The cars we loved.
All the talk about small electric cars might be great for the planet, but what people really want are big soft riding sedans that look sporty. To that end, technical developments have made the big car relevant again. As SUVs relinquish some of their grip on what was the full sized car market, sedans are striking back with more style, efficiency and sometimes performance. The Toyota Avalon typically has not been a car to stir passions in anyone born after the invention of the transistor radio.
A Versatile Appliance
So what’s the world coming to when people younger than 40 get excited about a new Avalon? Toyota’s homegrown (in Georgetown Kentucky USA) large sedan was designed and built with the American market in mind back in 1994. When the market for big cars started to gradually dry up, many people were wondering if there was any alternatives to the Caprice or Crown Vicks that were often favored by retirees, taxi and police departments. While those cars endure as rear or front wheel drive, Toyota would follow GM’s front wheel drive big car route with one of it’s own. The Avalon was a Japanese take on an American automotive staple, built right under our noses. It sold well, but did little to boost Toyota’s image as a fun to drive car maker. Although not a car The Transporter would be driving, it brought a level of refinement that had been lacking in a neglected segment dominated by Detroit. It gradually developed a following with people who realized that this was a big near Lexus at only slightly bigger than Camry prices. Slowly, a new type of ghetto cruiser would be born, while simultaneously maintaining its status as a retiree favorite on the other end of the spectrum.
A Style and Image Makeover
Three generations later, a new Avalon makes its debut for 2013 as a totally redesigned car. The only thing that carried over was the V6 engine and powertrain. The newly “cool” Avalon strikes a sleek profile with a drag coefficient of only 0.28. While the new sheet metal looks like a mash up of the Hyundai Sonata and the Audi A7 Sportback, the Avalon retains a 111 inch wheelbase, but is slightly shorter than and not as wide as the 2012 model. To promote the Avalon’s new hotness and dispel some of the myths of it being an old person’s car, Toyota took it on a multi-city tour before its official availability at dealerships. Other promotion included an ad campaign that obscured the car by showing details much like Infiniti did with it’s Q45 nearly 20 years ago, but without the Zen minimalism. After showing up in at Neiman Marcus in December 2013, the Avalon would arrive at dealers in January 2013 with seven models (three of them being hybrids).
Form Follows Function
Although the design may have been inspired by the recent uptick in sporty sedans with fastback profiles, Toyota says that the new Avalon is much more than the sum of its attractive parts. Behind the stretched Prius-like headlight sits the 3.5L V6 from 2012. Its horsepower rating is unchanged at 268. It features a six speed automatic transmission as the only option. In an effort to broaden the appeal of its big car, Toyota has introduced a range of hybrid models, all using the Hybrid Synergy Drive technology from the Prius. Unlike the Prius, the Avalon uses a 2.5L 4 cylinder with a combined 200 hp (including the electric motors output) rating. All Hybrid models use a CVT transmission. The V6 gets a respectable 31 mpg on the highway while the Hybrids weigh in at 39 mpg. Not bad considering all the safety equipment contributing to it’s 3638 pound heft. Despite that, fuel economy is still the best in its class.
The Avalon still can’t be considered a driver’s car, but the 2013 model has made considerable strides in keeping the driver in mind with better road feel and steering response. It even comes with a shift mode and paddle shifters! A fully independent MacPherson suspension remains, but has been retuned for improved ride quality and sharper reflexes. Wheel size goes up to a tasteful 18” from the base of 17. The easy to read controls are better laid out. A new simplified touch screen operated entertainment system replaces the small screen of the previous car’s NAV system. Called Entune, it’s considerably easier to operate than similar systems by Ford. The simplicity may have been a response to the stereotype that the targeted buyers of the previous Avalon might not be willing to use such a system (or any gadgets for that matter). To that end, Toyota has introduced a simplified one touch control system for audio and climate control called Intellitouch. Other interior enhancements advance the Avalons creature comfort levels, while walking a thin line as not to encroach on Lexus territory. The Avalon shares its platform with the Lexus ES.
Toyota hopes the Avalon will catch on beyond its target market and fill the void left by the Lincoln Towncar’s demise. An all-black livery model is expected to be sold soon alongside the regular models. The Avalon along with the newly revamped Chevy Impala signal a kind of renaissance of the mid range big car. Bigger, more luxurious and efficient, the 2013 Avalon adds a bit of personality that previous cars called Avalon lacked. Now if only Toyota would focus its attention on the Corolla next.