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2013 Toyota Avalon Design Analysis

The first thing I noticed about Toyota's new 2013 Avalon was the juxtaposition of contrasting themes in the design of its front end. The smaller upper grille has a traditional Toyota look reminiscent of the Camry, for instance, and the Prius. It and the lights flanking it sweep in a smooth arc across the nose in keeping with the dictates of good aerodynamic efficiency. It says in effect "I'm sleek and slippery." The bolder, more prominent grille below harkens back to the wide, low scoop of a vintage racecar. It seems to jut out boldly. It says, "I'm powerful and aggressive." Both messages are appropriate; we expect cars to seem both slippery and powerful.

1936 Cord 810 sedan.

Such dissonant themes have energized many great designs, like Gordon Beuhrig's curvaceous 1936-37 Cord with the boxy and dissonant "coffin-nosed" hood. The powerful look of the hood signified the powerful Lycoming V8 engine beneath it. The straight louvers that wrapped around it expressed the Art Deco look, which was popular at the time. In stark contrast, the rest of the car expressed the "Streamlined" look of the period—smooth, gently-curved surfaces, teardrop-shaped fenders—inspired by modern all-metal aircraft of the 1930s.

The "shock and awe" of dissonant themes make for exciting design but can quickly become "shock and awful." The Cord was controversial before it became today's revered classic. The Cord won over critics simply because they felt comfortable with both Art Deco and Streamlining themes, which were simultaneously popular at the time. The hood's boldness also drew attention to the Cord's highly touted front-wheel drive. And the design's semantics (sleek and powerful) were appropriate—as they are for any car, including the Avalon.

 The new Avalon's nose probably will rub some people the wrong way, too, until they take a closer look and realize the dissonance is largely illusory. Designers at Toyota's Calty design studios in Newport Beach, California and Ann Arbor, Michigan, headed by Kevin Hunter, came up with a solution so ingenious I smile every time I consider it. When viewed from most normal viewing distances, the lower grille does indeed seem to jut dramatically ahead of the body. As you approach the car, however, so that you increasingly see the nose from above, you realize the lower grille doesn't run nearly straight across as you might have thought. In fact, it has essentially the same curvature as the upper grille. The impression that it juts out results from the scooped out region occupied by the turn signals on its flanks. Otherwise, the nose's upper and lower regions are smoothly integrated by the simple, surface draped between them.

Curvature of upper region of nose (A) is virtually identical to that of lower region (B).

The relatively flush nature of the lower region is borne out by the photo below taken to show the tail of the car. 

Everything aft of the nose is uncontroversial, not to say uninteresting, especially the harmonious integration of lines and shapes of the lights and bumper region. 

The instrument panel (shown here in XLT trim) is refreshing and handsome. Note the obvious stitching, which emphasizes the extensive use of soft, padded surfaces.

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Reader Comments (2)

The Cord may have been contraversial when it was introduced and is now a classic but, and it's just my opinion, the Toyota Avalon will be lost in the dustbin of history.

February 18, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjay wilson

The straight louvers that wrapped around it communicated the Art Deco look, which was mainstream at the time. A distinct difference, whatever remains of the auto communicated the Streamlined look of the period smooth, delicately bended surfaces, tear formed bumpers motivated by present day all-metal air ship of the 1930s.

October 19, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSuicide Squad Joker Coat

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