2011 Car Comparison: Ford Taurus vs Buick LaCrosse vs Toyota Avalon

Last Updated: Dec 13, 2011

The Competitors
In this Full-Size Car comparison, we compare the 2011 Ford Taurus, 2011 Buick LaCrosse, and 2011 Toyota Avalon. They’re among the leaders in a segment that offers value, amenities and dare we say, horsepower. Prime buyers for this trio are drivers who need full-size room and comfort but don’t want an SUV or minivan. This 2011 Ford Taurus vs. 2011 Buick LaCrosse vs. 2011 Toyota Avalon picks a winner based on price, features, and performance.

The 2011 Toyota Avalon gets revisions to styling and features while the 2011 Ford Taurus and 2011 Buick LaCrosse represent sophomore seasons for cars that were all-new for model-year 2010. Pricing for this trio covers a wide range, with the 2011 Taurus starting at $25,995, the 2011 LaCrosse at $27,745, and the refreshed 2011 Avalon at $33,205. All base prices for vehicles in this comparison include manufacturer’s delivery charge: $825 for Ford, $750 for Buick, and $760 for Toyota. 

Taurus was re-engineered for model-year 2010 and the 2011 Taurus continues essentially unchanged. The 2010 Ford Taurus introduced new interior and exterior styling, two new V-6 engines, and improved fit and finish with upgraded interior appointments. The 2011 Taurus continues to offer buyers a plethora of hi-tech safety, comfort, and entertainment features. Base SE, midline SEL, and luxury Limited versions use a 263-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. SEL and Limited offer all-wheel drive (AWD) in addition to the standard front-wheel drive. The top-of-the-line Taurus SHO packs Ford’s 365-horsepower twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6 and comes standard with AWD. Taurus shares its platform with the Lincoln MKS premium sedan and both are manufactured in Chicago.

The 2011 Buick LaCrosse carries over from its model-year 2010 redesign with an engine shuffle. In a fuel-saving move, a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder replaces a 255-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6 as the engine in the base LaCrosse CX and in the midline CXL models. Those models have front-wheel drive. A 280-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 is standard on CXLs equipped with all-wheel drive and on the top-of-the-line Lacrosse CXS model. The 2.4-liter models have electric power steering. And a tire-repair kit is available in place of the standard compact spare tire and jack. LaCrosse is built on a version of same engineering that underpins the midsize Chevrolet Malibu.  This Buick is manufactured in Kansas City, Kan.

The 2011 Toyota Avalon is the freshest entry in this trio, and Toyota hopes the latest version will distance itself from earlier models plagued by unintended-acceleration claims and recalls.
The 2011 Avalon gets revised styling inside and out, standard leather upholstery and power moonroof. The lineup consists of two model, Base and Limited, and both use a smooth 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Avalon employs an enlarged version of the front-wheel-drive platform used for the midsize Toyota Camry sedan. Avalon is manufactured in Georgetown, Ky.

The Similarities

  • The 2011 Ford Taurus, 2011 Buick LaCrosse and 2011 Toyota Avalon are traditional four-door, five-passenger sedans. All use efficient unibody construction in contrast with the heavier body-on-frame design of old-school full-size sedans, such as the discontinued Ford Crown Victoria. Each model is solidly constructed and is larger than their brand’s midsize sedans, the Ford Fusion, Buick Regal, and Toyota Camry, respectively.
  • Though the LaCrosse and Taurus offer AWD (see The Differences section below) all three of these cars are based on front-wheel drive engineering. In contrast to big cars of old, such as the Crown Victoria, front-drive places the weight of the engine over the tires that also propel the car, to the benefit of traction on slippery surfaces. And by concentrating mechanical components in the nose of the car, front-drive helps free up space in the rest the structure for passengers and cargo. s. All three also have independent front and rear suspensions for good ride control, and come standard with a nice complement of safety features, including antilock four-wheel disc brakes for more control in emergency stops and antiskid stability control to reduce chances of sideway slides.
  • All three provide excellent front-seat accommodations. Unlike big cars of old, with their wide front bench seats, Taurus, LaCrosse, and Avalon have two front bucket seats. The seats provide a good balance of cushioning and support and have backrests contoured to provide a modicum of lateral bolstering to help hold you in place during cornering. All come with power-adjustable driver’s seats and an adjustable steering column that tilts and telescopes. Their front seats are divided by a center console that houses a padded center armrest with a storage compartment below, plus cupholders. It’s also the location for the gearshift lever – no steering-column-mounted stalks in these cars.
  • Though the four-cylinder versions of the LaCrosse might tempt the fuel-mileage conscious, these large cars perform best with a V-6 and that’s what the majority of buyers choose. All three V-6s have virtually the same displacement, with the Taurus and Avalon neck-in-neck in output and slightly shy of the Buick. All these engines have dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, but among the V-6s, only those in the Avalon and the Taurus SHO have direct fuel injection, the latest in performance and mileage-enhancing technology. The Taurus SHO has genuine sport-sedan thrust, but the more prosaic V-6 models here have plenty get-up-and-go to provide fine around-town response and confident highway passing power. Aside from the SHO, it’s the Avalon that feels liveliest, perhaps because it’s the lightest car in this competitive set. The four-cylinder LaCrosse can feel underpowered in all but sedate cruising.
  • All these cars come nicely equipped even in base-model trim. Standard amenities on all include power windows, locks and mirrors; steering-wheel audio controls, cruise control, and remote keyless entry. All three also come with complete airbag coverage, including torso-protecting front side airbags and head-protecting curtain side airbags for both seating rows. The top-of-the-line models, the Taurus Limited, LaCrosse CXS, and Avalon Limited tread on luxury-car turf with hi-tech infotainment systems, supple heated leather seats, navigation systems, and extra trim inside and out. Many of these features are available on midline models as extra-cost options. .

