2017 Avalon Review: Toyota taught a new dog old tricks

CNBC: Mack Hogan
Key Points
  • Don't ignore the 2017 Toyota Avalon, especially if you're looking for comfort
  • It calls back days of the Lincoln Town Car but is more reliable
  • And if you like space and leather, the interior will be right up your alley

For decades, the Lincoln Town Car was a staple of every airport and city center, forming the backbone of livery fleets nationwide.

It still dominated fleets when Ford signed its death warrant in 2011. In its place, Lincoln offered a new Town Car based on the MKT SUV. Looking like the 1950s version of a hearse from the future, it never caught on: Instead, drivers started buying Toyota Avalons, which are just as affordable, just as comfortable and arguably more reliable than the Town Cars.

Toyota has captured the market the Town Car once had, but can the Avalon match the old-money charm of the staple black car?

Exterior: Classy, if unexciting

CNBC: Mack Hogan

Moored outside my window, the Avalon looks every inch of its 16-odd foot length. The size may better be described in acres, but I can't find that on Toyota's website. Suffice to say, it definitely has the stature of a Town Car.

I don't want this to distract from the fact that this is a good looking car. While I don't think it contends with the segment-best Cadenza in styling, it manages to look classy and smart without overdoing it.

Not to beat on the metaphor, but that's how a livery vehicle should carry itself: With subtle elegance. Money doesn't need to shout.

Of course if money did shout, you'd be surprised to hear that the Avalon pictured here will run you $37,539. As far as I can tell, the only thing outwardly wrong with the Avalon is the badge, which doesn't convey the same sort of luxury the Avalon delivers.

Interior: Just like the good old days

CNBC: Mack Hogan

I'd like to have been at the meeting where they designed this interior. Broken down into steps, I'd imagine they laid out the map for development like this:

Step one: Cover everything in leather.

Step two: Take a group lunch.

Everything is soft to touch, remarkable and comfortable. There's enough space in the back seat and trunk to shame some cattle ranches, and the two-tone scheme was quite lovely. At the drive through of a restaurant chain I'm ashamed even to go to, the cashier actually leaned out of her window and said, "wow, your car looks beautiful inside."

CNBC: Mack Hogan

That's a step too far, but she's got the right idea. It's a pleasant place to be. That is, until you start fussing with the infotainment system.

I can go on about details: The back button is hard to reach and even harder to touch accurately, there's significant latency and the menus aren't laid out naturally. All of this to say that Toyota's entertainment system is a generation behind the competition.

Also, the touch-sensitive buttons look greasy from finger oils. I find this gross.

CNBC: Mack Hogan

Full-size sedan buyers tend not to care about infotainment systems. What they will care about is the heated seats, which are so soothing to one's back that you may be tempted to keep them on during the summer.

CNBC: Mack Hogan

There are still massive knobs for volume and radio tuning. The air conditioner could freeze the flippers off a penguin, and the Avalon will gladly drive both ways uphill to get somewhere, just like they did in the olden days.

Driving experience: Just shy of sensory deprivation

CNBC: Mack Hogan

If your idea of luxury is turning off the outside world for a little bit, the Avalon is in a class of one. Sure, you can get more comfort if you pay up, but you're not finding anything softer wearing a non-luxury badge and the attached price tag.

The car floats down the road like Buicks, Lincolns and Cadillacs of yore. It heaves its way into corners, bounces a bit on the highway, and refused to let even a whiff of road noise into the cabin. I've always been a fan of cars that singularly focus on one thing; I'd rather have a grand old barge-based luxury cruiser and a lightweight roadster than a sports sedan that isn't great at either.

CNBC: Mack Hogan

That's why I'm charmed by the Avalon.

It sacrifices everything else in the name of comfort, and it's better off for it. I like the fact that the car leans back under acceleration. I like how when you turn the car, it feels like the steering wheel is connected to the road by a bowl's worth of spaghetti. I like all of these things that make the Avalon a complete bore to drive, because that's what it takes to make it this comfortable.

At this price, and in this segment, you want that compromise.

Value: All you need, priced so you can afford it

CNBC: Mack Hogan

A lot of people who want a luxury car for commuting ask what they should get, and a surprising amount of the time I recommend the Avalon.

Of course, they scoff and say they wouldn't be caught dead in a Toyota, especially when Bob next door just bought a Bimmer. So they go out and spend an extra $25,000 for an Audi with the same feature set and capabilities they'll never use. And since they can't actually afford the Audi, they finance it with 8.7-percent interest for 167 months.

Ain't that the American dream?

They're missing out on one of the better values in the car market when they do this. At $37,539, my tester was a few grand north of the average new car transaction price. In exchange for nearly 40 large, you get leather everything, heated seats, radar cruise control, lane keeping, and the full suite of phone connectivity, sans Carplay or Android Auto.

And this isn't even the top of the line car; there are still two trim levels above my XLE Premium, offering even more kit. You also can fit five adults in the car, with enough room in the trunk left to fit everyone's suitcases.

Final thoughts

CNBC: Mack Hogan

I've always had a special love for the Town Car. To be honest, I didn't want to like the Avalon. I have some great memories in those old Lincolns, and I didn't like seeing them replaced by a Toyota offering hybrid drivetrains and radar-guided nonsense.

But I was wrong.

The Avalon has that same charm that made me fall for the Town Car. Whether you're an Uber driver or just a regular commuter, I promise it's worth a look.

Exterior: 4
Interior: 4
Driving Experience: 5
Value: 5
Overall: 4.5

Price as configured: $37,539