The Avalon has been something of a caricature for Toyota since it wafted onto the stage in 1994. The stretched Camry was low on soul, devoid of style and soft of spring. In short, it was the Buick that wouldn’t leave you stranded. Since then Toyota has struggled to divine a mission for their full size sedan, a problem complicated by the re-invigoration of the large sedan market by the American brands. In hopes of resurrecting the Avalon’s sales numbers, which have slid to 25% of their 2000 year shipments, Toyota has injected something hitherto unseen in an Avalon: style. Is it enough?
Before we dive right into the Avalon, it’s important to cover the competition. Back when the Chrysler LHS and Buick Park Avenue roamed the land, the Avalon’s competition was easy to identify. Nearly 20 years later those customers are in a nursing home without a driver’s license and Toyota is looking for new hunting grounds (I can kid because I owned an LHS.) Now we have the moderately successful Chrysler 300, the larger-than-ever Taurus, a new Impala that doesn’t make me want to put my eyes out and a revised Hyundai Azera trying to beat Toyota at their own game.
But wait, I’m forgetting one. The “elephant in the room” that is the Lexus ES 350. You see, the kind of shopper that needs a new car and immediately thinks “Toyota Avalon” is far more likely to cross shop the Lexus ES than the gangsta 300 or the Impala. After spending a week in the ES and the Avalon fraternal twins back-to-back this comparison is even more valid.
Now in its fourth incarnation, the Avalon has finally developed a sense of style. While the “I’m a bigger Camry” look is still going on, Toyotas has managed to inject some creases and curves that made my 33 year old eyes take a second look. It’s not as visually exciting as the Chrysler 300, but Toyota’s styling efforts look better thought out than the Impala’s 11/10ths Cruze grille. Car makers love making their vehicles “instantly identifiable” as a member of their brand. Translation: they make them all look the same.
Thankfully Toyota ditched the Camry “quotation mark” shaped tail lamps for a more elegant rear end treatment. The new rump features more chrome than any other Toyota product, dual exhaust tips and tail lamps that wrap well around the side. The engineers stretched the Avalon’s greenhouse over the trunk to increase the visual length of the car, a trick that worked on me until I looked at the spec sheet. At 195 inches, the Avalon is 6-inches longer than the Camry, but it’s several inches shorter than the Chrysler, Chevy and Ford. Since the ES and Avalon are now twins separated at birth most of the dimensions are common except that the Avalon gets a bigger booty (and more trunk space in the process) and (oddly enough) has a lower ride height making it visually more aggressive.
Music by Kevin MacLeod
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