Tuning Japanese compact and performance cars is the modern version of ratting out a Ford V8 in the 1950s. Kids grab what they can get, put in a little sweat and dollars earned serving tables, and voila, their own custom car. Of course, that attitude goes to extremes when the big kid is mega rich and goes to West Coast Customs or Chip Foose to buy their fly ride. So, I find it interesting that Toyota has factory-tuned grandma’s limousine, the full-size Avalon.
Big and Sleek
But, you know, it kinda works. The Avalon is a big five-passenger sedan, but sleeks out with an elegant Ferrari-inspired grille, ribbed shoulderline, upturned rear windows, and near-fastback roofline. It looks like a Lexus stylist could have penned it. Custom touches like 18-inch dark alloy wheels, thin LED headlamps, vertical driving lights, and wrap-around taillights are quite cool. Tint the windows, and get it in Blizzard Pearl (metallic white) or Sizzling Crimson Mica (reddish purple) for the Mercedes-AMG effect.
Stylists stayed up nights working on the interior. Chiseled swaths of stitched material intermingle with smoke chrome trim on the instrument panel and faux woodgrain on the dash and doors. It looks as much carved as formed. A thick leather-wrapped steering wheel and sweeping infotainment pod with touchscreen, touch pads, and metallic knobs for volume/tuning feel expensive. Open the sunroof, crank up the heated leather seats, and enjoy. On any road, the car rivals your grandpa’s den for serenity.
While our car does not come with the available crash avoidance systems, it has tech piled on. Bluetooth and USB connections make phone connections simple. Dual zone automatic climate control, back-up camera, rear cross path detection, and blind spot monitor removes mental load from the driver. Toyota’s Entune infotainment system offers an app suite for discerning technophiles. Those in the rear seat will just stretch their legs straight, adjust air vents, pop a drink in the armrest, and forget about that busy business up front.
An Avalon is probably not the best choice for drifting, but the car throats its performance in other ways. Under the sleek hood is a 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 268 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque – plenty to haul tail down the Interstate with four and their luggage aboard. Toyota claims a 0-60 mph run of less than seven seconds. The six-speed automatic transmission is super smooth and can be shifted manually with the gearlever or with paddles (seriously). Eco, Normal, and Sport modes adjust the throttle, steering, transmission, and air-conditioning for varying moods. You may not care about paddle shifters, but fuel economy ratings of 21/31-MPG city/hwy should light your grin.
Let’s not confuse the Avalon with a performance car, or even a tuned Corolla, but it is no wheezer either. In Sport mode, the stiffer steering and livelier throttle amp the fun. The non-electronic suspension struggles to tame the bit wheels, but rumbles over rough roads with the grace of the full-size American car the Avalon is. The chassis can’t hide its front-drive family car origins, but would try hard on curvy undulating backroads. Though, rear passengers may request you to cease such shenanigans before they disavow their last meals.
The Avalon Touring’s perceived mission is to entice generations raised on tuned Japanese compacts, but now carting families or soon-to-be empty-nesters, to indulge in a big comfy grandma-style Interstate warrior. Or, they just want a cool alternative to boring mid-size sedans. Sleek it out, bolt on some stylin’ wheels, amp up the tech, and make it handle respectably. It’s a good plan if Gen-Xers and mature Millennials take the bait.
A base price of $32,650 -- $37,880 as-tested -- puts the Avalon Touring against the Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, VW Passat, and Nissan Maxima.
2016 Toyota Avalon Touring
- Five-passenger, FWD sedan
- Powertrain: 268hp 3.5-liter V6, 6-spd. auto trans
- Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
- Wheels f/r: 18”/18” alloy
- Brakes f/r: disc/disc
- Must-have features: Style, comfort
- Fuel economy: 21/31 mpg city/hwy
- Assembly: Georgetown, KY
- Base/As-tested price: $32,650/$37,880