Toyota Avalon is a large, comfortable sedan with tight handling and a flawless ride. It's smooth and quiet with extremely low levels of noise, vibration, and harshness, a good car for long hours in the saddle. It has plenty of power and excellent brakes. Electronic wizardry and a well-developed chassis make it an easy car to handle in hazardous road conditions. When equipped with the available front bench seat, it can transport six passengers in typical Toyota comfort and quiet serenity.
Revised front and rear styling give the 2003 Avalon a more road-gripping look. For passenger comfort and convenience, an air filtration system and sunvisors with extensions are now standard. For 2003, Avalon is safer than ever, with multi-stage front airbags and ISO-FIX child-restraint tethers.
Toyota Avalon is smooth and quiet with extremely low levels of noise, vibration, and harshness. At anything less than full throttle, you'd swear you were coasting. All we could hear on a rainy day was a creaking in the windshield wipers, like an old screen door opening and closing, opening and closing.
The ride is flawless. Handling via rack-and-pinion steering is tight, even direct. While some label this as "no character," we think "purity" is a better call. The chassis can be felt lightly rising and falling over undulations, but that's not a flaw, it's a soft balance appropriate to the car.
The Michelin 205/60R16 tires were impressive in the wet. We aimed for narrow rivers in the road that stretched for half a mile at a time, places where water collects in the worn spots from tire tracks, and at 60 mph we could have taken our hands off the steering wheel. We could see the water, we could hear it, but we couldn't feel it. We hit a shallow double pothole. We heard a light thump, but scarcely felt it. We drove over a washboard-unpaved road. We felt it, but not much.
Then we got a little daring in the wet, blasting through a long curve on a two-lane road, heavy on the throttle at 65 mph. The traction control connected in the middle of the turn, three or four times on and off, each time for a mere instant, and the car's direction stayed true without our having to do a thing except point it the first time. Something faster, smarter and more sensitive than us was doing all the tricky work.
We mashed the brake pedal as hard and fast as we could. Excellent anti-lock brakes said, "No problem. Thumpeta-thumpeta-thump. There you are." We were stopped before the final splash landed. Because we were full on the pedal, Brake Assist wasn't triggered. Brake Assist applies the brakes full-force if a sensor thinks that's what you need based on how quick and how hard you hit the pedal. It was invented because most drivers don't brake hard enough in panic stops to engage the ABS.
We accelerated away, feeling 210 horses rush the car along at a pace no Avalon buyer is likely to find inadequate. The upshifts of the four-speed electronic transmission were, well, where were they? We never felt them, they were so smooth.
We saved the most exotic technology for last: Vehicle Skid Control (VSC). It's a Lexus hand-me-down, remaining innovative as it moves along from $50,000 cars to $30,000 cars. It's only available on the XLS, but for only $650, it's a real deal. Get it.
Vehicle Skid Control keeps you from sliding off the road, by automatically controlling any discrepancy between where you are steering and where the vehicle is heading. Electronic sensors measure four forces to detect a slide, which may be either at the front or rear wheels. Using throttle intervention or applying individual wheel braking, VSC makes the appropriate adjustment in grip. For example, if your tail is sliding out to the left on a right-hand turn, VSC will cut the throttle and apply the brakes to the left-side wheels. It won't take over the steering wheel, but with the other corrections it won't need to.
We found a hard-packed logging road, vacant on our rainy Sunday, and slick from oil as well as water. Coming into a sharp curve with good visibility and no ditch, we charged at spinout speed: all gas, no brakes. Because the Avalon is front-wheel drive, understeer was our obstacle in this slow turn. We heard the VSC warning ding that says, "Whoa Bucko!" Simultaneously the orange traction-control light came on, and we felt the car magically bite and come back into position. VSC had cut the throttle and hit the ABS brakes on all but the outside rear wheel. The car maneuvered safely around the corner with relatively little drama, an undeserved reward for our foolhardy behavior.
Toyota Avalon offers a strong value among full-size sedans. Smooth and comfortable, it's a great sedan, though its styling could use a bit of swoop or flash to match its performance.
Avalon is a practical sedan, but it can be equipped with luxurious leather seats, handsome seven-spoke aluminum wheels and a JBL sound system that rivals almost anything you can buy for your home. It's Toyota's flagship sedan.