According to Toyota, “Avalon” is a name that portrays images of comfort, spaciousness and sophistication — three things that are in abundant supply in the 2011 version of Toyota’s large sedan.

The Avalon takes me back to our family road trips as a kid, riding in our big, fat family sedan.

Mom would go over last minute

details while Dad would load the trunk and hurry us into the cavernous back seat. Then we’d be off to Grandma’s house, anticipating some serious home cooking. At the end of the visit, we’d again pile into the big back seat, which had a way of putting us kids to sleep faster than Sominex, no doubt pleasing Mom and Dad.

Today, while kids are slumbering in the back seat of the 2011 Avalon, Moms and Dads can be pleased with the big sedan’s EPA estimate of 29 miles per gallon on the highway. My parents’ car with its big V-8 might not have gotten 29 miles from a whole tank.

The Avalon is powered by a 3.5-liter, 268-horsepower V-6 hooked to a 6-speed automatic transmission. When the Avalon accelerates from a stoplight, it’s hard to believe this large sedan gets 29 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg in the city.

In fact, the Avalon’s mileage estimates are better than some mid-size sedans with V-6 engines.

The smooth ride in the Avalon translates into comfortable and relaxing road trips. And the car can hold its own with the competition in handling situations too. There is some lean and roll in the corners, but nothing compared to our old family car. When dad used to hit the corners hard, my brother and I pretended we had boarded the “Tilt-a-Whirl” at the state fair.

For 2011, the Avalon’s exterior gets more chrome, redesigned rocker panels and glare-resistant outer mirrors with integrated turn signals. Reshaped taillights are supposed to reduce turbulence from the air passing by, and new headlamps integrate stop, turn and side marker lighting functions into one combined unit.

The interior of the 2011 Avalon gets a new contemporary style, one that intelligently arranges switchgear, but one that I’m not so sure I like. When it comes to amenities and technology, everything’s there: leather heated 8-way power seats, a great sound system, all the latest connectivity, a back-up camera, a moon roof, dual-zone climate control, power everything, and optional seat, navigation and premium packages. But Toyota’s “wood-grain style materials” in the cabin, to me, just didn’t look or feel all that luxurious.

But when it comes to safety, you’ll be thankful you’re in this car. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the 2011 Avalon it’s highest marks and has named it a “Top Safety Pick” this year. There are seven airbags, including a front knee bag for the driver. Standard is Toyota’s Star Safety System, which includes vehicle stability and traction control systems and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist. There’s also a redesigned accelerator pedal assembly and brake override system on the new Avalon.

If you’re looking for a reliable, safe, comfortable road machine, the Avalon delivers. I don’t think it’s the king of luxury cars, but then it starts at just $32,245. Try to find a “luxury” car for that price So, go ahead, pack up the Avalon and spread out in comfort safety on the road.

Grandma’s waiting.