Sunday, April 16, 2006

Toying with Toyota

The first time you sit behind the wheel of Toyota’s new third-generation Avalon, you may be forgiven for thinking this is a mighty fancy car for the Silver Fox generation. Lavish but tasteful, elegant and well mannered are all appropriate adjectives. But behind the genteel veneer of this car is a precisely engineered touring machine that is as much a joy to drive, as it is “pretty” to the eye.

This is not your father’s Toyota.

If you’ve always had an aversion to driving a vehicle that looked like it was assembled by fine furniture craftsmen—with wooden panels, and hide-away covers for rude and obnoxious things like switches and knobs...

If you like dials and gauges and switches and levers...if you want to feel like you're in a performance automobile, not a leather and oak boardroom somewhere... will be pleased that Toyota’s designers have found a happy coexistence with the craftsmen in creating a cabin that is quietly exotic in function, and can still get up and go when you feel the urge to prove this silver fox is “older and carries more insurance,” to quote a favorite line from “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

Besides, when you’re getting up at dark-thirty, you need to look forward to a ride that’s a little exciting, just to get the blood pumping at that hour.

Avalon still converts its 268-hp V-6 power plant through a 5-speed transmission to the front wheels, with a zero-to-60mph time lapse of 6.6-seconds.

The amazing thing about this automobile is that the smooth ride and dampening of vibration gives you a false feeling of speed, and 80-mph feels only like 60.


s that like 60 being the new 40 for boomers?

Fortunately, the Avalon design team wisely included a radar-enabled cruise control system to keep you from running up the tailpipe of the car ahead.

It will sense your rate of closure and back-off the fuel supply to the engine when it senses you’re too close.

I think the other button on the steering wheel is to squelch the yammering from the back seat drivers ("you're too close...slow down...are we there yet?" etc.)

You can still tell this is a front wheel drive automobile, but with 17-inch wheels and a firmer suspension, it’s not much of a distraction. That suspension cradles you on a 111-inch wheelbase that made this car too long to fit in my garage without some serious re-decorating…but it made for a very jolt-free trip to Central Texas and back.

Toyota has included the keyless entry system and ignition on the Avalon. A remote sensing fob will enable the car to illuminate the area with lamps on the underside of the side rear-view mirrors, and the interior glows from within to welcome you for your next driving adventure. And those deluxe mirrors also have the way-cool embedded LED turn signal indicators for enhanced visibility in traffic.

Stodgy, this is not.

Toyota used to be synonymous with inexpensive manufacturing and limited appeal for the quality car crowd. That perception has evaporated with the time-tested durability the cars have proven to possess. The all new Toyota Avalon brings to the forefront a great combination of form and function.

This is not your father’s Toyota…it’s not your grandfather’s Toyota. For the price and the amenities, it just might be the last luxury touring sedan you’d ever have to buy.

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