The times they are a-changing. Gone are the days when a major chunk of family saloon buyers would settle for bland, featureless machines that would just transport them from A to B. Customers have become a lot more demanding now.
Being brilliant at gauging what its customers want, Toyota seems to have sensed this shift in trend well in advance to revamp its flagship saloon early this year by infusing a generous dose of dynamism, youthfulness and a lot more features, tightening its stranglehold in this odd yet important segment of the automobile market.
That’s when Chevrolet decided to bring its all-new Impala into the equation. Is it good enough to topple the grand old Avalon from its long-held throne? Will it be the new vehicle of choice for the more mature car buyer?
Into its fourth generation, the new Toyota Avalon has shed every single characteristic feature that would link it to its flavourless past. It’s been shrunk in length, width and height.
While the previous versions were the finest examples of sleep-inducing dullness, the latest Avalon’s athletically sculpted bodywork and brawny looks make it as stylish and modern as any other car in the segment.
In fact, the Avalon looks better than any other Toyota. With the C-pillar raking forward and the elegantly flowing roofline sloping back seamlessly into the boot lid, the Avalon looks a bit like the Audi A7 Sportback in profile.
Although the front end bears a clear family resemblance to the Camry and the new RAV4, the larger lower grille and a chrome upper grille give it a decidedly more upmarket aura.
However, as good looking as it is on its own, the Avalon pales in comparison with the Impala, which has a more commanding road presence thanks to the bold, muscular design and the Camaro-esque front end.
Equally impressive is the Avalon’s cabin, which is thoroughly modern in layout and boasts flush, capacitive-touch switches with haptic feedback. This gives the dashboard a clutter-free, elegant look to match the premium leather and wood trim surrounding it.
Even the plastics used in the cabin are of superb quality and notches above those in the Camry or any other Toyota. In fact, the cabin is one area where the Avalon scores over the Impala, both in materials used and craftsmanship.
The interior is also surprisingly spacious considering the car’s dimensions have been shrunk. Seats are super-comfortable and upholstered in the finest quality, supple leather, although the climate-controlled front seats don’t offer as much lateral support as the Impala’s.
However, the back seats are among the best in class, and the ride quality is as smooth and refined as in a Lexus ES350, with which the Avalon shares its platform.
The biggest departure from bygone years, though, is the Avalon’s performance. Yes, Toyota has indeed managed to instil some much-needed athleticism into its flagship saloon.
Without compromising on the luxurious ride quality synonymous with the Avalon, Toyota has stiffened the car’s chassis, and tweaked its steering and suspension systems, adopting several Lexus engineering tricks, to make it considerably quicker and more responsive than before.
All these changes might not have transformed the Avalon into a sports saloon, but it’s now definitely a far more poised and nimble car than before.
Although the 3.5-litre engine is carried over, the 273bhp mill is good enough to pull the Avalon effortlessly forward. The smooth-shifting six-speed automatic can also be controlled via the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, and comes with three different modes — Eco, Normal and Sport — which alter the responses from the steering, throttle and the transmission.
Toyota has also packed the new Avalon with enough convenience and safety features to keep the family guy happy. These include an 11-speaker JBL Synthesis audio system, an HDD sat-nav system with a 7in touchscreen display, vehicle stability control, traction control and 10 airbags.
However, if gadgets and gizmos are the prime concern, then the driver behind the Chevy’s wheels will have the last laugh as it comes loaded with a lot more features than the Toyota, for a lot less money.
Yes, price is the only area where the Avalon lets you down. The base model retails for Dh128,000, for which you’ll get the top-end LTZ variant of the Impala.
Meanwhile the high end Limited trim of the Avalon costs a whopping Dh154,000, which is almost in Lexus territory. It’s a shame as it takes a little bit of sheen off what is otherwise the best car in its segment.
You don’t last ten generations if you’re not any good. And the Impala isn’t. It’s great. I’ve always loved those huge land yachts of the Fifties and Sixties powered by equally huge V8s.
