[EDITOR'S NOTE: Below are excerpts from the Toyota Avalon vehicle review. The full article appears in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of LCT Magazine].
Vehicles are more than just piles of parts and lists of stats. Each vehicle in America carries a “social context.” A vehicle states something, and it means something. “You are what you drive,” as the saying goes.
For the test drive, Toyota Motor Sales, USA in Torrance, Ca., loaned LCT a Toyota Avalon Limited, the higher end version; a livery package version sells for a few thousand less with fewer gadgets. For 2011, Toyota dispenses with lettered labels, such as “LS,” “XLS,” etc., and opts for the simplified Avalon and Avalon Limited.
So who is the Toyota Avalon and why drive it in the luxury transportation industry? Well, let’s start on the inside, where luxury is revealed and defined.
First things first, the defining impressive statistic on the Avalon as measured is 21 inches — that’s the distance between the edge of the right rear seat and the back of the right front seat slid and pitched all the way forward. For the chauffeured transportation industry, the Avalon passes, if not exceeds, the legroom luxury test. As an added benefit, the individual rear seats recline to a pitch of 10%, which for a sedan with a traditional trunk, is a breakthrough. The fleet version does not have a sunroof, so there is an extra inch of headroom compared to the Limited. The combination of the tilted rear seats and right-rear seat legroom could induce any six-foot-plus passenger to doze, and certainly puts any airline coach class seat to shame. The formula of 21 inches + 10% seat pitch = Satisfied clients, who are more likely to stretch and slumber than when stuffed into an airliner.
Beyond legroom and headroom, the next defining benchmarks for a luxury vehicle are levels of quiet, ride comforts, and technology. The Avalon does not disappoint in these areas and several others:
• Seating: Leather-trimmed interior with eight-way power driver’s seat. [The Limited version has cooled leather trimmed seats, an eight-way passenger seat with lumbar support, and driver’s seat cushion extension].
• Sound: Toyota has made an extra effort for a quiet ride, with double-sealed door linings, felt-lined rear wheel wells, and a thick cloth lining of the trunk compartment. The 17-inch alloy wheels give the car a smooth ride that stays solidly grounded in curves, although not as centered as in a sports sedan.
• Entry/exit: Receded rear wheel wells that allow for a wider opening and do not interfere with passengers getting in and out of the back seat.
• Trunk space: 14.4 cubic feet with porthole flap door between trunk and center rear seat armrest area to accommodate longer cargo items, such as golf clubs and skis.
• Technology: Bluetooth handset phone capability with music streaming to the audio system, XM satellite radio (with 90-day free subscription), USB and 1/8-inch auxiliary connections for iPod and other audio devices; back-up camera, DVD Navigation (optional), standard nine-speaker stereo system with Limited version having a standard 12-speaker, 660-watt JBL Premium Synthesis audio system with enhanced two-coil sub-woofer.
• Remote controls: Keyless remote “Smart” entry and exit is a helpful gadget for chauffeurs carrying luggage or pushing luggage carts while escorting a client. The Avalon can sense a remote key device within three meters of the vehicle, allowing it to automatically unlock doors for opening. Coupled with the push button starter, a chauffeur can open the door, the trunk, and start the car all without ever using a key. It’s not standard on the fleet model.
• Sunshade: Also not standard on the fleet model, the Limited comes with a power rear window sunshade, activated by a button to the left of the steering column that filters sunlight coming through the rear window. It also would reduce heat, light, and glare for clients working on laptops, iPads, or digital phone devices in the back seat. The sunshade automatically retracts when the transmission is in reverse.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Toyota, while not a traditional luxury brand per se, has put forward a sensible luxury sedan that caters to these times. Whether the economy goes north or south, the Avalon’s combination of interior comfort, conservative styling, stingy fuel consumption, and durability can make it ride profitably in any economic situation.
Avalon Limited (fully loaded): $37,884 (w/navigation); Avalon (livery fleet package w/rebate): $31,120
Fuel & Oil
EPA mileage: 29 mpg, highway; 20 mpg city
Fuel: 87-octane, unleaded
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons
Estimated operator annual fuel cost: $9,166 (80,000 miles @ 24 mpg average @ $2.75 per gallon of reg. unlead.)
Oil changes: every 5,000 miles