Avalon Arrival: Ready For Prime Time & Padded Profits

Posted on June 30, 2013 by - Also by this author

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While checking out the 2013 Toyota Avalon models at the International LCT Show in February, an operator enthused about how it’s the perfect vehicle for chauffeured sedan service.

Except for one thing: It’s badged as a Toyota, he said. He told the representatives to remove the “Toyota” label from the car to widen its appeal in a luxury vehicle market.

Well, after a round of test drives, with one of us driving the 2013 Avalon XLE and the other the 2013 Avalon Hybrid Premium, we really don’t see the label problem. Toyota has refined its livery sedans to the point that they blend right into the black car luxury mix, inside and out. If the only problem with a high quality car is its symbol, or label, then that’s the type of issue you can work through.

Limousine operators experimenting with the Avalon report clients don’t care if it’s a Toyota. Maybe that’s because so much of America drives one or has driven one at some point. Or because we are entering a no-labels era, focusing instead on hard-core quality and value. Or because the dreadful recession and slow recovery have made us mature a little faster.

For LCT Magazine’s test drives, Editor Martin Romjue drove the Avalon XLE gasoline model, and [former] associate editor Michael Campos, the Southern California freeway commuter, was relieved to get the hybrid version.

Martin: 2013 Toyota Avalon XLE

The smooth, quiet ride, V-6 power, and the legroom reminded me of the Cadillac XTS, although the Avalon, priced at about $31,360, does not have all the tech gadgets found on an XTS, priced at $43,495.

Toyota is able to sell the Avalon at this price level because it focuses on the luxury basics. There’s no sunroof, built-in navigation, satellite radio, or gadgets that drive up the price. Its simple, clean lines on the redesigned body-style and tighter rear-end give the structure and shape the heft of a solid luxury sedan. Ample leg- and head-room in the right rear seat [with right front seat pitched forward] are suitable for any chauffeured client.

There’s plenty of power and presence on the road, with ample energy to accelerate. Cornering is irrelevant in a chauffeured vehicle, because the last thing a chauffeur should do is cause a client to lurch from fast swerves, sudden starts, and/or roaring entries onto the freeways. But in case a chauffeur needs to quickly get to the next client, just saying, the Avalon can zip and zoom.

The 16 cubic feet of trunk space provides enough room for two corporate luggage sets, each consisting of: Big roller suitcase, a small suitcase, and a carry-on bag/briefcase. [The hybrid model has 14 cubic feet of trunk space due to battery positioning in the rear of the vehicle].

Some minor areas to improve: Other versions of the Avalon, including one I test drove in 2011, have a partial recline feature for the back seats, allowing an additional 10% pitch. This should be added to future livery sedan models, as it directly enhances the client’s luxury experience. The car also could use some rear seat fan/AC controls to complement the rear-seat radio controls.

But don’t take my word for it. This all sounds better coming from real limousine operators, so I asked three of them how the Avalon has fared in their fleets.

Facts: 2013 Avalon XLE

  • MSRP: $31,360
  • EPA est. mpg: 21 city/31 highway/25 combined
  • Gas engine: 3.5-liter, 6-cylinder; 268 hp; 248 lb-ft torque
  • Trunk capacity: 16 cu. ft.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 17 gal.
  • Octane rating: 87
  • Rear leg room: 39.2 in.
  • Rear head room: 37.9 in.

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