Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Avalon Packs Luxury - and Power

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Avalon Packs Luxury - and Power

Article excerpt

With a Toyota like this, who needs the luxury Lexus division? That's probably not the line of thinking the automaker meant to inspire when it unveiled the 2005 Avalon - the third generation of its flagship sedan.

But that thought might occur as you slide into this formidable car, Toyota's most serious attempt to attract grown-up drivers who just want to cruise in extreme comfort.

Bonus for patriots as July 4 nears: The new Avalon is the first Toyota completely designed and engineered in the United States - its look conceived in California, platform and powerplant developed in Michigan.

The original mid-'90s model - built then, as now, in Kentucky - resembled a roomier sibling of the reliable if stylistically boring Camry. A subsequent redesign gave Avalon the inelegant lines of a pop-up camper.

Today, this formidable sedan evokes those heavyweight German cruisers for which you move meekly out of the passing lane.

And you might not need to move over. In motion, Avalon is anything but meek. Merging from on-ramp to interstate with Billy Idol blaring (a little incongruously) on the sound system and a Peterbilt truck bearing down, the Avalon quietly surges forward, thanks to a 3.5-liter, 280-h.p. V6 engine. (It undoubtedly does so with a classical station tuned in, too.)

A five-speed automatic transmission includes a sequential-shift option, as many cars now do, for drivers who want to choose their gear and control r.p.m. You notch the shift lever left to get out of "drive" and choose between clutchless gears one-through-five. Unlike some other Tiptronic-type shifters, the motion is fore-and-aft, not side-to-side, which feels more intuitive.

In fact, everything about Avalon's interior feels right. Gauges are bold, the dashboard uncluttered and made even more so by a retractable cover that turns the audio-control area into a clean panel. …

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