We spend a week in the upscale and updated midsize sedan from Toyota
Spacious, quality interior
Softer ride - not quite as sharp
Seats could use more lateral support
Lacks the Lexus dealer experience
Since it first came to market in 2003, the Toyota Avalon has reflected the brand's values of quality, reliability and practicality (until the third generation came out in 2005, it was even available with a front bench seat). During its first decade, it was also a snoozer. Senior citizens were attracted to it in droves because it both looked and drove like a Buick, but was far more reliable with a (much) better resale value.
A couple of those characteristics took a 180-degree turn when the completely re-engineered and re-styled 2013 Avalon debuted in April of 2012 at the New York International Auto Show. The next-gen model was not only shorter and narrower, it was also lower, sleeker and more sophisticated-looking that any other Toyota sedan in recent memory.
2016 Toyota Avalon Limited
And yet here we are, barely four years into the current model's product cycle, and Toyota's given its flagship sedan a facelift.
The 2016 Avalon is available in a total of five trim levels – one up from 2015. XLE, XLE Premium, Limited and Touring trims carry over, while an XLE Plus now slots between the XLE and XLE Premium Trims.
In terms of overall size, the 2016 Avalon maintains its 111-inch wheelbase, 195.3-inch length, 72.2-inch width and 57.3-inch height.
2016 Avalon exterior
Up front, changes include those made to the upper front grille. The lower chrome trim strip was removed while both the upper chrome trim piece and the grille, itself, are narrower. Meanwhile, the lower air intake, although roughly the same shape, is taller and larger, displacing much of the space taken up by last year's fog lights. The former conventional round fog lights, themselves, are no longer there, replaced by a pair of vertical LED units.
The sides were untouched, while in back, the tail light lenses are new while the lower rear bumper now features a narrow, horizontal, bright chrome trim strip.
In addition to its other changes, which we'll mention later, the Touring trim level now receives a unique grille, LED headlights and LED daytime running lights as well as model-specific 18-inch dark gray painted alloy wheels. Limited models now get unique "super chrome" 18-inch alloy wheels.
2016 Avalon interior
Since its re-design, the interior of the Avalon has skewed closer to that of a Lexus, rather than the rest of the Toyota sedan lineup. One thing we noticed in particular about the 2016 re-do was the replacement of the previous model's too-glossy looking wood dash and console trim with one that has a more realistic matte finish.
XLE and XLE Plus grades get a new 7-inch touchscreen, the addition of the aforementioned woodgrain trim and a tire-specific tire pressure monitoring system. Meanwhile, XLE Premium models now come standard with premium audio with navigation and app suite and Qi wireless charging.
As for versatility, luggage capacity remains 16.0 cubic feet and the rear seat folds down and also features a small pass-through door to the trunk behind the fold-down arm rest, negating the need to fold the seat forward for cargo that is long and narrow.
All controls, including those with capacitive touch (with feedback) on the center console, are within easy reach of the driver, intuitive and silky smooth in their operation. Driver visibility throughout the cabin is also excellent as even the rear three-quarters view is aided by a window located within the C-pillar. As we've previously noted, however, the seats could use a bit more in the way of side bolstering.
Under the hood
One item that wasn't eighty-sixed in the Avalon's 2013 re-design was its engine. It's a direct ignition (but not direct injection) 3.5-liter V6 with Toyota's intelligent variable valve timing with an output of 268 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque. It's mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Avalon Limited XLE Touring models and up also come equipped with three drive modes – Normal, Eco and Sport – available through a driver-selectable switch. When compared to the Normal mode, Sport offers enhanced throttle response and higher steering effort, while Eco alters the throttle and A/C power usage to boost fuel economy.
The EPA estimates the Avalon's fuel economy at 21/31/24 city/highway/combined fuel economy, while we managed an observed 23.5 mpg in spirited city driving. A plus is the fact that the engine only needs to be fed regular 87 octane fuel.
