2012 Toyota Avalon Review and Prices

Last Updated: Mar 18, 2012

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2012 Toyota Avalon Buying Advice

The 2012 Toyota Avalon is the best car for you if your concerns are comfort and refinement, not impressing the neighbors.  

The 2012 Toyota Avalon carries over unchanged as Toyota readies an all-new model-year 2013 replacement aimed at erasing this car’s geezer image. That image is true in so far as Avalon buyers tend to be mature in years. But they’re no fools. The 2012 Avalon remains a benchmark for spaciousness, comfort, and refinement among five-passenger sedans under $40,000 – and it shames some true luxury models on those counts, too. Still, sources say the redesigned 2013 model will rebel against Avalon’s staid bearing with adventurous new styling that reaches into premium Jaguar and Audi territory.

Should you buy a 2012 Toyota Avalon or wait for the 2013 Toyota Avalon? Buy a 2012 Avalon if you appreciate styling that’s conservative but promotes efficient packaging and recognize that a placid driving manner doesn’t mean this is a slow car. Wait for the 2013 Avalon if you want those basic attributes wrapped in trendy new sheetmetal.

2012 Toyota Avalon Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Avalon is a mirror image of the 2011 Avalon, which means a careful evolution of a basic shape that debuted for model-year 2005 and got a visual freshening for 2011. This is styling in the service of civility – conventional, upright lines that maximize interior space and create the impression of road-hugging weight. The 2012 Avalon carries over the 2011’s gently drawn-back grille/headlight ensemble and trendy “light pipe” detail illumination that updated the look without violating its traditions.

The 2012 Avalon is roughly as large overall as its primary competition, which includes the Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus, and Hyundai Azera. Avalon’s wheelbase, however, is among the shortest in the class. Wheelbase is the distance between the front and rear axles and a primary factor in how much space a vehicle can allot to the passenger compartment. Avalon overcomes its wheelbase deficit with smart packaging and in fact has as much usable interior room as any rival -- and seating that’s more comfortable than most. Trunk volume is a fair-for-the-class 14.4 cubic feet, but the cargo hold is usefully boxy and easy to access.  

The 2012 Avalon lineup returns with two models, the nicely equipped base Avalon and the top-line Limited. Exterior styling differences confined mostly to Limited-model door handles that are chrome instead of body color. Both models come standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, though the Limited’s are of a slightly fancier design. And the Limited has imitation wood-grain on the steering wheel, transmission shift knob, and rear armrest lid

Mechanical: As with Avalons before it, the 2012 Avalon’s internal structure is basically that of the Toyota’s midsize Camry sedan stretched some two inches in wheelbase and about eight inches in body length. However, the 2012 Avalon is based on the architecture of the 2007-2011-generation Camry. The Camry underwent a re-engineering for model-year 2012, with new styling and features and a reworked but not completely new platform. It’s this reworked platform – again stretched to create a near-full-size sedan -- that Toyota will use for the redesigned 2013 Avalon.

Unchanged for 2012 – and slated to remain for 2013 -- is Avalon’s front-wheel-drive layout. This locates the mass of the engine over the tires that also propel the car. The pay-off is efficient packaging and enhanced grip on wet or snowy surfaces. The penalty is a nose-heavy car that isn’t sporty to drive. Rear-wheel-drive designs more equitably distribute the drivetrain’s weight for better-balanced handling, but sacrifice some traction on slippery pavement.

In Avalon’s competitive set, only the Chrysler 300 is rear-wheel drive, although it’s also available with all-wheel drive (AWD) for superior traction in snow. Two of Avalon’s key rivals, the Buick LaCrosse and Ford Taurus, are also front-drive-based designs but offer AWD, as well.

Handling prowess isn’t Avalon’s prime objective, though its road manners are predictable and consistent – virtues not to be undervalued. Rather, its suspension is tuned to deliver a soft, isolating ride and that it achieves without excessive float or wallow.

The 2012 Avalon’s only powertrain consists of a 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a smooth, responsive combo and an ideal match for this car. Toyota’s Star Safety System is again be standard on every 2012 Avalon. It integrates Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) antiskid system that combats sideways slides, an anti-lock braking system (ABS) that aids control in emergency stops, and traction control that reduces wheel spin on take-offs. Both 2012 Avalon models continue among the few car to still come with a full-size spare tire.

