Since its introduction in 1994, Avalon has lived at the top of Toyota’s sedan range, offering a taste of luxury to drivers who weren’t ready or interested in moving up up to Lexus. This year, there’s even more of the good stuff you expect inside, outside, and underneath. Built using the company’s TNGA philosophy that underpins the new Camry and several Lexus products, the new Avalon is better in every measurable way. It’s more efficient, more connected, quieter, safer, and more comfortable. Unlike previous generations, however, there’s even something for those of us who like to drive thanks to a more powerful V6 engine and suspension tuning on a few models that’s downright sporting.
Don’t spare the Botox
Toyota wants the Avalon to appeal to younger buyers and they’re hoping to do this by tightening up the exterior and adding a bit of edge to a car that historically has been about as risqué as a Disney movie. Walk up to the Avalon from the side and you’re treated to a new, sporty, and well-proportioned profile. It’s longer, lower, and wider than the previous generation, with sharper lines and crisper angles. The long hood and short rear deck give it a coupe-like feel that’s become popular among premium sedans these days. In back, the LED taillight configuration borrows the infinity look from the Lexus LC500 and operates sequentially, accentuating the car’s width.
But it’s not until you walk to the front that you see the full extent of Toyota’s willingness to push the envelope.
Toyota designers at their CALTY studio have given the Avalon a whole new look up front which in their press release they call a “stunning face.” Well, yes, I was stunned when I saw the huge air intakes running the full width of the fascia grinning madly at me for the first time at the auto show in Detroit, but probably not in the way their team hoped. Though it may be functional, helping the sedan achieve a very respectable .27 coefficient of drag which contributes to excellent mileage numbers, even with the narrow LED head lamps and low hood it’s not the prettiest face in this category to my eye. As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, however, I’ll not dwell on it. If you like the look, great. If not, great. There’s plenty more to talk about this car that I find quite appealing.
The many shades of Avalon
Not content to cater primarily to the over sixty set any longer, Avalon is available in four trim levels, XLE, XSE, Limited, and Touring. XLE and Limited lean toward the softer side of Avalon’s personality with interior trims and suspension tuning that are meant to appeal to those whose primary concern about their sedan is comfort. The XLE lives on the value end of that equation offering an experience that previous generation Avalon owners will find both familiar and comforting. Softex seating surfaces and engineered wood trim highlight a clean cabin design whose centerpiece literally is the piano black console that features a 9-inch multi-media system. Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa integration are standard and the available 1,200 watt, 14-speaker JBL sound system is well worth the upgrade. One of the details I really like in the interior is the rear cupholder, which has a flat side toward the front of the car designed to hold a cell phone. Move up to the limited and the seats get wrapped in quilted leather surfaces in one of three colors: gray, beige, or a deep rich cognac. Also included in the Limited package are real wood trim pieces.
The XSE and Touring are both intended to showcase the new, sportier character of Avalon. Seats and doors are trimmed in either gray or black perforated ultrasuede with textured aluminum trim accenting the doors and dash. Both have a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, and the Touring model adds performance accelerator and brake pedals to complete the sports sedan effect.
In the premium Limited and Touring trims you get a very useful 10-inch head-up display. No matter which trim level you choose, Avalon offers best in class rear seat leg, shoulder and headroom. If you’re planning on carrying really tall passengers in the back, avoid the hybrid model, however. Toyota moved the battery from the trunk to under the rear seat, shortening headroom by about half an inch. The good news is now the trunk room is the same regardless of what’s under the hood.
Electric and electrifying
Two engine configurations are available on XSE, XLE, and Limited, a hybrid system that combines a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine with two electric motors, and an all new 3.5-liter V6. The Touring model is only available with the V6.
The new 3.5-liter V6 engine develops 301 horsepower and puts it to the pavement via the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. There’s plenty of muscle to motivate the Avalon quickly away from a stoplight, and with 8-speeds, passing is a breeze as there’s always an appropriate gear no matter what speed you’re traveling. Engine noise is enhanced through the audio system to provide a more visceral effect. Probably more remarkable is the fact that in XLE trim, this V6 delivers over 30 miles per gallon on the highway.
Opt for the hybrid and as expected efficiency is the name of the game. Combining a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, Avalon crushes any other sedan in this class offering 44 miles per gallon on the highway and 43 in town. Opt for the XLE or Limited trim and the net 215 horsepower setup provides smooth power through the continuously variable transmission. In the XSE hybrid, you have an additional sport drive mode that simulates six gears you can operate manually via the paddle shifters.
On the road, any road at all
My test drive in the various flavors of the new Avalon took place in San Diego on a drive route that included urban streets and freeways, two lane highways, suburban boulevards, and winding mountain roads. As you would expect, in the XLE and Limited trims the ride is quiet, composed, and comfortable. The new, more rigid platform allows the independent suspension to do its job quite well and the improvements in noise and vibration reduction over the 2018 Avalon are noticeable. Another big difference is that while the ride is smooth, it no longer suffers from the excessive wallowing and body roll that plagued earlier generations. The XSE setup is a little tighter, but you won’t mistake it for an AMG or an M car. It’s still a mainstream sedan. Move up to the Touring and for the first time in an Avalon you get the addition of an Adaptive Variable Suspension along with four discreet drive modes (eco, normal, sport, and sport+) that change throttle mapping, exhaust tone, and the transmission shift points. The difference is noticeable and with the V6 growling in my ears thanks to the intake sound generator, exhaust baffle tuning, and engine sound enhancement, I felt like I was driving a smaller, sportier car.
Safety comes standard
As this is Toyota’s flagship sedan, it includes the company’s class-leading safety systems standard on all models. It’s a comprehensive suite that includes pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, and a backup camera with guides, automatic high beams. The premium packages add an overhead view monitor and rear cross traffic braking to the mix.
All this technology comes at a price. The Avalon XLE starts at $35,500 for the V6 model with the hybrid in Limited trim topping out at $42,800. That’s creeping up into Lexus ES range but for those who are looking for a luxury experience without the luxury badge or baggage, the 2019 Toyota Avalon makes a very compelling case for itself, even for those of us who love to drive.