SAN DIEGO - Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. faced a challenge in redesigning the Avalon: How could the company improve the car and further distance it from the Camry without alienating its loyal buyers?
The solution: Keep the basic Avalon recipe but change a few ingredients.
Chief engineer Shigetoshi Miyo-shi said the Avalon designers and engineers had a wish list of changes they wanted to make to the outgoing vehicle:
More defined exterior styling
Better balance between performance and fuel economy
Lower noise, vibration and harshness
More ride comfort
Better interior packaging
'As well as Avalon has been received, we knew there were important aspects that could be taken to the next level,' Miyoshi said at the vehicle's press introduction here.
For starters, Toyota took its aluminum 3.0-liter V-6 engine and added variable valve timing to boost horsepower, torque and fuel economy. Although similar in design to the Lexus ES 300 powerplant, the Avalon engine has different software tuning and timing, and a new catalyst, exhaust system and torque converter.
To reduce the Avalon's vague steering feel, Toyota increased the stiffness of the body, suspension and chassis. It also changed the rear suspension links, increased the diameter of the rear stabilizer bar and changed tires to ones with better grip.
Toyota kept the wheelbase and overall length the same to reduce costs associated with underbody development. But it made the Avalon wider and taller to add passenger space. The seating position was moved up by one inch.
Standard interior features include a restyled instrument panel and center console, larger rear-view mirror, standard 120-watt AM/FM/cassette/CD system, dual-zone temperature controls, auto-down and auto-up driver's window, extra 12-volt outlets and a 115-volt AC outlet, rear dual cupholders, a rear-seat pass-through, thicker side window glass, more underbody coating and asphalt sheeting, and increased trunk volume with cargo net and grocery-bag hooks.
Cost saving came from sharing about 25 percent of the Avalon's parts with the Camry, mostly in the powertrain, driveline and basic platform pieces.
STILL A BUICK
On the design front, the Avalon's prominent front grille sparked many journalists to continue their long-standing comparisons to a Buick - something that Toyota doesn't altogether mind. The rest of the sheet metal is more angular, with harder edges, than the current Avalon.
'We wanted it to be more distinctive, with tighter tension on its surfaces compared to the inflated look of the current one. This one is more elegant and has more of a dynamic luxury image,' said Kevin Hunter, Avalon chief designer from Toyota's Calty studio in Southern California.
Toyota believes the first Avalon fulfilled its mission of keeping buyers in the Toyota family. About 27 percent of Avalon buyers were coming from another Toyota. Yet the Avalon has not taken many sales from the Camry, the best-selling car in America two years running.
Toyota also claims the Avalon has the highest passenger car loyalty in the industry, with 77 percent of those who replaced their Avalon returning to the Toyota or Lexus franchises, and 51 percent purchasing another Avalon, said Steve Sturm, Toyota vice president of marketing.
Toyota plans to sell 80,000 copies annually of the Avalon. Prices range from $25,650 for the XL model with bucket seats to $30,210 for the XLS with bucket seats. Both prices include destination charges. The vehicle went on sale Friday, Oct. 1.