Features: To roominess and refinement the 2012 Avalon adds a long list of standard and optional amenities. These include a standard rear seatback that manually reclines a few degrees – an exclusive in Avalon’s class.

The 2012 Avalon also leans toward luxury with standard leather upholstery, a power tilt/slide moonroof, and steering-wheel audio and phone controls. Audio and communications equipment is in fact quite advanced for a car that appeals mainly to older drivers. Every 2012 Avalon has Bluetooth hands-free phone and music streaming to the audio system, XM satellite radio (subscription required), and both USB and auxiliary connections for iPods and other digital audio devices.

The 2012 Avalon base model returns with a nine-speaker stereo while the 2012 Avalon Limited uses a 12-speaker, 660-watt JBL Premium Synthesis audio system with a sub-woofer and a 12-channel digital amplifier.

Among standard features on both 2012 Avalon models is an automatic-dimming electrochromic rearview mirror that incorporates a rear-view monitor that displays on the mirror’s face when the transmission is shifted into reverse. The image includes on-screen back-up guides to help the driver maneuver.

Optional on both 2012 Avalon models is a voice-activated/touch-screen DVD navigation system that displays the rearview camera on its dashboard screen.

While the quality of Avalon’s cabin materials matches those of many genuine luxury cars, the absence of some features keeps Toyota’s biggest sedan from edging into the premium class, where Toyota relies on its upscale Lexus brand. Avalon doesn’t offer real wood interior trim, for example, or such advanced driving aids as lane-departure warning, active cruise control, or automatic parallel parking.

2012 Toyota Avalon Prices back to top

Base prices for the 2012 Toyota Avalon are unchanged from final base pricing for the 2011 Avalons. That keeps Avalon within $1,000-$2,000 or so of similarly configured alternatives in its competitive set.

The 2012 Avalon base model starts at $33,995 and the 2012 Toyota Avalon Limited is priced from $37,195. Prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Toyota’s fee for the 2012 Avalon is $760. Note that Toyotas sold in some Gulf and Southeastern states are delivered by independent distributors and may carry a different destination fee.

In addition to the features listed earlier, the 2012 Avalon base model includes among its standard equipment power windows, locks, and mirrors, remote keyless entry, dual zone automatic climate control, cruise control, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, and a trunk cargo net.

The 2012 Avalon Limited’s standard equipment expands on the base model’s to include upgraded perforated leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, a power passenger’s seat with lumbar support, and a power driver’s-seat cushion extension. A power rear sunshade that automatically retracts with the transmission in reverse is included, as well.

The Avalon Limited also comes with Toyota’s Smart Key. It incorporates remote entry and pushbutton ignition that allows starting the car without removing the keyfob from briefcase, purse, or pocket. Xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, and fancier alloy wheels also are part of the Limited’s standard upgrades.  

Among key 2012 Avalon options, it costs $1,450 to add the navigation system to the Limited model and $2,350 to add it to the base model, because the system also includes the premium JBL audio upgrade. Alone, the JBL system is a separate $900 option for the base Avalon. A $1,020 package also adds heated front seats and the power passenger seat to the base Avalon.

2012 Toyota Avalon Fuel Economy back to top

EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Toyota Avalon are 19/28/23 mpg city/highway/combined. That keeps the 2012 Avalon among the more fuel-efficient V-6-powered cars of its size and price.

2012 Toyota Avalon Release Date back to top

The 2012 Toyota Avalon went on sale in December 2011.  

Avalon, by the way, has a place in automotive history as the first Japanese-brand car with six-passenger seating, a distinction it earned when it replaced the Toyota Cressida for model-year 1995. Avalon remained available with a three-passenger front bench seat through the close of its second design generation, in model-year 2004. Since then, Avalons have come only with two front bucket seats and have been strictly five-passenger sedans.

What's next for the 2012 Toyota Avalon back to top

The 2012 model year closes the book on this fourth-generation Avalon’s basic design and engineering. The fully redesigned fifth-generation Avalon is due in autumn 2012 as a 2013 model.

