By Jim Bray
Are Toyota's two biggest vehicles too big, or just right?
It depends what you're looking for. One - the Tundra - is a full sized pickup meant to compete head to head with the likes of the Ford F-150 and Nissan Titan. The other - Avalon - is a full sized family sedan that offers a lot of room and a lot of other nice stuff, not including a real fun to drive factor.
And while they're still the same vehicles as ever - big haulers of people and/or stuff - both of these mega-Toyotas enter the 2016 model year refreshed and enhanced to ensure they remain up to date in a marketplace that seems to change overnight.
For 2016, Toyota has given its biggest sedan a little more style, a tad more refinement, upgraded features and technology and better performance. It's a very nice car, too, as long as you aren't looking for a particularly spirited ride - which isn't what this vehicle is about anyway.
Starting up front and outside, the 2016 Avalon's already unfortunately aggressive grille gets a wider, lower stance and a narrower upper grille. It follows Toyota's current "mouth-like" grille meme that looks like the car is primed to scoop up all the sand and gravel that collects on the road during the Canadian winter. It isn't as "in its face" as Lexus' "alien predator's mouth" grille, but it's definitely aggressive.
Other exterior tweaks for this model year include newly-designed aluminum alloy wheels, LED headlights and daytime running lights as well as new signal and tail lights and chrome bumper accents.
Inside, the 2016 Avalon has received new, premium wood grain inserts and an upgraded instrument panel with high resolution, full-colour multi-information display screens, standard dual zone automatic climate control and a bunch of new noise-reduction techniques designed to isolate you from the world outside even more than before. Toyota has also moved key instruments and controls to be easier to find and use than before.
None of these are huge changes from what was a very nice big sedan already, but they do combine to make that car even more interesting than before. I wish they'd done something to improve the car's somnambulating ride, but such was not the case. That said, I somehow doubt that most of the Avalon's target audience is going to care; the car seems aimed more at those who want to waft along comfortably rather than carve up curves. And, hey, to each his/her/its own.
The front drive Avalon's heart is Toyota's 3.5 litre V6 engine, with direct ignition and acoustic control induction systems. It puts out "up to" 268 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque, which is plenty. It's attached to a nice, six speed Super Electronically Controlled transmission with a reasonable manual mode that even includes steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters - a sporty and convenient touch one might not expect in a car such as this. You can set the Avalon into three different drive modes (Normal, Sport and ECO), which adjust the car's responses to suit your driving style.
Well, perhaps. The Avalon is obviously not aimed at me, because even in Sport mode - which I left the car in most of the time during my time with Toyota Canada's review sample - the suspension is so soft it reminded me of land barges of days gone by. I must admit, I found the Camry - upon which the Avalon is based - a much more interesting ride. Again, to each his/her/its own.
Avalons also get handsome, 18 inch aluminum alloy wheels, disc brakes with ABS (etc.) all around, a new tire pressure monitoring system, 10 airbags, side impact beams, an anti-theft system, and a backup camera.
The Avalon Touring model comes standard with a pretty weak nine speaker Display Audio system, a seven inch LCD touch screen, Bluetooth, USB audio input, integrated XM Satellite Radio (subscription required), steering wheel-mounted audio controls, an integrated navigation system and garage door opener, as well as power-adjustable and heated driver's seat (with memory), keyless entry/push button start/stop and leather seats. The Limited trim level adds quite a bit of stuff, including a pretty good 11 speaker JBL Audio system, heated rear seats, a powered rear window sunshade, wireless charging for your portable electronics, and a specially-tuned "comfort" suspension Toyota says imparts "a wonderfully smooth ride."
It's a very nice car, indeed, though my week trying to stay awake behind the wheel made me wonder why one would purchase it when you can get the even more interesting (but smaller) Camry or the even more interesting and luxurious Lexus ES 350, both of which are built on the same basic platform. After all, the "base" (Touring) model Avalon starts at $38,990 CAD and the "Limited" trim level kicks off at $44,170. That puts the Touring model about five grand more than the base V6 Camry (the four cylinder Camry starts at even less: about $25,000) and - perhaps surprisingly - about three grand more than the base ES 350, which has the same basic power train.
This isn't a truly apples-to-apples comparison, of course, but it's not too far off the mark.
If you want the most stuff for your buck, the loaded ES comes in at about $53,000, while the loaded V6 Camry is about $42,600. That puts the loaded Avalon Limited, which lists (sans taxes, etc.) at about $45,000, firmly in the middle, though either other car is better to drive.
Tundra and lightning…
Alas, I'm not a truck guy and so their many benefits are lost on me; fortunately, I have some friends and neighbours who are truck people and I got them to head out in the Tundra with me to give me their thoughts. And they liked it a lot (the truck, not giving me their thoughts…).
There are two Tundra TRD Pro Series models joining the other 2016 Tundras: a double cab and the more spacious Crewmax cab. Toyota Canada's sample had the bigger cab, accompanied by a very short, 5.5 foot bed. I was grateful for the shorter bed because the truck is certainly large enough to cut a swath through traffic already, though the short bed also limits what you can haul with it. The double cab version gets a 6.5 foot bed, at the expense of interior space.
TRD Pro Series stuff includes "the TRD Remote Reservoir Suspension Kit," dual performance tailpipes, a TRD skid plate and cool 18 inch black alloy wheels.
It also includes TRD Pro styling cues and creature comforts such as black leather seats with red stitching, TRD Pro bed side stamping, carpet floor mats and centre cap, a TRD shift knob, premium audio system and seven inch LCD screen, built in navigation system and - a wonderful feature for a pickup truck - a rear view camera mounted in the tailgate.
Power comes from a 381/401 horsepower/torque 5.7 litre V8 coupled to a six speed super ECT transmission with Sequential Shift Mode. You also get active traction control, an auto limited slip rear differential and one-touch 4WD to switch into and out of 4WD mode seamlessly.
The truck also boasts towing capability of more than 4,400 kg (9,700 lbs) and there's also a factory-installed trailer brake controller and a towing package that includes a heavy-duty hitch receiver, 4 + 7 pin connectors, supplemental transmission cooler and transmission fluid temperature gauge.
One of the first things I noticed when I managed to haul my short legs up into the truck's high cab was the great V8 burble. As for how my friends and neighbours liked the Tundra, they were impressed by the V8's power and torque as well, and its intelligently designed interior - which includes controls that are laid out logically and efficiently. They also cited its comfortable seats, though one of them agreed with me that the seat cushions are too long for those with short legs, And they all agreed that a set of running boards or steps would have come in really handy. Fortunately, they're available as an option.
The issues I had getting in and out of the cab during my week led to - on one attempt to disembark gracefully without doing a face plant - my cell phone falling out of my breast pocket and smashing its screen on the gravel below. It was an obvious case of operator oafishness, but I prefer to blame the Tundra because it frees me of any personal responsibility.
Can I get someone else's money now, Justin? Rachel?
My passengers and I took the Tundra off the pavement - not really off road, but on really crummy rural gravel and dirt paths - and they thought the truck performed well both on and off the asphalt, very secure and efficient. All in all, the truck got thumbs up from both the Ram and the Titan owners who tried it.
The 2016 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro Series pick-ups start at $54,475 for the Double Cab model and $56,975 for the Crewmax.
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
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