Toyota's new Avalon fails to excite the buyers it's aimed at.
Road Test: 2013 Toyota Avalon
Ask anyone of a certain age in the UK what the name Avalon means to them, and you'll hear that it's the 1982 album from pop-sophisticates Roxy Music or, depending on the respondent's knowledge levels about Arthurian legends, that it's the name of a mythical island where King Arthur's sword, Excalibur, was forged. I guarantee that nobody will mention that it's a Toyota.
There's nothing magical or mystical about the Toyota Avalon. Basically a stretched, posh Camry - the car so beloved of taxi drivers in the UAE - with a 3.5L V6 engine replacing the rather asthmatic four-pot, and a more aggressive appearance, it is being squarely aimed by Toyota at a generation of people that doesn't need to remove its teeth and plop them into a glass of water before going to bed.
And yet, as soon as I step into the one you see here, I feel like having a snooze. Like I'm sat in a cocoon crafted by some company that makes orthopaedic beds. There should be a bowl of grapes on the dashboard and a chintzy cushion on the rear shelf, along with a box of tissues and perhaps a red pull cord dangling from the rear view mirror - just in case I slip and require assistance.
It was hardly a surprise to discover that the Avalon is designed in the United States, for Americans, yet engineered in Japan. Lashings of chrome, fake wood and soft-touch vinyl complement the almost white leather upholstery trim. The controls for practically everything on the centre of the over-styled dashboard are touch-sensitive, just like a Sinclair ZX81, but they're definitely over-sensitive. I hover a finger over the volume control dial for just a second and, without touching anything, the radio switches channels. Marvellous - just what I need while on the move, that.
However, despite any misgivings I may have about the style (or lack thereof) of the Avalon, it does possess some rather wonderful attributes that, while not really enough to excite the 30-something crown it's aimed at, definitely make it a pleasing companion for the daily grind between Dubai and the capital.
The Avalon's performance potential was obvious last year when Toyota's 86 sports car was being pummelled by the local media on the track at Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi. While the 86 danced through the corners like a ballerina, the pace car left us all for dead on the straights. The pace car was a Camry V6 and all it did was confirm what most of us had felt after the first few minutes behind the wheel of the 86: that it was undeniably underpowered. I felt embarrassed for it as the Camry powered off into the distance like some overweight has-been that manages to upstage a younger, better looking athlete.
This new Avalon is certainly no sloth, either. But then it does have a 274hp motor hauling it via a six-speed automatic transmission (hurrah, the hateful CVT is conspicuous only by its welcome absence), so it should feel fairly rapid. And it does, despite its frankly inexcusable 2,055kg weight.
Its 346Nm peak torque comes in at a heady 4,700rpm, so overtaking manoeuvres require a foot-down, flat-out, engine-thrashing approach, that does nothing for the silky experience on offer the rest of the time. Because, at normal cruising speeds, the Avalon is as hushed and as relaxed as an S-Class Mercedes. It positively floats along the road surface, almost as though there is nothing mechanical between your seat and the tarmac. Wind noise is almost non-existent (no doubt attributable to its excellent aerodynamics and double glazing), making for a refined and luxurious experience on any journey.
But when did refinement ever get the younger generation frothing at the mouth? The Avalon is still, whether Toyota likes it or not, a car for those who want nothing more than a cushioned existence. It's a car for retired teachers, dentists or accountants with a penchant for tweed and the occasional game of golf. Its maker protests to the contrary, claiming it to be "emotionally styled with athletic and bold design" but it's not fooling anyone.
It's capable, well-made and nice to be in, especially as a passenger. It's competent at cornering, managing to minimise body-roll where the previous models would pitch about like a ship in stormy seas, and it's not exactly offensive to look at. It's just a bit bland, a bit ordinary, a bit run-of-the-mill.
And this is Toyota's gravest mistake. Like Nissan, Honda and a slew of other Japanese brands, it's stuck in a seemingly inescapable design rut, while Kia and Hyundai are stealing sales from under their noses, more often than not, managing to get that elusive younger generation behind the wheel.
Instead of having the Avalon styled in America for Americans, Toyota should have waved a big fat cheque under the noses of the stylists that the South Koreans poached from their respective former employers. It's a decent car, make no mistake, but it's as likely to excite the younger buyer as a guide to crochet ing and knitting. Next time, Toyota, call it Excalibur and have it styled as sharp as that sword's blade. Then sit back and watch the kids turn up in droves.
Base price / as tested Dh128,000 / Dh154,000
Engine 3.5L, V6
Gearbox six-speed automatic
Power 274hp @ 6,200rpm
Torque 346Nm @ 1,500rpm
Fuel economy, combined 9.4L / 100km
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