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2013 Toyota Avalon Shifts to Youngsters

OK, OK… the new 2013 Toyota Avalon will not be targeted at teenagers when it goes on sale in December, but the age of the more than 100,000 Avalon hand-raisers has been about 52 years down from 67 years of present Avalon owners.  Toyota has a monicker for these people – “Trail Boomers”.  Toyota plans to double Avalon sales to about 70,000 units per year.

No Longer a LARGE CAR – Now Avalon is a Premium Mid-Size Car The 4th generation car is slightly smaller with much more expressive styling.  It goes a long way in changing the perception of the vehicle.  Based on the Camry platform, the Avalon shares much under the skin with the Camry and Lexus ES350.  The Avalon is the product of Toyota’s Calty Design Research in Newport Beach, CA and the huge and growing Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  It is, of course, assembled in Georgetown, KY.

The body and exterior are unique to the Avalon.  The front of the car combines a strong T-Bar upper grille with center Toyota logo with a (2013) Fusion-esque lower grille giving the car kind of a gaping face.  In the side view, Avalon is much more aerodynamic than its predecessors.  The windshield is faster making ingress just a bit more difficult for the older edge of its traditional buyer base.  The backlite is much faster too, resulting in a relatively short decklid.  Toyota describes the feeling of the car to be “athletic, elegant, intelligent and powerful”.

The Avalon is a bit smaller than the 3rd generation car.  That car was described as a Large Car.  The new one is described as a Premium Mid-Size Car.  Riding on a 111.0-inch wheelbase – the same as its predecessor – Avalon’s overall length is cut by 2.2-inches.  It is one-inch lower and a half-inch narrower.  The result is that most interior dimensions have been squeezed a bit.  Front headroom is 1.3-inches less.  Front shoulder room is 1.2-inches less.  Front hip room is 0.7-inches less.  Only front legroom is a bit longer by 0.8-inches.  The formerly generous rear seat room has sacrificed the most:  1.7-inches less legroom, 1.5-inches less hip room, 1.2-inches less shoulder room. Only rear headroom is up slightly by 0.4-inches.

No Surprises in Powertrains: Avalon uses Toyota’s tried-and-true 3.5L V6 with 268HP mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.  Its fuel economy has been improved to 21mpg in the city and 31mpg on the highway.  So the highway fuel economy crosses the psychological threshold of 30mpg for “good gas mileage” in most people’s minds.  The V6 has 6.7-seconds 0-60mph acceleration.  The V6 has three drive modes – Normal, ECO and Sport.  Avalon now offers Camry’s hybrid powertrain in addition to the V6.  The hybrid has 154HP from its 2.5L DOHC 4-cylinder and yields 40/39/40mpg – not bad, but not matching the psychological bogey many have of 50mpg with a hybrid.  The hybrid has a continuously variable transmission.  There are three drive modes with the hybrid – EV Mode, ECO and Sport.

Driving the Avalon Ignoring the powertrains, Avalon has two distinct driving personalities.  The first is with the base XLE and XLE Premium plus all the hybrids.  These have 17-inch wheel and tire packages.  The suspension set up for this combo is very much traditional Avalon.  These models are plush riding and very isolated.  The XLE Touring model and Limited model of the V6-powered Avalons come with 18-inch wheels and tires and give the car a totally different personality.  The 18s are set up much more firmly than the 17s.  They are harsher, but not objectionably so.  They are a bit noisier as well.  The 18s lift the car’s feeling of competence.  Clearly, the suspension with the 18-inchers is for drivers who want a more engaging, sportier driving experience.

The powertrains are just what you would expect.  The V6 is smooth and torquey providing adequate power when you need it.  The hybrid is more sedate as befits its fuel sipping nature.  Either fit the ambiance of the new Avalon.

Living with the Avalon We have made an issue of the Avalon being a bit smaller than before.  This is normally not a good thing when it comes to driver and passenger comfort, but the new car pulls it off well.  The A-Pillar may be a bit to sloped for some older buyers who will have to stoop to get in more than they had to before.  Less headroom, legroom, hip room and shoulder room is not very noticeable.  It is as if Avalon had a minor nip and tuck.  The interior design has gone from straightforward, but stodgy to contemporary, but not too far out.  At least Toyota has kept volume and tuning knobs for the audio system.  Every Avalon comes with a display in the center stack.  For XLE and XLE Premium you get a 6.5-inch display that looks small and low-tech in a 2013 model year car.  With NAV you get a proper high def 8.5 inch screen.  This is the only real mistake we found on the Avalon.  The all new Honda Accord – a size class below the Avalon – has standard 8.5-inch screens standard.  Even for a car targeted at a more mature buyer, the larger high tech screen would be expected.

Let’s Go Places: In September, Toyota announced it is replacing its tagline since 2004 “Moving Forward” with “Let’s Go Places”.  The Avalon will be the first car launched under the new tag.  Similar to Nissan’s messaging them “Shift…”, Let’s Go Places gives Toyota a lot of flexibility.  “Let’s go with more confidence”.  “Let’s stay connected”.  “Let’s go for miles and miles”.  These are examples of how the theme can be expanded to meet the marketing requirements of the brand and Toyota vehicles.

Pricing The Avalon is priced from a low of about $31,000 for the XLE V6 to a high of $40,000 for the V6 Limited.  The hybrid starts at $35,555 in XLE Premium trim and tops out at $41,400.

Where Have All the Town Cars Gone?  Avalon Livery? Woe is the livery industry with the demise of the Lincoln Town Car.  The last TC I rode in had 380,000 miles and still felt new.  It had been maintained better than most, I guess.  The livery driver did not know what was in store when the Town Car bit the dust, but Toyota does.  They are going after the livery business with the Avalon.  Toyota’s ambitions are modest at first – 500 to 1,000 cars a year.  Will the Avalon win against the likes of the Lincoln MKT (MKT with third row seat removed and second row moved rearward for much more rear legroom) or the new Cadillac XLS?  With 12,000 livery companies nationwide owning on average 15 vehicles, Toyota should be able to shift 500 to 1,000 Avalons into livery business, but the jury is out on whether a non-luxury brand can meet the image expectations of the livery market.  Combine that with the fact Avalon’s interior is smaller with the 4th generation than the 3rd generation and the livery business becomes an uphill battle.

1 Comment

  • Joseph| December 30, 2012 at 7:38 pm Reply

    Dont like the 2013 Avalon. I have a 2009 Avalon Ltd that truly looks and feels like a luxury car. Just looking at the pictures of the 2013 (without having actually sat in one), it looks like nothing more than a souped up Camary. Not sure what croud Toyota is trying to appeal to but, they seemed to have missed the mark.

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