Why The 2014 Toyota Avalon Is The New Caprice or LTD

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Toyota Avalon
The 2014 Toyota Avalon.

Among the casualties of the 1970s energy crises were large family sedans that aspired to be a bridge to luxury cars. Ford was the first of the type, adding better upholstery and nicer trim to the 1965 Galaxie to make it the LTD.  Chevrolet followed the next year, applying the same formula to the Impala and creating the Caprice.  Dodge and Plymouth did it as well, but less successfully.

For many middle-class families of the time, a well-optioned LTD was the next best thing to a Lincoln Continental, and there were those who could afford a Cadillac who couldn't see the sense in spending the extra money for one when a fully-equipped Caprice was everything a Cadillac was just two years before.

But, especially after Energy Crisis II in 1979, the concept withered.  Part of it was the downsizing of all American cars. Another was that the buying age for traditional American luxury had risen.  It was no longer the man in his mid-to-late 40s who had arrived.  Buyers of Cadillacs and Lincolns were suddenly, or so it seemed, in their 60s.  And the middle-class, middle-aged American family man and woman were no longer buying full-size Chevrolets and Fords.  The market had shifted to Toyotas and Hondas, specifically Camrys and Accords.

Rear 3/4 view of the 2014 Toyota Avalon
The 2014 Toyota Avalon.

And so it has continued to the present day. The closest to the old-formula LTD and Caprice has been the Toyota Avalon.  But few have seen the Avalon in relation to a Lexus as they did the LTD to Lincoln or Caprice to Cadillac 40 years ago. And the Avalon has, for most of its life, appealed to older buyers.

The 2014 Avalon could change all that. It is larger than a Camry, provides a significant step up for the buyer and, since the shift of the Lexus ES 300 from the Camry to the Avalon platform, provides a sense of climbing a ladder, a logical step from the big-selling but widely regarded as boring Toyota family sedan to something with all the Camry's virtues and some very desirable extras.

In Limited trim and a color such as the Magnetic Gray Metallic our test vehicle came in, the Avalon suggests the same sense of occasion that a new Caprice did in 1969 or 1970.  And it does so more successfully than the new Impala, which Chevrolet has moved up in size so that it now competes with the Avalon directly. Both feature sleek stying, which in my opinion the Avalon carries off better.

Interior view of the 2014 Toyota Avalon
Interior view of the 2014 Toyota Avalon.

Choose the black interior and the bright highlights and wood trim convey contemporary luxury. This is no longer targeted at senior citizens. The Avalon is powered by a quiet, smooth and quick 3.5-liter six cylinder engine with 268 horsepower. It has a six-speed automatic transmission that can also be agressively controlled through race car-styled paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. The list of standard equipment on the Limited model is exhaustive, including a moonroof, three-zone climate control with air filtration and vents for the rear seat passengers, satellite navigation with a seven-inch color touchscreen featuring a backup camera, an 11-speaker JBL audio system and leather-trimmed heated and ventilated seats.

The only options on the test car were a technology package including Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, which maintains a pre-set distance you can control between you and the car ahead, automatic high beams and a pre-collision system, carpeted floor mats and a trunk mat and the Qi (pronounced "Chee") wireless charging system.

If you have a Qi-enabled wireless phone, you press a button, set your phone on a pad near the front of the console and it charges wirelessly. Many Android phones have built-in Qi capability. Unfortunately, iPhones do not, so I wasn't able to evaluate it.  The price for the technology package is $1,750. The mats are $225 and the Qi wireless charging is $200.  The base price of $39,650, with options and $810 delivery processing and handling fee, became an as-tested price of $42,635.

And despite the room, the power and the luxury, the Avalon gives you something a mid 60s to early 70s Caprice never could: Very good fuel economy.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 21 city and 31 highway, which our week on city streets and freeways in and around Phoenix bore out as realistic.  And, according to the window sticker, the Avalon will actually save $500 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle.

It has been suggested to me that there's been a generational shift.  That no matter how good the Avalon is, today's 40-somethings won't buy it in large numbers.  That if 50 is the new 30, then 40 is the new 20 and the men want race cars or trucks and the women crossover SUVs. If that's true, more's the pity, because the Avalon is everything a family car should be, plus.