We were very happy with our Camry (described a couple of weeks ago) and kept it to the end of its lease (a first for me). As it came time to turn it in, we were looking for something bigger and more “grown-up.” Perhaps too grown up, as it turns out.
At this point we had owned the Camry for three years and the Tundra for a number of months and were definitely interested in another Toyota. Although we liked the Camry, the 2000 Camry was essentially the same car as the 1997 version we were turning in, and I wasn’t interested in simply buying the same car again. The Avalon (basically a stretched Camry) was new for 2000 with a larger interior and trunk. I had been interested in the previous generation of Avalon, so this one was even more attractive to us.
We went back to the same dealer and salesperson we had used for the Tundra as we had been generally pleased with the service and the overall deal. I didn’t feel like I had been cheated in the Tundra deal (other than the lease payment challenges) so that was a plus. The dealer had just moved to a much larger “superstore” from its previous small dealership and had a lot more inventory as a result. We decided to finance this vehicle and not lease it as we originally figured we would keep it for several years.
We chose the “base” model Avalon XL but wanted to add an option package (creatively labeled “Package #4) with aluminum wheels, leather seats, and remote keyless entry) as well as the fancy JBL stereo and power moonroof. As a result, the car was the most expensive vehicle we’d purchased to date – memory fails me as to the actual cost but it was around $30,000 at the time ($42,000 in today’s money). One might note that I probably could have had a Lexus for that kind of money, a lesson I took to heart later on. At any rate, we were able to get the car we wanted simply by waiting for the next shipment from the factory and not by special-ordering the car. The salesperson was pretty open about showing us the Toyota-supplied list of cars in transit and helpfully translating the cryptic abbreviations into a comprehensible list of equipment.
I’d heard that a number of people referred to the Avalon as “Toyota’s Buick” and that description was certainly accurate. The car was pretty large and roomy, the 210 hp 3 liter V6 was smooth and adequately powerful for the 3400 pound car, the styling was conservative but not boring, the ride was cushy, and the handling was nothing to write home about. The interior was certainly a nice place to be with the soft leather seats and the airy greenhouse design. The gauges were easy to read and the dash was reminiscent of the ’92-’96 Honda Prelude with a sweeping full-width recess for gauges and warning lights and stereo tweeters at each end of the recess. As our car was an XL, we only got a small odometer/trip odometer and clock (both LCDs) recessed into a large black space in the dash to remind us we didn’t get the top-of-the-line model. The XLS received a larger display with a trip computer and other features (like larger wheels than the relatively small 15-inch ones we got) that would have been nice but weren’t worth the extra money on top of the small fortune I was already paying.
This car’s expensive JBL stereo also brought another feature that was a big deal for the time (but seems hopelessly quaint nowadays). This was the first car that I purchased with an in-dash 6-CD changer. The changer loaded all of the CDs through the single slot and looked almost exactly like the single CD stereo. For those of us who had been stopping mid-road trip to change CD magazines in the trunk, this was quite an advance. The other nice feature is that you could choose which CD to eject without removing all six, making music swaps much faster. Of course, any CD jams resulted in having to remove the stereo from the dash, but such is the price of progress.
My first inkling that I’d possibly missed the mark in buying this car was when the PBS show MotorWeek reviewed the Avalon soon after I purchased it. I eagerly tuned in to see what John Davis and crew had to say about the car. I only remember the tagline they attached to the first 30 seconds of the review – the Avalon was aimed at a “graying and widening America,” referring (in my interpretation) to older people who wanted a more reliable land yacht than a Crown Vic or LeSabre (hence the title of this post). I was fairly well-aware of my desire to have my car say something about me, but at the age of 30 I didn’t want it to say “old guy.” I should have realized this – the brochure made a special note of the availability of a three-abreast bench seat with a column shifter just like Detroit barges of old.
As with other Toyotas I have owned, this Avalon was quite reliable. There were a few niggling faults that were a bit unexpected given my past experience with the Camry and Tundra. The biggest one of these was that the doors could move around slightly in the door frame when the car was in motion and as a result the door seals squeaked, particularly the upper door seal. Since this squeaking was right next to the driver’s ear, it was a major and consistent annoyance. Luckily a bit of silicone spray on the seals quieted them down (until the spray wore off and had to be reapplied).
The paint was somewhat fragile as well – a rock had hit the hood of the car (above the ever-present front end mask, unfortunately) and had removed a pencil eraser-sized chunk of paint. My attempts to repair that damage were unsuccessful as the car was silver, a notoriously difficult color to match. I’d developed some pretty advanced skills at touching up paint chips and using fine grit sandpaper and polishing compound to repair paint flaws in a way that made them nearly invisible. This one was large enough that the repair was always visible, especially when I accidentally sanded through a small area of the clearcoat turning the chip into a much larger problem. Not one of my finest hours, to be sure, and that damaged area in the middle of the hood bothered me every time I drove the car. Given the problems I had experienced with other cars, this was small potatoes, though.
My attempts to add one of my dad’s favorite accessories (mudflaps) were unsuccessful as well. As the car was in the first year of a new design, accessories were slow to arrive. I purchased a set of aftermarket splash guards that generally worked, but I learned that they were a bit too close to the road the first time I took the car out on a highway and hit a dip. As the suspension was quite soft the splash guards bounced off the road, and I figured that they wouldn’t last too long at that rate. Luckily Toyota-designed and color-matched splash guards became available and I was able to replace the aftermarket parts.
Interestingly enough, with the purchase of this car our garage looked like the one shown on the cover of the full-line 2000 Toyota brochure that had both an Avalon and Tundra as display vehicles. Of course, the brochure vehicles were an Avalon XLS and Tundra Limited, but both were silver just like ours. We even had a basketball hoop in the driveway like the brochure house.
Although the Avalon was a very nice car and cost us a fortune, my general dissatisfaction with being part of the Geritol crowd drove me to consider trading it in not long after I bought it (and consider losing a chunk of money to make it go away). I managed to hold on for about two years before buying something to replace it that was even more expensive and brought a whole different set of preconceived notions with it as we will see soon.