1998 Toyota Avalon

By November 10, 1999
1998 Toyota Avalon

In Toyota's own words, the Avalon is a “move up vehicle for midsize sedan owners seeking a roomier cabin and a higher level of refinement.” Succinct and to the point. That is indeed the Avalon's job description, and it does its job quite well, thank you.

The Avalon wears a Toyota badge, but in price and level of luxury it is pushing into the range of the Lexus ES 300, Infiniti I30, and the BMW 328i. Our test car, with options and destination charges, had a sticker price of $31,781 after a base of $28,128. By comparison, the ES300 lists for $30,790, while the 328i is $33,670. The Toyota badge may not offer as much prestige as that of the Lexus, but the Avalon offers much more interior room than those other cars. The EPA lists it in its large car category.


The Avalon is a handsome, full-size, no-nonsense, four-door-sedan. Its design is a departure from that of the Toyota Camry. In fact, the Avalon looks more like a Buick than a Toyota. And it's built in Kentucky. Park it beside a Camry, and the Avalon looks like the family patriarch-bigger, more formal than the Camry.

When Toyota's Avalon debuted in 1994, it set the standard for comfort, quality and refinement in the large car segment. Though no changes are visible, the Avalon has been refined for 1998.

The chassis was extensively reinforced to improve rigidity, enhance crashworthiness, and reduce noise, vibration and harshness. Side-impact airbags were added to complement the energy absorbing door structures.

A revised grille along with new jeweled multi-reflector headlights give the front of the car a new look. Turn signals are now located behind a clear lens next to the headlights for improved appearance and quality of fitment.

At the other end there is a new trunk lid that is nine inches wider than before for easier loading and unloading. A lip on the trailing edge acts as a rear spoiler. The tail lamps have also gotten the multi-reflector treatment, so the Avalon sparkles coming and going.

Two models are available: XL and the up-market XLS.

Both are powered by a 3.0-liter, four-cam, 24-valve V6 that produces 200 horsepower and 214 foot-pounds (lb.-ft.) of torque. It drives the front wheels through Toyota's four-speed electronically controlled transmission. Engine and transmission use artificial intelligence to communicate with each other; when changing gears, the transmission sends a signal to the engine to reduce power for a moment for a smoother shift.

In addition to the chassis improvements, noise, vibration and harshness were reduced by using anti-vibration sub-frames, asphalt resin sheeting on the floor, flush-mounted side and front glass, foam-filled C- and D-pillars and a hood pad.

ABS is standard, traction control a $300 option.

Interior Features

Our test car was an XLS, so there were standard features aplenty. But it also had the $1,555 leather trim package, which includes memory for the driver's seat and heat for both seats. The optional moonroof added $980 to the sticker.

Inside, the Avalon looks every bit the luxury car it was designed to be. The carpet is thick, the leather creamy to touch, the instrument panel well designed. There is wood trim on the dash, console and door panels. A dual power-operated 50/50 front bench seat is available to accommodate up to six passengers. It comes with a fold-down center armrest and a column-mounted shifter. Five-passenger bucket seat models have a center console with transmission shifter.

Both XL and XLS models can be finished in a choice of high-density velour fabric or premium leather. Interior colors include ivory, quartz and black. Nine exterior colors are available, four of which are new for 1998.

The list of standard features includes luxury-car musts: automatic air conditioning, 170-watt cassette stereo, cruise control, power windows, power locks with anti-lockout feature, tilt steering wheel, dual cupholders, soft-touch ventilation controls, heated outside mirrors, auto on/off headlights, outside temperature display and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A keyless entry system is standard that prevents the engine from being started unless the correct key is used. A transponder chip in the key sends an identification code to the engine's electronic control unit (ECU). If the code matches the one stored in the ECU, the system is deactivated.

Because of that long list of standard features, the options list is short: leather, power driver's seat with memory, traction control, CD player and a moonroof.

Driving Impressions

Until the Avalon, the words Toyota and luxury didn't go together. Toyota and quality, Toyota and value, Toyota and performance, sure. But not Toyota and luxury. Luxury was Lexus territory. So the first impression from behind the wheel is one of delight, because this is indeed a luxury car. It rides and feels like a luxury car and by any yardstick, it's all there.

Luxury car buyers typically aren't looking for blinding acceleration, but they do want to move with authority and the Avalon meets that requirement. With 200 horsepower, it provides good acceleration from a standing start and offers plenty of power for merging and passing. The transmission shifts are smooth–even at full throttle.

When it settles down for quiet cruising, the Avalon feels like a luxury car. The ride is comfortable. Avalon owes its smooth ride and balanced handling to a long wheelbase, independent MacPherson strut front suspension and independent dual-link rear suspension, gas-filled shock absorbers and front and rear stabilizer bars.

Toyota's hard work on noise abatement has resulted in a quiet driving experience and the suspension keeps road irregularities from invading your privacy. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is effortless, with just enough effort built in to provide good road feel.

The seats provide good support and there's enough bucket in the buckets to keep you from moving around in corners. There is reasonable room in the rear, so you shouldn't feel guilty about putting good friends back there.

Fickle Connecticut weather allowed us to test the Avalon in just about every driving condition imaginable: dry, wet, wet with leaves, snow, snow turning to slush and back to dry. For many people, front-wheel drive has changed their confidence in inclement weather. Add traction control and some drivers begin to take slippery conditions for granted. Traction control works well, reduces the effect human error and inspires confidence. But, as with anti-lock brakes (ABS), drivers should not let technology replace sensible driving technique. The laws of physics still apply.

When the traction control system detects even the slightest loss of traction, it instantly reduces torque to the slipping wheel. The driver's role is to let up on the gas until traction is returned.

We activated the system several times, sometimes on purpose, sometimes when we applied too much power on a slippery road. Each time, power was instantly reduced and control was regained. Slippery, low-speed corners present a traction problem, but traction control reduces the chance that the rear end of the car will lose traction and cause the car to spin. No matter how much throttle is used, the system will only apply the amount of power that the front wheels can accept without spinning. So forward progress is drastically limited in extremely slippery conditions.


The Avalon is a straightforward, no-nonsense, well-equipped luxury sedan that offers good value. It does everything well.

The Avalon GLS is packed with goodies. Our fully optioned model costs just $1,000 more than the base price of the ES300, and nearly $2,000 less than the starting point for the BMW 328i. Yet the Avalon is bigger inside than any of the competition.

If you want a roomy luxury car for about $30,000–and can live without one of those traditional luxury nameplates–the Avalon has a lot to offer.

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