The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

December 1, 2012

Toyota Avalon is for those young at heart

By Len Ingrassia
CNHI News Service

— Do you ever get tired of hearing about baby-boomers? From the radical 60s psychedelic movement to tie-dyed clothing and VW buses, they were out to change the world.

Well, they did, and now guess what? Those born between the mid 1940s to 1960s are older or getting there soon.

Since they are still a powerful demographic group, manufacturers are targeting the boomers for products, big and small. With a re-styled Avalon and all new hybrid, Toyota has unveiled a new set of wheels aimed at this crowd.

Mass marketing will soon target the 40 to 60-year-old Gen X consumer with the goal of moving the median age 10 years younger than the current 65 year-old buyer.

The Toyota flagship is not new to the market but the 2013 model is a complete makeover and boasts an all-American flavor. The Avalon was launched in 1995, replacing the aging Cressida. The new Avalon was designed in California, tweaked in plants in Michigan and is being built in Kentucky.

Now in its 4th generation, Avalon styling for 2013 shed its bland conservative look and has gone to a sleek front end with a lowered grille, narrowed headlamps with a slightly wider body and LED-laden tail lamps. It looks impressive.

Main competitors in the premium mid-sized sedan segment include the Chrysler 300, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Genesis and Azera.

The hybrid four-cylinder gas engine and pair of electric motors produce a combined 200 horsepower through a continuously variable transmission with front wheel drive. The cost of newer hybrid technology has also been lowered to less than half of its original $5,000 price tag years ago, another good reason to consider going green.

Avalon hybrid models are available in XLE Premium, XLE Touring and Limited with base prices ranging from $35,555 to $41,400 respectively, each nicely equipped.

Step inside the Avalon and be greeted with upscale features like a stitched dashboard, heated and ventilated seats and a welcome high tech display from the center stack.

During a First Ride event held last week in San Antonio, Texas, the hybrid dampened most road noise as it made its way along picturesque hillsides in quiet fashion. Driving impressions were positive with responsive steering and little roll during cornering maneuvers.

The addition of paddle shifters and Sport mode suspension speaks volumes in appealing to younger consumers while not offending loyal owners.

With the demise of the Lincoln Town Car, Toyota also sees opportunity for the Avalon in the livery and chauffeured transportation market. Its Avalon Livery Edition boasts performance, client comfort and low cost of operation up against Lincoln and Cadillac models.

The new Avalon models should reach showrooms by early December. The company set lofty sales goals for the Avalons at 70,000 units by year-end. If achieved, it would be more than double the number sold during 2011.

It used to be that hybrid economy was synonymous with small cars. No more. The new Avalon reached the 40 mile per gallon mark in combined driving conditions according to EPA testing, a convincing factor for consumers looking to stretch fill ups.

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Len Ingrassia is an automotive columnist for CNHI News Service. Contact him at editor@ptd.net