By Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
Before Lexus came along, the most luxurious vehicle that Toyota built was the Cressida, a rear-drive, six-cylinder sedan that was positioned upscale of the family-focused Camry. It stuck around until 1992, three years after Toyota introduced its dedicated luxury brand (Lexus), and when the Cressida was discontinued, it was easy to assume that meant the end of Toyota’s high-end aspirations for its base brand.
In 1995, however, Toyota introduced the Avalon, a spiritual successor to the Cressida, and a car that has often overlapped Lexus, being larger and at times more expensive than cars like the Lexus ES and IS.
Despite relatively slow sales, historically, Toyota sees the Avalon filling a niche in its portfolio, which is why it’s now into its fourth generation as a 2011 model. Let’s go back a few years, though, and take a look at the third generation model and how it’s held up as a used vehicle choice.
The third generation Avalon went on sale in 2005, sporting the model’s most distinctive styling and largest interior yet. Based on the Camry, this latest Avalon was powered by a 3.5-litre V6 engine that was offered in the Camry the following year and would become a staple of Toyota’s and Lexus’ line-ups. Power ratings were 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. These figures would drop to 268 hp/248 lb-ft in 2006, due to changes in how the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) measured engine power; the change didn’t affect the engine’s performance.
From 2005 through 2007, a five-speed automatic was the only transmission offered; in 2008, in conjunction with a mid-cycle refresh, it was upgraded to a six-speed.
Fuel consumption was rated at 11.0/7.3 L/100 km (city/highway) in 2005; it dropped to 10.6/7.0 in 2007 (before the addition of the six-speed transmission) and stayed there for the rest of the third-generation’s model run.
The Avalon has proven largely reliable, but like many other recent Toyota models, it suffers from a few uncharacteristic flaws that are worth keeping an eye on.
The most serious of these is a well-documented problem with an oil line that supplies pressure to the engine’s variable valve timing system. The tube can leak oil, which is undesirable in itself, but it has been known to simply rupture, which can cause catastrophic engine problems. Click here for info on the topic at a Toyota Sienna web forum (Siennas from 2007 on use the same V6 engine as the Avalon), or here for a thread on the issue at ToyotaNation.com, and go here to see a short video clip of the leak in action on a 2007 Avalon engine.
In 2008, a Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) was issued regarding a steering column intermediate shaft that wore prematurely, resulting in a noise (clunk/pop/squeak or all of the above) and poor steering feel. This thread at ToyotaNation.com has information on the fix, including a link to the TSB, which details how to effect the repair.
The five-speed automatic used in 2005-2007 Avalons is known for a software issue that causes wonky shifting. It’s the same transmission used in a number of other Toyota and Lexus models; go here and here for more information.
Here’s a link to a video detailing how to reset the power windows on a Toyota, in the event that a window refuses to respond to the switch on the driver’s door.
Overall, the third-generation Avalon earns a better-than-average reliability used vehicle rating from Consumer Reports, which is a downgrade from the much-better-than-average the publication gives the second-generation version.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the third-gen Avalon its “good” overall rating in frontal offset and side impact crash tests, noting a possibility of knee injury to the driver despite the presence of a standard driver’s knee airbag. From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Avalon earned five stars all around (frontal and side impact tests). Stability and traction control were optional through 2006, and were made standard in 2007.
Used Avalon values, according to the Canadian Black Book, range from $16,200 for a 2005 XLS model to $29,225 for a 2009 XLS. In 2005 and 2006, the Avalon was offered in XLS and pricier Touring trims; the Touring came with more standard equipment but the XLS could be had with two option packages adding features that couldn’t be had in the Touring model. In 2007, the line-up was reduced to a single model, the XLS, though the two option groups remained.
For comparison’s sake, a 2007 Avalon XLS without any extras is worth $22,475, while a full-zoot Camry XLE V6 from the same year is valued at $19,175. Meanwhile, a 2007 Lexus ES 350 in base form carries a value of $25,475. To my mind, the Avalon is the best deal of the three if you’re after luxury, being better-equipped than the Camry, less expensive than the Lexus and larger inside than either. It’s pricier than the Buick Allure to which the Avalon’s performance is quite similar, and while I don’t have many doubts about the robustness of the Buick’s mechanicals over the long term, my question would be whether the rest of the car – interior and exterior trim, for example – would last long as I’d expect the Avalon’s would, at least based on the stellar reputation for reliability that Toyota should be working very hard to uphold, right about now.
Still, the Avalon’s short list of trouble spots is proof that either they don’t make ‘em like they used to, or that you’d be better off with a less-complicated car if you’re concerned with affordable long-term operation. Personally, a four-cylinder Camry is a very nice car, but if you prefer the Avalon, be aware of the oil line and steering shaft problems, and in 2005-2007 models, pay special attention to the transmission’s operation while test driving. Finally, look for a car that comes with complete service records (these will prove what repairs have been made to this point) and that passes an inspection by a trusted mechanic.
Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) June 2010:
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You’ll find the Avalon forum at ToyotaNation.com to be one of the busiest places on the web for this relatively low-volume car; TundraSolutions.com and ToyotaFans.net also have Avalon sections, but they’re much quieter places with less to offer.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2005150; Units affected: 354
2005: On certain vehicles, the steering yoke may not have been welded to the steering shaft during assembly. Separation of the yoke and the steering shaft would result in a loss of steering control. Correction: Dealers will inspect and, if necessary, replace the steering column assembly.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2009290; Units affected: 378,294 (includes other models)
2005-2010: On certain vehicles, the accelerator pedal may become stuck in the wide open position due to an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat. A stuck open accelerator pedal may result in very high vehicle speeds and make it difficult to stop the vehicle, which could cause a crash, serious injury or death. Correction: Dealers will reconfigure the shape of the accelerator pedal. Certain models will also have the shape of the floor underneath the accelerator pedal modified and/or a brake override system installed.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2010012; Units affected: 273,153 (includes other models)
2005-2010: On certain vehicles, the accelerator pedal movement may become rough, slow to return, or the pedal may stick in a depressed position. This could result in a loss of throttle control and a vehicle crash, causing property damage, personal injury or death. Correction: Dealers will affect repairs.
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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