I have no idea when it happened, but somewhere along the line I apparently turned old.

I don’t feel old. Although I can’t run as fast or as far as I used to, my mind, my body and my 11-year-old son have conspired to make me feel much younger than my parents were at my age.

But now I know I’m old. I know because other auto writers have told me so.

Not to my face, but in their car columns. Specifically, in their reviews of the 2011 Toyota Avalon. It was difficult to find a review of the Avalon that didn’t mention that the car is intended for old people and that old people should like it.

Generally, my colleagues said that in subtle ways, but there was no mistaking their message: The Avalon is the kind of roomy, quiet, comfortable car you’re likely to see at any of the countless interstate rest areas snowbirds frequent on their forays south in the fall and north in springtime.

Their columns suggest that if you encounter an Avalon on the road, its occupants are more likely headed to some diner for an “early bird special” than a spirited drive on a winding country road.

They say that the median age of Avalon buyers is 64.

I’ve never done a study of Avalon owners or surveyed them on driving destinations or habits. But I’m OK accepting my colleagues’ assertions and, consequently, willing to accept that I must be old.

Because I love the Avalon.

I always have, even 16 years ago when Toyota introduced the Avalon and I was much younger. Although I realize certain vehicles appeal more than others to certain demographics, I’ve never believed there was an age restriction on comfort, refinement and roominess.

Those are qualities the Avalon has had in abundance since its inception and continues to possess today.

Although most of its sheet metal has been restyled, it isn’t easy at first glance to distinguish the 2011 Avalon from its predecessor. A closer look, however, reveals more chrome trim, a new bumper with integrated fog lamps, and a wider front grille flanked by new high-tech headlights.

The taillights also are new, modestly reshaped and featuring LED illumination. Sharp eyes might also notice the redesigned rocker panels and dual exhaust pipes, as well as the 10-spoke alloy wheels on the Limited model.

Both the Limited and standard Avalon are distinguished by something most observers will never see: A full-size spare tire on a wheel identical to the four mounted ones. That’s just one of the upscale features found on a vehicle bristling with them.

Both Avalon models, for example, have leather upholstery, dual-zone auto climate control, a moonroof, keyless entry, a back-up camera and 60/40 split folding and reclining rear seatbacks with center armrest/console and pass-through. Other standard goodies include a tilt/telescope steering wheel with climate and audio controls, auto-dimming rearview mirror with universal garage door opener, and power windows, door locks and mirrors.

The Avalon Limited, which costs about $2,900 more than the $32,595 base model, ups the ante. It gains a pushbutton starter, rain-sensing wipers, heated and cooled ventilated front seats, eight-way power front passenger seat, auto-dimming heated door mirrors, power-operated rear sunshade and a 660-watt, 12-speaker JBL sound system with AM/FM/XM radios, iPod connectivity and six-disc CD changer.

In addition to having as many creature comforts as a mattress and bedding store, the Avalon provides a pillowy ride.

Do your bones have to be older than color television broadcasting to appreciate that? Apparently not. My Avalon evaluation included a round-trip interstate journey of about 14 hours and around 1,000 miles, and I’ve never seen 11-year-old Brandon more content on a long trip than he was in the Avalon.

In addition to loving its comfort, he relished its roominess. At around 16.5 feet from tip to tail, the Avalon is one of the longest non-luxury-brand sedans on the road. It puts that length to good use by providing over 41 inches of legroom up front and nearly as much in the second row.

Brandon, with his seatback reclined a few inches and his legs stretched out, was literally able to lounge in the back of the Avalon. It was the same story up front, where loads of head, hip and legroom combine with cushy yet supportive seats to make long-distance trips a pleasure.

The Avalon is about as quiet as it is comfortable. That’s significant not only for carrying on a conversation while cruising at 70 mph, but also because persistent and obtrusive background noise during a long road trip can be as tiring and draining as a rough ride, uncomfortable seat or tight quarters.

At what age do you begin to appreciate feeling fresh and ready to go after spending seven hours in a car?

Cynicism aside, the main reason my colleagues consider the Avalon a snoozer for anyone other than seniors is its driving dynamics. In that regard, I agree … to a point.

Its steering system is engineered to isolate the driver from an engaged driving experience in which very wrist twitch is instantly transmitted to the front wheels. Its suspension is designed to mute even minor road irregularities, not to ensure that the driver and the road are in constant communication.

That’s not the kind of vehicle I generally enjoy driving. But the Avalon does its job so well that it’s impossible not to admire its work ethic. And Toyota engineers have somehow figured out how to design a cocoon of a car that is cushy and comfortable without being sloppy.

Yes, steering feel is about as numb as a dental patient’s jaw after a double-dose of Novocain. But the car nevertheless turns quickly when you want it to and tracks ruler straight on the highway with virtually no driver intervention.

And yes, the Avalon leans like a two-legged stepstool when it’s pushed hard into a tight corner. But it somehow makes its way through corners — even those with compound radius curves — with little fuss or need for steering correction.

Its handling personality will prevent anyone from ever mistaking the Avalon for a BMW. But it makes no pretenses of being a sport touring sedan despite being ridiculously easy to operate and surprisingly capable of handling more than most drivers — of any age — are likely to throw at it.

While the Avalon is not likely to be mistaken for a sport-touring sedan, its powertrain is good enough to make some performance car enthusiasts jealous. The Avalon’s 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed automatic are as silky as a fine Japanese kimono and as effective as a katana.

The engine feels strong and responsive at all times, providing unrepentant highway passing attempts and 6.2-second zero-to-60 launches. Given its power and 3,600-pound curb weight, the Avalon Limited’s 20 city/29 highway EPA mileage rating seems very impressive.

And the nearly 28 mpg it averaged on my long trip seemed pretty remarkable given an average highway speed of around 75 mph.

All things considered, there are few vehicles I would have preferred on that trip to the Avalon Limited. Come to think of it, there aren’t many vehicles I’d choose over the Avalon as my daily driver.

Does that mean I’m old? Maybe. In any case, I’m definitely old enough to know a good car when I drive one.

Scott Wasser is executive editor of MaineToday Media. He writes a weekly auto column for the Sunday Telegram and other newspapers. He can be reached at

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