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Toyota Avalon Making the grade: The upgraded Avalon represent new levels of quality and refinement for an Australian-made vehicle.

Making the grade: The upgraded Avalon represent new levels of quality and refinement for an Australian-made vehicle.

Mid-life refresh and model range reshuffle for Toyota's Avalon


THE Avalon, the big car memorably described by Toyota Australia’s John Conomos as having a buying audience in "God’s waiting room", has been given a mid-life refresh and model range reshuffle.

Christened Mark III by Toyota’s spin doctors, the Avalon also now benefits from the development work done for the 380N Camry, with a variety of technical items flowing on.

Mechanical changes include upgraded brakes, suspension tuning, body isolation improvements, a locally developed power steering system, fluid-filled rear engine mount and locally developed poly-carbonate clear lens headlights.

Intended to give Toyota entrance into the locally-built large car V6 market against Falcon and Commodore when it was launched in 2000, Avalon has never lived up to the company’s sales expectations.

In fact Toyota's twin-pronged V6 attack has proven no more effective as its tactics in the late 1990s when Camry and Vienta V6 carried the standard (see chart below).

A big, well built and quiet car with adequate performance from the 145kW/284Nm 3.0-litre V6 and four-speed automatic drivetrain it shares with Camry, Avalon’s conservative styling has always been regarded as it Achilles heel.

That was because the sheetmetal was borrowed from a superseded US design, the only way the project could be affordably brought to market.

Now, with the help of German consultancy Edag, Toyota Australia’s small but developing design department has given the look a unique mid-life freshening. New external components include front mask, bonnet, grille, headlights, front bumper, side protection moulding, alloy wheels (on GXi only), boot lid, rear bumper and rear combination lamps.

Overall length has been reduced by 15mm to 4855mm, with rear overhang reduced by 40mm.

The effect has been to clean up and smooth out the car a little, although it remains identifiably an Avalon in all its slabbiness.

Attention has also been paid inside where there is new interior trim and finish, new audio systems and a reduction in noise levels.

To give it a further kick along, Toyota has dropped the Conquest base model, the new entry version is renamed GXi (from Advantage) and dropped the price $1200, while the mid-range VXi goes down $2000. The top-spec Grande is unchanged at $49,990.

Baseline equipment across the range includes dual SRS airbags, ABS brakes, cruise control, three-in-one audio, leather-bound steering wheel, alloy wheels and air-conditioning. A GXi-specific option is LPG compatibility.

Avalon VXi has the additional features of side SRS airbags, 10-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels, velour seat trim, woodgrain interior trim, six-CD in-dash player, leather-bound gear lever, driver’s and front passenger power seat, remote boot release and climate control air-conditioning with digital controls.

Grande adds new front foglights, moonroof, leather seat trim, power-adjustable steering column, driver’s power window auto-up with anti-jam protection, seven-speaker audio system, auto headlights on/off, illuminated vanity mirrors and satellite navigation.

One thing this update does not manage to fix is the fact that Camry and Avalon are identical in terms of wheelbase and interior size, the result of them sharing the TMP.

A change in size will have to wait for an all-new Avalon in 2006.

Toyota wants buyers to perceive the Camry as sporty (hence the launch of the Altise Sport – see separate story) and the Avalon as the family car.

The third part of Toyota’s mid-size attack is the Kluger cross-over wagon.

Toyota has forecast 700-800 sales per month fro Mark III, which is a dramatic climb from this year’s average of 457. It is targetting the fleet market – particularly taxis – to get there.

AVALON PRICING:
Avalon GXi $30,990
Avalon VXi $37,990
Avalon Grande $49,990

SALES PERFORMANCE:

Camry/Vienta V6AvalonTotal
199610,597-10,579
199711,779-11,779
199818,649-18,649
199921,280-21,280
200013,690875922,449
2001847011,76020,230
200210,416858819,004
2003*13,206548418,690
*projected, based on VFACTS to end of September

ALTISE SPORT ADDED TO RANGE

TOYOTA has added another variant to the Camry range, the Altise Sport.

A V6-powered model priced at $32,588 (add another $1000 for the auto), the Altise Sport slots in between the base model Altise V6 and the next model up, the Ateva V6.

It is easily the cheapest V6 sporting model in the range, undercutting the Sportivo by about $6000. But the 2.4-litre four-cylinder Sportivo is cheaper.

Camry Altise Sport has the same locally-developed suspension calibration as Sportivo V6. The package includes 10-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels and the addition of a strut brace between the front suspension towers.

Added specification over Altise includes front foglights, rear deck spoiler, body coloured door handles, chrome exhaust diffuser, Altise Sport badge, sports front seats and a three-spoke leather-bound steering wheel.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

IT would be easy to dismiss Avalon MkIII as a (slightly) more sharply dressed version of the same efficient but uninspiring Camry-based Commodore fighter that’s yet to strike a chord with Aussie big-six buyers.

But that would overlook a number of minor but effective changes under Avalon’s new skin that, collectively, represent new levels of quality and refinement for an Australian-made vehicle.

Sure, the slimmer, all-new headlights - with raised eyebrow over high beam, making them look a little like upside-down versions of the previous headlights – are said to provide an extra 29mm of lighting penetration over the MkII’s already impressive headlights.

And there’s no doubt the edgier new bonnet, raked-back six-slat grille and new, Lexus-style bootlid and jeweled rear lighting are a big aesthetic step up on the previous Avalon – even if the black fillers replacing the Grande’s foglights on lesser models look a little cheap.

But the big story is the gains Toyota Oz has made in terms of noise, vibration and harshness – and steering.

Whether it’s the new, locally-developed steering rack or the 600 per cent stiffer bushes it is mounted on, the result is slightly crisper initial turn-in with less rack rattle at the limit of adhesion.

Together, the changes make Avalon’s steering both more refined and a touch sportier, with just a little more feel around centre.

Similarly, the liquid-filled rear engine mount makes Avalon’s otherwise unchanged engine feel perhaps a little smoother, while the softer front suspension upper support bushings and lighter control arm bushes improve bump absorption for a slightly better ride.

Toyota says the fitment of Kluger and RX330’s 3.3-litre VVTi V6 was considered for Avalon, but required too many changes to the Toyota Modular Platform to be feasible.

As such, Avalon also continues with its familiar four-speed auto, which lacks a sequential manual shift mode like Falcon, but now comes with Camry’s new, more efficient torque converter.





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