2003 Toyota Avalon

By January 29, 2003
2003 Toyota Avalon

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.

Model Lineup

Toyota Avalon is available in two trim levels, XL and XLS. Both use Toyota’s silky-smooth 3.0-liter V6. This engine produces 210 horsepower with 220 pounds-feet of torque. Avalon is front-wheel drive.

XL comes with front bucket seats ($25,845) or a front bench seat ($26,665). XL models come fully equipped with side air bags, dual-zone air conditioning, air filtration system, power windows, door locks and mirrors, sunvisors with extensions, and a 120-watt AM/FM stereo with cassette and CD players.

The more luxurious XLS model reverses the pricing with the bench seat version ($30,305) being less expensive than the same vehicle with bucket seats ($30,405). XLS models add automatic climate control, a driver information display (compass, trip computer, outside temperature and calendar functions), fog lights, aluminum alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Leather upholstery is optional.

Walkaround

Some might say that the Toyota Avalon is not eye-catching. That isn’t to say it’s unattractive; it looks like a Toyota sedan. Its best features are electronic and mechanical. If you want to travel in comfort and safety while going unnoticed, the Avalon is a good choice.

The styling has somewhat of a sharp edge to it, but the look is reserved. The wing-shaped halogen headlights and wide grille with vertical rails provide a slightly toothy, smiley-face look. An air dam under the molded front bumper provides a subtle racy touch, and the optional flowing trapezoidal fog lamps are needed to complete the facial aesthetics.

Interior Features

Avalon is a roomy car with plenty of shoulder space. Our Avalon came with a leather bench with a wide armrest. We found the front seat easy to get into and out of. The low front cowl (or dashboard) provides a big view of the road ahead.

The rear seat also offers good visibility and legroom. High window sills, the trend nowadays, make the chamber feel deep. Carrying long, narrow objects is made easier as the rear center seat has a pass-through that opens up to the trunk.

We tested an XLS model. Its interior sports ample doses of burled walnut, good, simple switchgear, and solid-feeling control stalks. There’s even a leather boot on the column-shift lever, a nice touch. The superb leather-wrapped four-spoke steering wheel feels lovely in your hands. There are big cupholders all around, grab handles over all four doors, and flip-out coin pockets in the front doors. Also included are soothing electro-chromatic mirrors that self-adjust to reduce glare, and an easy-to-adjust dual climate-control system providing independent settings for driver and passenger.

The list of interior features is long. The data system is housed in a big rectangular window in the center of the instrument panel. The compass is useful, and the miles-to-go-before-empty function is comforting if you’re prone to push it to the last drop.

Leather, which is optional, is plush and the two-tone beige/ivory looks good. The feel of the leather, the doses of walnut, the big recessed instrument panel, and especially the inside shape of the C-pillars, all make the Avalon interior reminiscent of a Cadillac Seville. That shouldn’t be surprising, as the Toyota Avalon was designed and built in the USA, and a veteran of GM’s large-car division led its development team.

Driving Impressions

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.

Summary

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.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:XL with front bucket seats ($25,845), with front bench seat ($26,665); XLS with front bench seat ($30,305), with front bucket seats ($30,405)
Engines:210-hp 3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Transmissions:4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):dual multi-stage airbags, front side-impact air bags, side-impact door beams, child door locks, ABS
Safety equipment (optional):Vehicle Skid Control with traction control and emergency Brake Assist
Basic warranty:3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:Georgetown, Kentucky
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):XLS ($30,405)
Standard equipment:ABS, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, power heated mirrors, AM/FM/cassette/CD with 7 speakers, cloth upholstery; automatic climate control, driver information display (compass, trip computer, outside temperature and calendar functions), fog lights, aluminum alloy wheels, rear map lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel
Options as tested (MSPR):Package ($895) includes heated front seats, JBL Premium stereo with 6-disc in-dash CD changer, 205/60R16 tires, aluminum wheels, power seats with driver seat memory, leather upholstery
Destination charge:$485
Gas guzzler tax:N/A
Price as tested (MSPR):$31785
Layout:front-wheel drive
Engine:3.0-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):210 @ 5800
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):220 @ 4400
Transmission:4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:21/29 mpg
Wheelbase:107.1 in.
Length/width/height:191.9/71.7/57.7 in.
Track, f/r:61.0/60.0 in.
Turning circle:37.6 ft.
Seating Capacity:5
Head/hip/leg room, f:38.7/55.2/41.7 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:37.9/55.1/40.1 in.
Cargo volume:15.9 cu. ft.
Payload:N/A
Towing capacity:2000 Lbs.
Suspension, f:independent
Suspension, r:independent
Ground clearance:5.1 in.
Curb weigth:3439 lbs.
Tires:205/60R16
Brakes, f/r:disc/disc with ABS
Fuel capacity:18.5 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of January 29, 2003.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-GO-TOYOTA - www.toyota.com

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