On the road
It also appears that one of the objectives of its refresh was to tone down the Avalon's ride characteristics. We should point out that as part of the model's complete re-do in 2013, coil spring rates and front and rear sway bar stiffness were increased, while the electric power steering system was recalibrated for better control and feedback.
So for 2016, there are now two suspension tunings for the Avalon. XLE through Limited grades now come with a suspension that prioritizes comfort ("a high quality and comfortable ride"), while the Touring model receive a suspension that "provides a more dynamic and responsive driving experience."
When we evaluated an XLE Touring model back in 2013, we described the ride the ride as "the most driver-oriented Toyota sedan we have ever experienced." We also noted that "While some might complain that much of the plushness of the previous model has been sacrificed, the fact is that the new Avalon offers a flatter trajectory through corners while also keeping road noise to a minimum."
Those statements still hold true to some extent, but we found that the latest Avalon in Limited trim had a softer ride quality. On the plus side, this means that the new suspension absorbs road irregularities better. But while the ride could hardly be described as "floaty," the new setup seems to lack some of the crispness and responsiveness we felt in the 2013 version.
At the same time, on-center steering feel remains excellent and its straight-line stability is very good. As a result and like the 2013 example, we found that there was no need to constantly correct steering inputs when traveling on freeways.
Acceleration is brisk (squawking the front tires is possible before the traction control kicks in) and the brakes provide excellent feel and are easy to modulate (a variable ratio brake pedal varies the initial and final pedal effort ratios) while bringing down the Avalon Limited with greater efficiency than a great many vehicles in its class.
As you might expect, the Avalon Limited brings a high level of standard equipment to the table. Even in base XLE trim this includes all the power niceties including windows, locks, mirrors and front seats. Also standard is the aforementioned infotainment system, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seating, smart key (driver's side) with pushbutton start.
The XLE Plus adds a moonroof, smart key for the two front doors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and Homelink.
Stepping up to the XLE Premium adds a subwoofer to the audio system, HD radio predictive traffic and Doppler weather overlay Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging, blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
Checking the box next to XLE Touring brings with it 18-inch alloys, the unique front fascia and suspension tweaks, LED headlights and daytime running lights, steering wheel with paddle shifters, black woodgrain-style interior trim with smoked chrome interior accents.
Adding to all that, the top-shelf Avalon Limited comes with HID headlamps and LED daytime running lights, auto-dimming outside mirrors with puddle lights, rain-sensing wipers, aluminum door sill scuff plates, perforated leather steering wheel and seats (heated and cooled in front, heated in back) or heated front seats with dark blue piping, a power rear window sunshade, 3-zone climate control, JBL audio system (11 speakers) and (ta-dah!) "white ice" interior ambient lighting.
Avalon Limited buyers can also add the $500 Toyota Safety Sense package to all this that includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, land departure alert with steering assist, auto high beams and dynamic radar cruise control.
Pricing for non-hybrid Avalons starts at $33,485, including an $835 delivery processing and handling fee, for the base XLE and can top out at over $43,000 for a fully decked-out Limited. Our Parisian Night Pearl Limited tester, with no options and a base price of $40,450 was near the top, checking in with an MSRP of exactly $41,285.
The Bottom Line
The 2016 Toyota Avalon Limited continues to be a revelation to us. Not only does it have a Lexus-like interior (albeit without the Lexus dealer experience), its road manners also place it at the top of the Toyota sedan lineup.
On the other hand, ride quality in the latest Limited, while smoother, lacks the overall handling crispness we experienced in the 2013 model.
Previous generation Avalon owners will undoubtedly be pleased with the changes Toyota has wrought for 2016, while drivers seeking more involvement still have the Touring model to turn to. Overall, midsize sedan buyers looking for the quality and reliability Toyota is known for plus a fair dose of style should plan on putting the latest Toyota Avalon at the top of their shopping lists.