Look for similar dimensions inside and out but far different styling. Toyota evidently intendeds to take the car into visual territory occupied by such premium sporty-luxury sedans as the Jaguar XJ and Audi A8. To keep the Avalon from encroaching on the turf of its luxury Lexus sedans, expect the automaker to forge a separate design identity for the more mainstream, and less expensive, Toyota.

One easy distinction is that the redesigned Avalon will retain front-wheel drive while Lexus models of similar size – the GS and LS – are rear-drive with optional AWD. As an aside, the latest Camry platform also will underpin the redesigned 2013 Lexus ES, which also will retain front-wheel drive but is a smaller car than the Avalon.

The same basic 3.5-liter V-6 found in the 2012 Avalon (and available in the Camry) will reappear in the 2013 Avalon and in the redesigned Lexus ES. Look for the 2013 Avalon to again come only with a six-speed automatic transmission, even as some potential rivals are adopting eight-speed automatics. Sources say the 2013 ES will also offer a gas-electric hybrid powertrain and it’s quite possible the fifth-generation Avalon will, too.

Toyota has promised to offer a gas-electric hybrid variant within each of its model lines by the early 2020s. Adapting the gas V-6/electric-motor powertrain from the Toyota Highlander Hybrid wouldn’t seem much of a stretch, though Toyota features a fine gas four-cylinder/electric-motor setup in the Camry Hybrid that might also be under consideration. The  Camry Hybrid has 200 horsepower and rates a laudable 43/39/41 mpg city/highway/combined.

Expect the 2013 Avalon’s handling to be sharpened without sacrificing comfort. The cabin will make strides toward a younger-feeling design, as well, and Toyota is sure to move this car ahead on the telematics front. Sure to be available is the automaker’s Display Audio with Navigation and Entune system. This uses a 6.1-inch dashboard touchscreen and blends the navigation system with satellite and HD radio, and the automaker’s new Entunes technology. Entunes works with smartphones to access popular mobile applications, including the Bing search engine and iheartradio and Pandora Internet radio services. It enables casual-speech voice command of audio and navigation functions and can convert incoming text messages to speech, answering with programmable responses.

2012 Toyota Avalon Competition back to top

Buick LaCrosse: Gracefully styled inside and out, LaCrosse is Avalon’s closest domestic-brand rival in exterior size. Avalon boasts marginally more passenger room and can arguably claim higher-quality interior materials. But LaCrosse has a sportier character that holds more appeal for a slightly younger buyer. The Buick has a wider spread of powertrain choices, too, starting with the 182-horsepower electric-motor-boosted four-cylinder eAssist model. It’s rated at 25/36/29 mpg and priced from $31,045. The LaCrosse V-6 models have 303 horsepower and in front-wheel-drive form rate 17/27/21 mpg and are priced from $35,740. V-6 AWD models rate 16/26/20 mpg and start at $35,745.

Chrysler 300: In the great tradition of full-size domestic cars, the brashly styled 300 sedan comes with rear-wheel drive and offers a large V-8. This is no hidebound design, however. Its base V-6 is Chrysler’s fully modern Pentastar 3.6-liter with 292 horsepower. It’s available with an eight-speed automatic (19/31/23 mpg and starting around $30,000) and with AWD (18/27/21 priced from $35,745). The V-8 is the famed 5.7-liter Hemi with 363 horses. It mates with a five-speed automatic and rates 16/25/19 mpg with rear-drive (starting at $39,395) and 15/23/18 with AWD (priced from $41,745). The Hemi shuts down four cylinders to save gas in low-demand driving. Top dog is the rear-drive-only SRT8 model with a 470-horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi; it rates 14/23/17 mpg and starts at $49,425.

Hyundai Azera: Deservedly ignored upon its model-year 2006 introduction and through subsequent refreshes, this front-drive sedan is fully redesigned for model-year 2012. It won’t be ignored now, thanks to strikingly modern new styling and a terrifically executed interior. There’s actually a bit more overall passenger room than in the 2012 Avalon, and interior materials quality is a near match. The Hyundai has more trunk space, too, at 16.3 cubic feet. The sole powertrain is a 293-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 paired with a six-speed automatic. Azera is rated at 20/29/23 mpg. This rapidly expanding South Korean brand exploits an aggressive value proposition. Included with Azera’s $32,875 starting price, for example, are such features as, a navigation system, leather upholstery, power heated front seats, and 18-inch alloy wheels.