Mr. Cato, Mr. Vaughan: I have a question which nobody seems able to answer and so I’m turning to you. I’m thinking of buying a Toyota Avalon. It seems to be a great car, fully loaded, no options. But my question is, why does Toyota not push this car? It doesn’t even advertise it. It’s all Camry and Prius and never a mention of Avalon. My local dealership doesn’t even have one on the lot. What am I missing here? Is there something I should know? – John in Scarborough, Ont.
Vaughan: Johnny, there’s not a damn thing wrong with the Avalon for a certain type of driver, but I think Toyota is embarrassed about it.
After a couple of horrible years, Toyota wants the world to believe it’s suddenly a young, racy company and not boring any more. The Avalon ($41,195) is a Japanese Pontiac, or maybe an Oldsmobile. It’s a bland but utterly reliable full-size sedan built by Toyota in the U.S. starting back 1994.
At the end of the ’80s, Japan, powered by companies like Toyota, thought it was invincible and was investing like crazy in U.S. assets. Toyota built a big plant in Kentucky and stretched out the Camry by a few inches and voilà – a super-sized Toyota for aging, super-sized Americans. Um… That’s not the way Toyota wants to be perceived any more, so that’s why it ignores it.
Cato: Former General Motors vice-chairman Bob Lutz once said Cadillac needed to change because Cadillac buyers were falling off the edge of the demographic cliff. Caddys had become geezer machines and that could only lead to the same bad ending we saw with Oldsmobile and Plymouth and, yes, Pontiac.
That’s the story with the Avalon. Last December, U.S.-based TrueCar.com looked at the Top 10 cars for geezers. You guessed it: 54 per cent of Avalon buyers are pensioners. That put the Avalon No. 10 on the list of favourite cars for greybeards. The Lincoln Town Car is No. 1; seniors account for 90 per cent of its buyers.
Vaughan: Well, the Avalon definitely is grandpa’s car, but why not? It is quiet and comfortable and safe. There’s not a thing about it that Gen Y would be slightly interested in and that’s the way Grandpa likes it.
Johnny, you could buy this car and drive it happily until the authorities take your license away.
Cato: Or you could buy a Ford Taurus ($27,999 base). Here’s another potential hit at the assisted living centre. Again, the Taurus is a perfectly excellent sedan: great safety scores, lots of technology that’s easy to use, a big trunk, plush seats and you can even get a racy version – the Taurus SHO ($48,199) – aimed at those guys in Viagra/Cialis commercials who look like an unshaven Clint Eastwood.
The scary part, of course, is that I particularly like the Taurus SHO. Now I want to just make it very, very clear that I don’t need pharmaceutical help in that “other” department, but I am a Baby Boomer and big sedans that remind me of Gran Torinos from my youth have a real appeal.
Vaughan: The Taurus was lost for a long time. It was the best-selling car in its class in North America for years, but then it went off the rails when Ford forgot about it in order to sell more SUVs like the Explorer.
Cato: The 1996 Taurus was just ugly – like a genetically modified potato. It had a smaller back seat and smaller trunk than the Taurus model it replaced, too. Dumb controls. An absurd disaster that sent the Taurus into a slow death roll to the rental car heaven.
Vaughan: So Ford turned to badge engineering. Literally. For a while it called the Taurus the Five Hundred and I think that’s about how many were sold.
Cato: Then along came the new CEO, Alan Mulally, who asked his flummoxed executive team why they’d killed the Taurus name. He told them to restore it and fix the car. They did. The current Taurus is just fine and you can get it with all-wheel drive. That said, you might want to wait for the new one coming soon.
Vaughan: We’ve seen the production version of the 2013 and it’s spectacular. Haven’t driven it yet, but given how well the recent Ford stuff drives – like the Fiesta and Focus – I expect this one will be terrific, too.
Cato: While you do, test drive another Avalon-fighter, the Buick LaCrosse ($34,935 base). Like the Taurus, AWD (at $40,405) is an option. Big and comfy and ideal for anyone dipping into the glucosamine jar for joint relief.
Vaughan: What about the VW Passat diesel ($27,475 to start)? They’ve made the new one bigger and dropped the price.
Cato: Nah, I think the LaCrosse is the third option for John. But his first pick should be the Taurus SHO. Live a little, John, while you still have that licence.
HOW THEY COMPARE
2012 Ford Taurus SHO AWD
2012 Toyota Avalon XLS
2012 Buick LaCrosse AWD
Track, front (mm)
3.5-litre V-6, turbocharged
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
12.4 city/8.1 highway
10.7 city/7.0 highway
12.7 city/7.7 highway
Base price (MSRP)
Source: car manufacturers
Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.
Correction: An earlier online version of this story contained incorrect information about the price for the Ford Taurus SHO. This has been amended.