The Differences

  • Ford tailors the Taurus to please the driver first and front-passenger second, and sure enough, Avalon and LaCrosse have the most comfortable rear seating. Avalon gets the edge in this group because it has the most head clearance, a seatback that can be adjusted to recline a few degrees, and doors that open widest for easiest entry and exit. Taurus is actually the longest car of this trio but has the tightest rear head and leg room and its rear bench feels skimpier than the others’.  Taurus and LaCrosse also have sloping rear rooflines that may be challenging to negotiate for some tall adults when getting in and out.
  • Full-size sedan buyers are among the Americans who still tend to vacation by car, bless them, and for luggage-swallowing trunk space, Taurus beats every other sedan on the market with a voluminous 20.1 cubic feet. In this group, Avalon follows with a still-quite-usable 14.4 cubic feet, while LaCrosse’s trunk encourages judicious packing at 13.3 cubic feet. Only Taurus and Avalon offer split rear folding seats to help increase cargo capacity and allow the transport of long items like ladders or lumber.
  • For fuel economy, you can’t beat the four-cylinder LaCrosse in this group. It has EPA ratings of 19/30 mpg city/highway. But the Avalon comes close, and it’s no contest when you consider the performance advantage its V-6 provides over the Buick’s four. In a testament to efficient powertrain engineering, Avalon is rated at 20/29 mpg city/highway. The front-wheel-drive versions of the Taurus and the V-6 LaCrosse are neck-and-neck with identical 27-mpg highway ratings, while the Ford just shades the Buick for city driving with a rating of 18 mpg vs. 17. Comparing AWD versions, Taurus has the edge at 17/25 to the LaCrosse CXL AWD model’s 16/26. Most impressive of all might be the Taurus SHO. It rates 17/25 mpg city/highway, same as any other AWD Taurus, despite packing 102 additional horsepower. Their manufacturers have tuned all these cars to run on regular-octane gas, including, remarkably, the twin-turbo Taurus SHO.         
  • Equipped with sport suspension tuning and specially calibrated AWD, among other handling-enhancing touches, the Taurus SHO would run away and hide from these other sedans on a twisty road. But among the mainstream cars in this set, we’d give the edge in road manners to the Taurus SEL AWD, Limited AWD, and LaCrosse CXL AWD. They behave like front-wheel-drive designs until sensors detect wheel spin, whereupon power is shuffled between the front and rear wheels until traction is restored. They offer loads more grip on slippery surfaces than their front-drive counterparts and can even reduce noseplow a bit in fast turns on dry pavement. Ordering the Buick with AWD also mitigates a distracting tendency of the front-drive V-6 LaCrosse to torque steer – pull to the side – in rapid, low-speed acceleration. 
  • Perhaps more important than handling to full-size car buyers is refinement, and here Avalon and LaCrosse vie for honors. Avalon has a wonderfully absorbent ride, but at the expense of occasional bobbing on bumpy roads. It takes some doing to be quieter than a Toyota Avalon, but the LaCrosse just might manage it with remarkably low levels of tire, wind, and engine noise. You’ll never need to shout to be heard in a Taurus, but it simply can’t match the Toyota or Buick for isolation. It will embarrass them if your goal is a sporty-looking interior, however. Taurus mimics the Mustang with a twin-cockpit-style front-seating space, plenty of gauges, and a gracefully sloping center section that blends into a massive center console. The 2011 Buick LaCrosse ladles on the luxury cues with soft-blue lighting, gently integrated forms, and notably elegant gauges. The 2011 Toyota Avalon has the most straight-forward interior design in this comparison. Everything is where you expect it, all controls are generously sized, and the type that identifies it all is notably large, a pleasant nod to those of us with aging eyes.
  • You’ll note that Avalon’s starting price of $33,205 for the Base model and $36,445 for the Limited puts its several thousand dollars above the least-expensive 2011 Buick LaCrosse and 2011 Ford Taurus. Taurus and LaCrosse do offer lower points of entry to this class, and that’s important if you’re looking for full-size room and comfort without spending a bundle. Note, however, that equipping a Taurus or LaCrosse similar with even a Base-model Avalon erases much of the price difference. To do so in a Taurus requires that you to go for the Limited at $32,595, then add such options as a moonroof at $895, pushing the list price to $34,915. Upgrading 2011 Buick LaCrosse to meet or exceed the 2011 Toyota Avalon’s Base-level equipment requires you to step up to a CXL at $30,305. To that add the V-6 engine at another $1,370, then option up with such amenities as leather upholstery and a power sunroof, shoving the list price to $35,145.

The Winner

The refreshed 2011 Toyota Avalon takes the title. It’s priced highest to start, but returns as much or more for your money when a Taurus or LaCrosse is comparably equipped. Its blend of room and refinement is unmatched, and so is its fuel economy vs. the other cars’ V-6 models. We’ll defend Avalon’s styling only by pointing out that the lines are no-nonsense clean and that form follows this sedan’s function, which is to deliver copious passenger space, easy entry/exit, and unobstructed outward visibility. It’s no road burner like the Taurus SHO, but the 2011 Toyota Avalon does the best job here of comfortably and effortlessly getting you and your passengers to your destination.