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Beater That's Hard To Beat: 2000 - 2004 Toyota Avalon

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On: Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 1:37PM | By: Teddy Field

Beater That's Hard To Beat: 2000 - 2004 Toyota Avalon

Conventional wisdom would suggest that a more expensive car is better made. But that's not always the case. Just try maintaining a used BMW or Land Rover without taking out a second mortgage. The 2000–2004 Toyota Avalon, on the other hand, was rather pricy when it was new, and it was made to a higher standard. It was luxurious, powerful, and extremely reliable. And that makes it a beater that's hard to beat...

As a car broker and journalist, I'm constantly asked for my automotive recommendation. Should I buy this? Is that reliable? I have $X to spend, what should I get? To maintain my sanity, and make quick work of a potentially long conversation, I keep a mental list of car recommendations, organized by price. These are cars that I've had personal experience with, whether it's been a car that I've owned, bought, and sold, or extensively test driven. The 2000–2004 Toyota Avalon is a car that I know well... because my Aunt and Uncle have one.

Introduced in 2000, this Toyota Avalon was the second generation of Toyota's attempt at making a big American car. Like an Olds 88 or Chrysler New Yorker, the 2000–2004 Toyota Avalon offers living room comfort, gobs of passing power, and a sublime ride. Rough roads and slow right-lane traffic largely go unnoticed, and you'll be deposited at your destination feeling refreshed and ready to hit the buffet. But, unlike those aforementioned yank-tanks, you won't have trim bits fall off every time you hit a pothole. And you won't have to visit your mechanic once a month. In fact, you may have to add him to the Christmas card list so he doesn't forget who you are.

The secret to the Avalon's brilliance lies beneath its (somewhat disproportioned) bodywork. It has the same engine and basic chassis as a Toyota Camry V6, but both have been heavily modified to suit this flagship sedan. The platform was stretched to provide acres of legroom, then it and the body structure were stiffened to improve steering/suspension response. All of that sensible engineering is wrapped in more sound-deadening material than an Egyptian's tomb, and the already gutsy 3.0L V6 was given variable-valve timing, along with lots of other new parts. This boosted power to 210-hp/220 lb-ft, which allows you to drop the hammer and silently roar past all those slow Disney-bound minivans. And, the Avalon can even take on curvy mountain roads with shocking precision. If GM and Chrysler had made cars this good, maybe they wouldn't have needed a bailout...

In keeping with the Red-White-and-Blue theme, the cabin of the second generation Toyota Avalon presents like an American Greatest Hits album. There's loads of leg, head, and shoulder room. Everything is power adjustable, and you get big, soft seats, with your choice of front buckets and a console, or the optional front sofa bench seat and a column shifter. Upholstery is either leather or velour from discarded 1970s leisure suits. And the dash seems to have been cribbed from a 1963 Buick Riviera. But it all works together, in a surprisingly luxurious way.

As for reliability, simply change the fluids regularly, and replace the timing belt according to the factory maintenance schedule. With 210,796 miles, my Aunt & Uncle's Avalon (pictured above) has seen more of America than Charles Kuralt (Google it, youngster). The only major repair they've made was a recent valve job, and the gas mileage stands at 20 city/31 hwy. Normally, Aunt Shirley and Uncle Bob will replace their cars every few years, but they've had this Toyota for 15 years now, and have no plans to replace it. Which is high praise for a car that you can now buy for $5,000–$8,000 (depending on mileage, condition, and equipment).

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