Toyota executives can’t be feeling happy these days. In the midst of shut-down production lines and global recalls for all of its best-selling vehicles, as well as cries from media sources that action was a direct result of US regulatory arm-twisting, there has been little good news.
Until today, when it unveiled its savior at the Chicago Auto Show: the 2011 Avalon.
Scratch that — the company is still screwed.
Since 2005 the Avalon has been the best Buick sold in America. Aside from the nasty (actually, downright dangerous) five-speed automatic transmissions in the 2005-2007 models, the Avalon has been a way to get pseudo-luxury in a $30,000ish package. Given its size and ammenities, the Avalon has really competed against much more expensive players in the large sedan segment: Mercedes, Audi, Jaguar, BMW, and even Lexus. I even dropped my own personal sheckles on a 2006 Avalon Limited for daily transport and have been generally pleased.
Times change, though. What looked, felt and performed great five years ago, however, doesn’t necessarily cut it in 2010. With this, Toyota had to freshen the Avalon’s face.
Despite the long press release (laced with more buzz-words and flowery language than Las Vegas technical trade show presentation), there’s really nothing new or noteworthy about the upcoming Avalon. For 2011 the multitude of exterior changes (new lamp clusters, wheels and changes to the bodywork) are so subtle that even one of those fanatical Porsche fans who can point out the thousand differences in two seemingly identical-looking 911s would consider the new and outgoing Avalons identical… and then go on with his day without a second thought.
The interior gets easy-to-spot changes, but not really many improvements, such as replacing some cheap-looking faux aluminum trim with not-fooling-anyone faux wood trim. There’s still no massaging or multiple lumbar support seats option, as found on other more expensive players.
The 2011 Avalon finally gets the options of a rear backup camera and a touch-screen navigation system with real-time traffic (which replaces the absolutely unusable button-type on current gen cars.) Both are commonplace in entry-level luxury vehicles these days.
So at the end of the day, the unveiling is a lot of motion for a little move…or to quote The Who: “meet the new boss — the same as the old boss”. As GM and Ford found out, if you don’t watch quality and fail to deliver fresh, stylish cars that have features competitors don’t, time at the top is short lived.
And that’s what Hyundai is banking on!