puts the Avalon at 24 miles per gallon in mixed driving, and 31 mpg on the highway. Indeed, gas mileage is the Avalon's only characteristic that is notably outstanding, and even then the difference between it and the lowest-mileage competitor is just 3 mpg. (There is also a four-cylinder hybrid version of the Avalon that's rated for an outstanding 40 mpg in mixed driving, but it doesn't have the smooth, quiet performance of the V6 Avalon or the other six-cylinder cars in this comparison.)

Inside, the Avalon's front and rear seats are ordinary for space and comfort. The front seats have rather hard, flat, and small cushions – perfectly acceptable, but not particularly impressive. The rear seat has impressive room on paper, but that appears to have been artificially inflated by a small cushion, which is also lower and harder than it should be for optimum comfort. It was likely sacrificed to the redesigned Avalon's sleeker roofline.

Trunk volume has improved significantly over the previous-generation Avalon, though; it's now competitive with the class at 16 cubic feet, though not outstanding. The car also lacks a folding rear seat.

The Avalon's interior quality is nice for the price, including false-leather dashboard trim and tasteful trim accents. Its in-dash touchscreen is smaller and less responsive than those in several competitors, though, feeling several years behind infotainment systems from Chrysler and Kia in particular. And like the Ford Taurus, the Avalon uses touch-sensitive buttons for some functions; their ridges and bumps make them easier to find than in the Ford, and they respond more quickly, but it's still too easy to brush against the wrong one. No matter how well they're executed, touch-sensitive controls simply do not work as well as conventional buttons.

Overall

The main word to describe the Avalon is unobjectionable. Especially if you're particularly drawn to its styling, there isn't that much that's really wrong with it, even by the fairly high standards of this class.

But there just isn't enough that's really right with it either. It strikes an acceptable balance of various qualities, but it's a car that you'd need to settle for rather than be delighted with – a something that would need to win due to competitors' shortfalls rather than its own particular merits.

Especially considering that the Avalon is costlier than the competition, shop around carefully.

Overall grade: B-

- More photos of the 2014 Toyota Avalon Limited
- Report card: Rating the Avalon -- how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
- Report card: Ranking the Avalon -- how does it stack up for different types of buyers?

More from this comparison:
- Previous review: 2014 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV (7th place)
- Next review: 2014 Buick LaCrosse Leather (5th place)
- Introduction
- Rating the ten large sedans
- Ranking the ten large sedans
- Quick summaries of the ten large sedans: Pros, cons, conclusions

See also:
Review: 2013 Toyota Camry XLE
Review: 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited
Review: 2012 Toyota Prius v
Review: 2011 Toyota Sienna XLE
Review: 2010 Lexus RX350

Vehicle tested: 2013 Toyota Avalon
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $30,990
Version tested: Limited
Version base price: $39,650
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $40,670
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP)*: $40,885
Estimated transaction price as comparable**: $37,006
Test vehicle provided by: Darcars Toyota; Silver Spring, Md.

Key specifications:
Length: 195.2 inches
Width: 72.2 inches
Height: 57.5 inches
Wheelbase: 111.0 inches
Weight: 3,461 pounds
Trunk volume: 16.0 cubic feet
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 with 268 horsepower
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 21 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 31 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 24 miles per gallon
Assembly location: Kentucky
For more information: Toyota website

* "Prices as comparable" reflect 2014 models with leather seats, a sunroof, a navigation system, a premium audio system, heated front seats, and certain other premium features.

** Transaction price estimates are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.

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