By Jeremy Cato
So, you are a well-educated professional, perhaps in your 40s, but more likely in your 50s, and you want some luxury in your transportation. The world, as they say, is your oyster. Automakers have discovered – rediscovered? – 50-something buyers, and there are a lot of ’em. So automakers are introducing a nice array of new models for aging baby boomers, all the while keeping in mind that old auto industry axiom: you can sell a young man’s car to an old man, but you can’t sell an old man’s car to a young man.
Well, “young” is a relative term here. By “young” we’re referring to people who are at least two or three decades away from falling off the edge of the demographic table — to borrow a line from General Motors vice-chairman Bob Lutz. Many of these buyers might be very interested in cars like the Toyota Avalon, the Buick Lucerne and the Cadillac DTS.
Naturally these big, soft-riding cars hold absolutely no appeal to the kind of people who listen to Stop Die Resuscitate on their iPods. In fact, if you know their song Bad Night, if you’re a fan of The High Dials and Girl + The Machine, you might as well stop reading right now. You’re too young and probably too poor to be interested in any of these traditional upscale sedans.
But if you grew up listening to Led Zeppelin riffs, overlooked that achy back to attend 60-something Paul McCartney’s recent concert in Toronto and plan on taking in the Eagles final (yeah, sure!) concert gig, then carry on.
Automakers say they understand that many buyers in the 50-plus range are very careful with their money, though they have quite a bit of it and they’re willing to spend some of it on a car with loads of creature comforts, a somewhat softer ride and styling that doesn’t scream “retirement village.”
They also know that despite a culture seemingly obsessed with youth or at least staying young, buyers 50 and older account for more than half of all passenger car sales in North America. Buyers more than 60 years old buy about one-quarter of all new cars in Canada and the United States combined. That’s clout.
Toyota’s “affordable” luxury car for these buyers is the Avalon. It has reclining rear seats and “puddle lamps” that activate as the driver approaches so you won’t dip a Florsheim into a puddle. Then there are the rear doors that open to almost right angles, compared with the 75-degrees of most vehicles. That makes it easier for middle-age folks to enter and exit the car.
People like demographer David Foot have also noted that this age of buyer is very social, so Toyota redesigned the exhaust system to get rid of almost the entire hump down the centre of the floor. Being hump-less is better for carrying friends in back. And don’t forget that big boost in horsepower, to a whopping 280. With prices ranging from $39,900-$46,825, the Avalon is a subtle luxury car with a manageable price tag for the right type of buyer.
Among the Detroit-based automakers, General Motors, like Toyota, has seen the possibilities in the 50-something set, and is leading the charge among North American-based automakers. Most particularly through its Buick division. Buick sedan owners average more than 60 years of age, but Buick wants to add more 50-somethings into the mix. So Buick has introduced the new Lucerne which replaces the LeSabre in Buick showrooms.
The Lucerne ($33,355-$42,685) features an available 245-watt, nine-speaker sound system that can hook up to an MP3 player. It also offers a V8 engine with 275 horsepower – the first Buick car to offer a V-8 in a decade.
To give that extra level of comfort for older consumers, the Lucerne has GM’s “QuietTuning” to help block out wind and engine noise. For safety six air bags are standard. And there is even a parking-assistance feature that warns drivers if they get too close to something. On the “little luxury” side of the equation, the Lucerne’s windshield wipers are dead quiet and are available with heated washer fluid.
2006 Hyundai Azera. Photo: Greg Wilson, Autos. Click image to enlarge
Another new vehicle in this category is the Hyundai Azera, which replaces the little-known XG350. The Azera is a roomy, stylish luxury sedan with a quiet, comfortable ride, eight standard airbags, a powerful new 263 horsepower 3.8-litre V6 engine, and a reasonable price-tag ranging from $34,495 to $37,495.
Finally, for slightly richer buyers, Cadillac has the DTS, an upgraded version of the former DeVille. With a price range estimated to start in the low-$50,000s, stretching to the low-$60,000s, the DTS takes its name from the high-performance model in the old DeVille line-up. The basic mechanical bits and pieces underneath are about the same, but the styling inside and out is more in line with the rest of Cadillac’s jazzy looking line-up.
Cadillac has redrawn the DTS to pull in some of those 50-something buyers, without alienating older buyers, not to mention the many limousine companies which use these big sedans to pick people up from the airport. Power comes from two versions of the same 4.6-litre V8 in the Lucerne. One version is rated at 275 hp, the other 291 hp.
Cadillac designers brought their now-common brand design features to the DTS in a slightly more subdued way than, say, with the Cadillac XLR roadster. The DTS does have the vertically stacked headlights and an egg-crate grille, but the overall package has been toned down.
Inside, there has also been a makeover. At first glance the wood-and-leather ambience looks pretty traditional, but the details, fit and finish are far superior to the old DeVille’s. The “zebrano” wood treatment has been turfed in favour of burled walnut and the dated digital speedometer has been replaced by a modern-looking analog gauge. Naturally, the DTS offers six-person seating, though a five-passenger model with front bucket seats is standard.
All four of these cars are after the same sorts of buyers, though in the case of the DTS the target is the wealthiest of the bunch. Ah, to be 50-something, with a full wallet and looking for a new car.