Tastefully restyled and even more refined, the 2011 Toyota Avalon made its unannounced first public appearance in Chicago prior to its arrival at dealers this spring. Flagship of Toyota's sedan fleet, this full-size front-driver boasts a bit more visual flair but gets a major interior makeover that brings a major bump in both technology and creature comforts to a simplified lineup that will encompass a base Avalon and upline Limited model.

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Recast at Toyota's CALTY Design Research facility in Southern California, the 2011 Avalon's exterior remains an exercise in understatement. However, new lighting elements and reshaped fascias combine with reshaped side sills and various bits of brightwork accenting impart a more contemporary character to this latest incarnation.

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Inside its leather-lined and exceptionally spacious cabin, the 2011 Toyota Avalon benefits from an even more extensive upgrading program. The most obvious change here is a redesigned dash and console, but new additions to an already expansive array of standard features bring welcome touches like Bluetooth hands-free capability, XM Satellite Radio and USB/iPod connectivity on both the Avalon's standard 9-speaker audio system and the 12-speaker JBL Premium Synthesis unit in the Limited. While cruising up front in the power heated (heated and ventilated in the Limited) seats is still the best deal, Toyota has made life even better for the back benchers by fitting the 2011 Avalon with standard, segment-exclusive, 60/40 manually-reclining rear seatbacks. In addition to Toyota's comprehensive STAR safety system features, the new Avalon adds more protective headrests in all seating positions to its seven standard airbags. Options are minimal, but both variants also can be fitted with the latest incarnation of Toyota's DVD-based navigation system.

While its looks and feature set may have changed, the 2011 Toyota Avalon will retain the same 268-horsepower/3.5-liter V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission as the current car. However, Toyota is projecting 20 mpg/29 mpg city/highway numbers for this latest iteration, a plus-one bump in each category over the 2010's EPA stats. One number still missing is pricing, which won't be released until closer to the 2011 Avalon's on-sale date.

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