Upstart Luxury: New Toyota Avalon eyes young and mature buyers drawn to sporty looks, hybrid option
By JIM PARKER
The Post and Courier
In British lore, Avalon was the paradise that King Arthur traveled to when he died.
Toyota with its model of that name has sought to imitate at least a few idyllic qualities. The carmaker’s largest sedan has been popular with senior motorists and passengers but hasn’t caught on as well with young buyers.
So not unlike Arthur fording a dragon-infested moat, the company is looking to bridge the age gap in the newly resdesigned 2013 Toyota Avalon released to shoppers in late November.
“I think they are trying to capture both groups of people,” said Shelly Grimes, sales and leasing consultant with Hendrick Toyota Scion in North Charleston.
Toyota wants to retain its faithful Avalon buyers, the “50-55, 70 year olds,” she said. At the same time, the carmaker steered the edition in a sportier, more streamlined direction geared to 40-year-olds. The company also beefed up the engine, upgraded fuel economy and rolled out a hybrid edition.
The first new Avalons showed up at Hendrick Toyota on Rivers Avenue about two weeks ago.
Standout features are a 3.5-liter V-6 engine yielding 268 horsepower, leather upholstery, heated seats, light-emitting diode (LED) rear lamps, a back-up camera and 10 airbags. Fuel economy is a sprightly 21 mpg city, 31 mpg highway for a combined 24 mpg.
Buyers can choose from four trims, the XLE, Premium, Touring and Limited. The hybrid, a first for the Avalon, is available in four styles, too, and churns out 200 hp while listing fuel estimates of 40 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. Decked out, the brand can cost $36,000 or more (the XLE’s base price is $30,990 and the hybrid’s starting cost is $35,555).
Toyota engineers revised the four-door model’s looks, narrowing the back slightly, bringing on a bolder grille, enlarging the trunk and widening the headlights, Grimes said. The reworked lighting allows the car a broader scope at night to see such things as deer in the trees. Also providing a visibility aid is a blind spot monitor on the side-view mirrors that signals by way of a dot-sized light when cars are passing.
Alloy wheels are standard on the new model, including 17 inch on the hybrid, XLE and Premium and 18 inch on the Limited and Touring.
A high-tech luxury feature is the Avalon’s sound dampening system. Front windows are two panels thick, more in line with the width of a front windshield, to help with road noise and make the sedan ride more quietly.
The Avalon sports a smart key that when on hand permits the driver to open the front door by just resting a hand on the handle.
Inside, the luxury car’s comfortable seats and dual climate control set the tone for the overall interior atmosphere. The center console uses a “light touch” system similar to the swiping motion on a tablet to change audio channels and raise and lower the volume. Steering wheel buttons also control sound and climate features, including voice control and Bluetooth enabled hands-free communications. Toyota’s EnTune system can manage audio online services such as Pandora. There are MP3 and iPhone connections as well as a special well to place the devices rather than co-opting the cupholders for such use, she said.
The digital information center on the dashboard behind the steering wheel logs miles driven, mpg and fuel economy among a host of figures.
Also on the center console is a knob to control driving characteristics, whether eco for a more fuel efficient ride or sport for a quicker drive.
Grimes said the new Avalon touts scores of desirable traits. “It’s very comfy,” she said. “It’s a classy looking car.”
Stemming from a mild drive one afternoon last week, a new Avalon priced at about $36,000 proved pleasing to control while easy on the ears due to the effective sound dampening technology.
The sedan showcased doors that opened extra wide, ample 16 cubic foot trunk and lots of head and leg room in front and back.
Steering was relatively tight, debunking Toyota’s reputation for soft handling. The car accelerated smoothly and sharply on highways and slowed down just as quickly with a firm tap of the brakes. The vehicle picked up speed easily in sport mode but in a surprise didn’t lose much power in eco mode, which can happen with some models.
The soft touch knobs on the center console were innovative and easy to operate, and redundant buttons on the steering wheel helped.
The interior proved quite relaxing with well-placed cupholders and side slots to store anything from maps to drinks.
Hands down, the top feature was the sound dampening shell, particularly in a model that cradles the border between moderate comfort and base luxury.
If there were disappointments, it would be the somewhat decreased side-to-side visibility from the Avalon’s sloped roof. Also, the smart key’s automatic door opening function requiring a touch of the handle didn’t always work.
Yet the ample-sized sedan offered many more advantages than drawbacks. The car may not be in the same league as King Arthur’s Avalon, but it can provide a respite from noisy traffic and pokey motorists, which can seem like a tiny slice of paradise anyday.
To learn more, check out your local Toyota dealer.For more information and photos, visit www.postandcourier.com.
Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or firstname.lastname@example.org.