August 22, 2013
2014 Chevrolet Impala vs 2013 Toyota Avalon. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jeff Wilson
If the marketing folks are to be believed, what a person owns can speak volumes about who they are. Compact SUV drivers are all active, adventurous outdoorsy types. If you drive a gleaming, silver German sport sedan you are surely a successful business tycoon, right?
Sometimes society bestows its own stereotypes – for better or for worse – on specific automotive choices. A minivan means a frazzled soccer mom with a busload of hyperactive kids. That expensive red sports car has to be owned by some guy going through a mid-life crisis. And of course large, comfortable sedans are only driven (much too slowly, no doubt) by senior citizens or by unwitting rental car victims.
Millions are spent to try to reverse these negative brand associations and expand sales to make us believe sports cars are driven only by true automotive connoisseurs, or that even a minivan can be fun (remember that Toyota Sienna commercial with the power-sliding minivan?). But the reality is that changing the public’s automotive perception is a slow and difficult process.
One of General Motors’ most storied nameplates – the Chevrolet Impala – has had a roller-coaster ride of reputation over the years. From highly desirable ‘60s SS models (which enjoyed a resurgence of popularity as the customized choice of the hip-hop set) to the sad – if reliable – darling of rental car fleets and grandpas across America, the mighty Impala’s luster has worn off.
In the mid 1990s, Toyota introduced a large sedan based on a stretched Camry platform that offered all the driving zeal and styling of soggy Melba toast. It became a popular choice only amongst those seeking the anti-enthusiast features of a bench seat and column shifter in a car with the brand’s storied durability. Sensible? Sure. Stylish? Not quite. Fun? Umm… not a bit.
Test drivers Edward and David. Click image to enlarge
The Impala and Avalon have catered to largely the same market of drivers who seek a machine whose ride is supple and whose dimensions are akin to those of the land yachts they learned to drive several decades ago.
The reality of selling to that demographic is the unfortunate and inevitable shrinking of the market. But 65 is the new 45, those active and affluent Baby Boomers with good health and long retirements have many good driving years ahead, and cars targeting this group must have a more youthful spin.
In response to this, both Chevy and Toyota have recently introduced new versions of familiar nameplates that should not only appeal to these younger-at-heart folks, but maybe even scoop up some actual younger buyers along the way.
With that, Editor Jacob Black and I gathered our two stately sedans and headed west of Toronto to the Stonecroft Adult Lifestyle Community to get the expert opinions of David and Edward, two gentlemen representing the 65+ crowd that fall directly into the prime target market for each of these cars. They’re retired, educated professionals with a lot of good living to do and have the means to pay for quality without the foolishness of spending frivolously just to have a fancy badge on their cars.
Along the way, Jacob and I fashioned our own opinions.