Behind the Wheel – 2011 Toyota Avalon

We get behind the wheel of the 2011 Toyota Avalon.

CraveOnlineby CraveOnline

In this age of anti-joy cancer that is political correctness, it’s frowned upon to call a car “she.” Even though car lovers do so with great honor and affection, a Women’s Studies professor at Sarah Lawrence College once got her bloomers in a snit over such “sexist” terms of endearment, and now we all pay for it.


You know what, Lady Poindexter? Roll it up tight, turn it sideways and ram it. The 2011 Toyota Avalon is a lady, and she should be treated with the prerequisite respect. Here come the “she’s.”


The Avalon looks like what she’s designed to resemble, a luxury sedan and – starting around $32,000 – a more affordable alternative to her powerhouse European predecessors like the BMW M3 or Mercedes-Benz C-Class. She’s a professional man’s car wrapped up in leather, technology and toys. Grown-up sleek lines, ample seating and a welcoming trunk take the place of throaty exhaust or punky chin spoilers.


But, at a stoplight, she can be a little minx. It’s considered unethical to suggest a car be involved in anything even mildly risky or, worse, illegal in a automotive road test. But this reporter flirted with misbehavior while putting the Toyota Avalon through her paces.


At that light, when some slick little hatchback or beefy pickup pulls up alongside and smirks at the seemingly conservative four-door packet of class from Toyota, it’s hard not to make a little juvenile, non-DOT approved noise before the lamp goes green.


After a rev or two, when that verde glow arrives and the vehicle alongside of you hits the gas with a dismissive half remembrance of the Toyota sedan they sneered at just moments ago, you can put your toe down with a smug grin all your own and feel the surprisingly spicy acceleration of the Avalon’s 3.5 liter engine jerk your head back.


As you surge ahead of whatever the unsuspecting sucker next to you is driving, you’ll get that pleasant sensation of speed that keeps coming with 268 horsepower burying the speedometer at north of 160. Those aren’t super car numbers, and the Avalon doesn’t look like said super car. She simply chooses to hide ample speed behind her conservative facade.


Note: I did not test the upper edge of that speedometer. But I might’ve enjoyed the previous “off the line” scenario at an intersection – depending on the driving laws and the demeanor of the highway patrol officers in a given area.


A larger luxury car with kick traditionally proves to be thirsty, but the Avalon proved herself a lady of restraint – maintaining 29 MPG in the city. That’s not bad for a cart hefting around bling like 17 inch alloy wheels, heated leather seats, heated mirrors, reverse camera, smart key/anti-theft system with engine immobilizer and power everything – including the moon roof, the headrest and retractable rear window sun shade.


Proximity sensors sense when you approach or exit the car, serving up running board and puddle lights for that Hollywood wet down glow. Sensors also monitor the windshield and can kick on your wipers automatically if lady Avalon tears up a bit.


In the wake of the controversy over possible accelerator and brake problems in earlier Toyota models, the Avalon joins with her sisters in the Toyota family to offer the Star Safety System with brake assist and accelerator safe guards. Revealed last year at a series of nationwide drivers and media events, Star Safety works with the Avalon’s vehicle stability control system to protect the driver from sudden, wide open throttle and prevents wheel lock in sudden stops. Most impressively, Star Safety also lets your steer within limits during a sudden stop to avoid immediate obstacles.


In the end, the Avalon won’t appeal to sports car lovers, rice rocket pilots or fans of mud-splattered wheel wells and door panels. She’s a sophisticated, breezy luxury touring car. While the Bentleys and Jags rolling by she might look down their hoods at her, she doesn’t mind being a cheaper date.