It was a glorious era in the world of motoring and the chrome-laden, tail-finned hulking sporting coupé — available as a hardtop and convertible — was as handsome and majestic as they came. But the stylish Chevy began to lose its way a little during the Seventies and Eighties. By the time the Nineties rolled around, it was a shadow of its former self and looked more European than American.
The long, low and wide exterior had shrunk beyond recognition, it had lost those grand looks of yesteryear and by 2012, was merely a mass-produced product that really didn’t deserve either the leaping antelope or the gold bowtie badges.
Thankfully, the tenth-generation model is a return to form. The brightwork is back as is the muscular body. The newbie is striking to say the least; the sharp exterior matches the equally sharp handling with the ample power coming courtesy of GM’s favoured 3.6-litre LFX V6 powerplant.
No, it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as the old Turbo Fire V8s that did the biz back in the day but it is better in every conceivable way; it’s far more refined, has more power and it doesn’t have a drinking problem.
Chevy clearly had its game face on when it designed the new four-door Impala, which shares its platform with the equally impressive Cadillac XTS. The large saloon seems to resemble the Camaro, which isn’t a bad thing at all. There’s an angry expression painted on the front end while the profile features an attractive character line which rises over the rear wheels.
The sculpted body rolls along on 20in alloys and it’s clear that, visually, Chevy has put a lot of work into the car.
But it doesn’t just look good — it’s comfortable, efficient and sure has some guts. The V6 produces a hefty 305bhp and 358Nm of torque with a smooth delivery courtesy of a slick six-speed automatic that sends the grunt to the front wheels.
There’s enough oomph here to satisfy those with a heavy right foot and though it doesn’t sound as good as a 7.0-litre V8 (nothing really does) it’s much quicker, reaching 0-100kph in 6.8 seconds and will get you 8.1 litres-per-100km on the highway.
The 3.6-litre is a clever piece of engineering that rams home the well-established fact that there is a replacement for displacement. It’s comes with Variable Valve Timing, fuel-saving direct injection and lightweight components, which help it to be this efficient. It handles far better than you’d expect a hefty saloon such as this, too, and that’s thanks to the electrically assisted power steering and a chassis fortified with MacPherson struts.
It all makes for a pretty nimble ride and though it may not be as smooth or quiet as the Avalon, thankfully it suffers very little body roll — something the cars of yesteryear were famed for.
To the whizbangry and there’s lots of it. It packs Chevy’s latest version of its MyLink system, which the iPad and smartphone generation will lap up. It’s easy to navigate and user friendly, even if you are from the golden age.
And apart from the 10 standard airbags, it’s loaded with a host of extra safety systems such as forward collision alert, lane departure warning, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, a rear vision camera with dynamic guidelines and ultrasonic rear park assist.
If you still manage to ding it with all these systems on board, then get off the road, you’re a lost cause. The smart cabin may not be on a par with that of the Avalon’s in terms of luxury, but it is still well built and boasts a panoramic roof, leather seats and lots of wood and chrome trim. There’s nothing to really complain too strongly about. All in all, this thoroughly modern Chevy is totally deserving of that legendary nameplate.
These are two very impressive large saloons aimed at a segment of buyers looking for the most luxury for the least outlay. The Avalon offers a smoother and quieter ride than its American counterpart and indeed packs a better interior with seemingly more quality materials used in there. And that’s about it, yet you’d have to fork out a whopping Dh25,000 more than the Impala for the privilege.
We’d happily take a slightly choppier ride and noisier cabin if it meant saving 25 grand by opting for the Chevy. And by paying less, you’d still be getting more; it doesn’t only have more power and more torque, it packs far more technology and driver assistance systems too.
Put them side by side and the Impala looks like it’s dressed in a top hat and tails and wears the bowtie with pride.
Overall it’s the best deal, and this makes it our winner.