Toyota Avalon stirs sales among full-size sedans

The redesign a year ago of the Toyota Avalon has reversed a sales slump trend and lifted it among the leaders of full-sized sedans in this country.The new-look Avalon, with a long flowing roofline, more than doubled sales in the past year and jumped up in totals among the Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300 and Buick LaCrosse, the presumed leaders in that segment. Taurus sold 79,960 in 2013, Avalon 70,990, Chrysler 300 57,724 and the LaCrosse 48,798.

The 2014 Avalon Limited, sent my way this week, is expected to maintain that lofty position.

Though not as distinctive as several competitors in exterior style, the Avalon’s bulging Quadrabeam projector headlights and wraparound sculpted taillights are eyecatchers.

Slipping into the driver’s seat brings under your control what WardsAuto rates as one of the 10 best interiors of the year. Stitched soft leather seats, heated and ventilated in front and heated in the rear, are large and comfortable. A button alongside the driver’s seat activates a seat-cushion-length extender. Trunk space is 16 cubic feet.

With what may be the roomiest rear seating are of all the full-sizers, the Avalon falls in the lower end of overall exterior lengths at 195.2 inches. It is shorter than the Taurus at 202.9 inches, Chevrolet Impala at 201.3, the 300 at 198.6, the LaCrosse at 196.9 and Kia Cadenza’s 195.8. Toyota is longer than the Hyundai Azera at 193.3 and a couple of premium midsize models sometimes included in the full-size ranks, the Volkswagen Passat 191.6 and Nissan Maxima 190.6.

The front-wheel-drive Toyota flagship offers a nice, smooth, comfortable ride, supported by MacPherson-strut-front and dual-link rear suspension. It’s a quiet ride. Use of foam material has been increased in the A, B and C pillars in the rocker panels to further eliminate outside noise. All-wheel drive is not offered, as it is in the Taurus, 300 and LaCrosse. The Avalon’s a nimble, almost athletic handler.

It’s a moderately strong performer with 268 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque from its 3.5-liter V-6 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. Steering can be tightened and throttle response adjusted by pushing the Sport mode button on the center console. A bit more responsiveness comes with the use of the Sport shift gate and paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

The Avalon earned a relatively high EPA fuel-mileage estimate of 21/31; my overall average was 26.8.

Capacitive controls have replaced traditional buttons for audio and climate controls at the Avalon’s center stack; they respond easily to the touch. Pricing for the ’14 Avalon begins in the low $30,000s. The Limited model I drove carries a base price of $39,650, which reached a sticker total of $42,635.

Among many amenities not already mentioned are premium navigation with 7-inch screen, JBL synthesis amplifier with 11 speakers including two subwoofers, radar cruise control, blind-spot monitor and cross-traffic alert systems, 10 airbags, power moonroof, rain-sensing windshield wipers, three-zone climate control, backup camera, push-button start, power rear sunshade and automatic high beams.

The Toyota Avalon, built in Georgetown, Ky., has been around for almost 20 years.

It was introduced in 1994 as a ’95 model to replace the discontinued Toyota Cressida. Last year’s sales of the Avalon in the U.S. were the highest in six years.

Average age of an Avalon buyer today is 64, one of the older-buyer averages on the market.

For 2014, Toyota also produces an Avalon Hybrid, powered by a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine and a high-torque electric motor.

Leftovers from Valentine’s Day

Attractive men tend to drive black Ford pickup trucks; attractive women go for red BMW sports cars.

That’s the pitch from a survey by Insure.com, asking men and women to rank the kind of vehicles driven by attractive members of the opposite sex.Insure.com said women ranked these styles as cars that attractive men drive:

Pickup trucks 32%, sports cars 27%, SUVs 16%, sedans 11%, hybrid or electric 9%, UPS/mail truck 5%, minivans 2%.Men prefer women in sports cars 39%, sedans 22%, SUVs 20%, pickup trucks 10%, hybrid or electric vehicles 6% and minivans 4%.The top three makes of cars driven by attractive women, as ranked by men, were BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. Do women drive Porsches?A few miscalculations can destroy a driver’s appeal, the results showed. The top three turnoffs for both men and women were:Cigarette butts in the ash tray, trash on the seats and playing bad loud music.

Trash this.