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Glitches in Toyota's Entune system spoil otherwise appealing Avalon

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

In the Detroit area, the Ferndale-Royal Oak neighborhood is an amusement park for foodies, from wings to cupcakes to fine dining. It'd be good if you knew that, because the 2013 Toyota Avalon's touted system for navigation and Internet connectivity drew a blank when I asked it to find nearby restaurants.

“There are no points of interest in this category near here,” the nav system announced as I sat in the parking lot of One-Eyed Betty's restaurant. Web searches through the car's Bing and Open Table apps produced similar results. I could smell the signature Sweaty Betty Sausage and Peppers sizzling 50 feet away, but Toyota's Entune system couldn't find the place, or any of the other restaurants within a block.

The front-wheel-drive Avalon is Toyota's largest car, longer, roomier and more expensive than the Camry. Prices start at $30,990 for a base Avalon with a 264-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission. Toyota also builds a 200-horsepower hybrid that starts at $35,555.

I tested a loaded V-6 Avalon Limited that stickered at $41,654 and included features like perforated leather seats, adaptive cruise control and Entune, which promises access to Microsoft's Bing search engine, Pandora radio and other Internet services.

The Avalon competes with big family sedans like the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala, Dodge Charger, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Azera and V-6 versions of the VW Passat.

The V-6 Avalon has the best fuel economy by a wide margin. Its EPA ratings are 21 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway and 25 combined.

The Avalon's V-6 generates less power than its competitors, but the car I tested accelerated confidently, shifted smoothly and was quite capable in fast highway driving. I noticed a slight vibration in the steering wheel at 2,000-2,600 engine rpm, but the engine was otherwise unobtrusive.

An Eco mode adjusts the throttle response and transmission to boost fuel economy, while a Sport button nudges those systems in the opposite direction for quicker acceleration and enthusiastic driving.

The suspension is tuned for comfort. It cushions the ride over bumpy surfaces and minimizes body roll in corners.

The passenger compartment offers good head, leg and shoulder room for front and rear occupants. The 16.0-cubic-foot trunk is larger than those the LaCrosse and Passat offer, but smaller than those in the '14 Impala, Charger, Taurus and Azera. The trunk opening is a bit small.

Entune combines voice recognition with Internet connectivity through your smartphone. Toyota's proud of the new system, which is its answer to Chevrolet's Intellilink, Chrysler's Uconnect and Ford's Sync.

The voice recognition is very good for hands-free phone calls and navigation. The Internet function did not work as well. The “apps” folder on the touch screen that linked to Bing, Pandora Radio, Open Table and other apps failed to open several times and required time-consuming updates at least three times over the course of four days.

A patient and helpful Toyota representative who trains dealerships about how to use Entune gave up several hours of his weekend in repeated phone calls to troubleshoot the system, but it never worked as well as it should.

Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic; email him at mmphelan@freepress.com.

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