- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2000

MODEL: Toyota Avalon
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door sedan
MILEAGE: 21 city, 29 highway

Space, safety and comfort are the bywords of the Avalon. The Japanese are showing us they can compete and win in all market segments.

This is a car designed for Sunday afternoons. Monday through Friday it does duty as the cocoon to protect the driver along the byways. Saturday it does duty as the grocery and errand machine with spacious seating and good storage.

But when the road opens up and schedules are dispensed with, the Avalon is a great companion for family or just the two of you. A roomier, sharper edged Avalon is now available. Gone is the soft shouldered first-generation Avalon and in its place is a more refined, formal vehicle that continues to be the sole "big American" car offered by a mainstream Japanese nameplate in the United States.

Its competition would include the Mercury Grand Marquis, Buick LeSabre or Park Avenue, the new Chevy Impala and the Chrysler Concorde or even 300M. The Avalon is more than a Camry with an extra-roomy rear seat. With the midsize segment growing, the company sees the Avalon as a premium move-up vehicle. The Environmental Protection Agency designates the Avalon as large. This is based on its large interior volume, greater than most cars with a smaller shadow.

The Avalon succeeded the Cressida as the automaker's flagship and is built on a stretched Camry platform. Avalon stylists used a more cab-forward shape, giving the car a contemporary styling that is dynamic, elegant and distinctive. The Avalon retains its wheelbase from the previous generation but gains about an inch of width and shifts some exterior length from the front to the rear of the car.

The rear seats are pushed rearward to provide more legroom, the seats were situated higher and the roof was raised to increase interior space. With that extra inch in width, the center persons will not be pinched unless they are among the larger percentile. Avalon's instrument panel was moved forward about four inches, providing a feeling of openness and requiring less eye movement when transitioning between the road and the gauges.

At the center of the instrument panel is a new multi-information display. The XL grade features warning lamps, odometer, trip meter, clock and outside temperature functions. The premium XLS grade adds a compass, trip computer and calendar functions.

There has been particular emphasis on noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) with attention to engine, chassis and body sources of problems. The only area where problems used to show up was in the back seat, and then only on rough roads. Toyota even reduced is tone the pecking noise by using injection-molded rocker panels.

By using dual door seals, stiffer door construction and thicker side glass and other improvements, Toyota has reduced interior noise. It's an impressive reduction and something that should be obvious to current Avalon owners after a brief test drive. Engine output was increased approximately 5 percent for the new Avalon and the now 210-horsepower engine is coupled to a smooth-shifting, four-speed automatic.

No thought was given to using a long-rumored V-8, with Toyota claiming its research says the customers are happy with the V-6's output. The Avalon has more than adequate power for merging or accelerating to pass. The transmission downshifts quickly and smoothly.

Pushed through tight corners, the Avalon proved that a good degree of understeer has been built in and that the tires selected for this model are not intended to sustain high cornering loads. But it did handle better than a Chrysler Concorde I had driven recently. Avalon has an improved 3-liter V-6 engine with variable-valve timing. The improved engine also contributes to NVH reduction through the use of a new electronically controlled Active Control Mount that is designed to reduce engine-idle vibration.

The Avalon acquitted itself nicely in an extended drive that included some miserable stop-and-go traffic as we were re-routed from our intended path by a psycho, wielding a gun. Traffic was snarled for hours as police attempted negotiations. We had to make our way using rural roads. Everyone else was doing the same. The external temp was high and the Avalon absorbed the idling and air conditioner loads without a whimper. The car was certainly handling the situation better than its occupants.

Avalon was engineered with a high priority on safety. A new active-safety system that includes Vehicle Skid Control, traction control and Brake Assist is available on XLS models. Vehicle SkidControl uses the braking system to help the driver maintain control in adverse driving conditions. The system's traction-control feature helps reduce tire slippage during acceleration.

The Brake Assist feature detects emergency braking and applies supplemental line pressure to help maximize the effectiveness of the anti-lock brake system. Also in the area of active safety, the rearview mirror area on all Avalon models was enlarged for better visibility. Passive safety is enhanced by an extremely solid body design that helps absorb and diffuse energy along predictable paths, helping to minimize intrusion into the passenger compartment.

Standard on the Avalon XLS, and available as a dealer-installed option on the XL is a climate-control-integrated micron dust and pollen filter system. Other new comfort and convenience features include improved illuminated entry system; one-touch power door locks with auto-lock function; auto-down/auto-up driver's window with jam protection; dual double sun visors with extensions; and optional one-touch power-tilt/slide moonroof with jam protection.

Avalon owners will enjoy all-new sound systems with considerably more power, clarity and sophistication. The standard audio system includes a 3-in-1 combination of CD, cassette and AM/FM receiver with 120 watts of power. The combination of these components with uniquely tuned fixed equalization provides premiumlike sound to the base Avalon buyer.

The premium-grade audio was developed in conjunction with JBL and includes exceptional high- and low-frequency extension and clarity. This was achieved by adopting a separate five-channel, 170-watt amplifier. The system includes 3-in-1 functions with an available integrated six-CD changer on XLS models.

Designed, engineered and built in the United States, the Avalon is a true American car. It is the first Toyota vehicle to be built exclusively in America at Toyota's manufacturing plant in Georgetown, Ky. Avalon was the first true joint venture between Toyota Motor Corp. of Japan and Toyota Technical Center of America.

The Avalon was the first Toyota product to be classified as a "domestic" vehicle, according to corporate average fuel economy standards. The all-new American design is the creation of Toyota's Calty Design Center in Newport Beach, Calif.

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