2019 Toyota Avalon First Drive: A Flagship Split in Two

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Toyota’s past and future collide in the 2019 Avalon, a flagship full-size sedan that must regain the trust of buyers put off by the outgoing model’s stiff ride quality, yet Toyota must also attract younger buyers with a car that’s sportier than any of its previous four generations. So does the Avalon return to its roots as a mature, vaguely premium, comfortable sedan, or does it lean further toward the Nissan Maxima’s sporty side of the spectrum?

Yes.

See Toyota Avalon photos from each of its five generations right here.

Toyota’s new Avalon strategy splits the lineup in two, and we aren’t referring to the 301-hp V-6 and 215-hp four-cylinder hybrid powerplants. If your definition of Avalon is a comfortable American-style cruiser, stick with the XLE and Limited grades. They place a higher priority on comfort than do the XSE and Touring trims (the latter is a V-6-only trim), which turn up the sportiness quotient in looks and driving experience.

All Avalons benefit from Toyota’s new TNGA platform, which helps improve handling, lowers the overall center of gravity, and reduces NVH in the cabin, Toyota claims. But before you experience any of those improvements, you’ll encounter the latest application of Toyota’s “I’M SO ANGRY” design language. With the XLE and Limited, the giant grille looks decent, but the sportier XSE and Touring variants wear black grille trim that doesn’t break up the enormous mass of space well.

The 2019 Avalon is longer (0.6 inch), lower (1.0 inch), and wider (0.6 inch) than its predecessor, and it rides on a wheelbase that’s 2.0 inches longer. Those tweaks coalesce to subtly reshape the car’s proportions, but you’re more likely to notice the C-pillar sliding down at a gentler angle than in any previous Toyota sedan. You can tell it’s a Toyota, yet no one with their glasses on will mistake a Camry with an Avalon, from the bigger car’s 3.2 to 3.8 extra inches of length to its rear quarter window to the central taillight reflector element visually connecting the two taillights.

On the road, the Avalon feels nimble for a 195.9-inch car, but the premium-ish sedan never feels like it deserves 4DSC badges (4-Door Supra-like Car). That’s OK, because all Avalons have accurate and well-weighted steering that’s not overly light. And if you stick with the XLE and Limited trims, the suspension will keep things comfortable. The same can’t be said about the Touring model, which, with its adaptive variable suspension and 19-inch wheels, connects you to the road in a noticeably different way compared to the comfort-oriented models. On winding roads and around corners, you’ll appreciate that trim’s sportier tuning—not to mention the guttural aural sensations of the 301-hp Touring model’s engine-sound enhancer. Once you get on the highway, however, the combination of tire noise and the way some road imperfections enter the cabin makes it clear the Touring (and the XSE to some extent) are not ideal road trip cars.

Other 2019 Avalon trims are quieter than their predecessors, whether you choose the V-6 or the available hybrid. The V-6 model uses an eight-speed automatic, and in our short time with the car, we didn’t notice some of the minor issues we’ve seen with this engine and transmission combination in the Highlander (specifically, upshifting too soon to the tallest possible gear). But as with the 296-hp Sienna, the 301-hp Avalon has trouble getting all of that power to the front wheels. If you’re taking off in the Avalon from a dead stop, consider being gentle with the throttle at first to avoid chirping the tires. After that, you’ll feel a surge of power as you accelerate to highway speeds. The 3.5-liter V-6 feels powerful in passing situations, taking just a moment to inhale before giving you the oomph you need.

GET REAL The Limited (shown here) features real wood trim. Real aluminum comes on the XSE and Touring.

What hybrid-averse buyers might not realize is that the 215-hp hybrid is just as responsive with moderate throttle inputs. The weight difference between the hybrid model and the equivalent V-6 is well under 100 pounds, and the trunk is the same 16.1 cubic feet. The hybrid’s price premium over the V-6 is now just $1,000 and will make sense for those who want an EPA-estimated 43/43–44 mpg city/highway instead of the V-6 models’ 22/31–32 mpg. It’s not just about better fuel economy, though—you’ll also drive more miles between fill-ups. There’s also the coolness of cruising through your neighborhood in pure EV mode. The brakes almost feel like normal, non-hybrid car brakes, too, which means coming to a smooth stop isn’t the challenge it normally presents in a hybrid. Ford’s hybrids still offer more engaging information displays that can make driving more fun—but that’s only relevant for open-minded buyers willing to consider a midsize sedan such as the Ford Fusion Platinum hybrid. But in the full-size segment, the Kia Cadenza, Chrysler 300, Nissan Maxima, and Chevrolet Impala don’t offer hybrid variants.

A popular midsize sedan like the Fusion or Camry won’t cut it for buyers who seek something more exclusive. Toyota sold more than 10 times as many Camry sedans last year as it did Avalons, which is a startling comparison even when you consider that’s a mix of new Camrys against the last-generation Avalon. Beyond the added exterior size and updated styling, the 2019 Avalon elevates itself above the Camry with a uniquely styled and rich-feeling interior. The Avalon Limited’s redesigned interior—aided by cool Yamaha-sourced wood trim—earns every cent of its $42,695 price tag. However, all trims feature interiors filled with soft-touch surfaces almost everywhere, even on the $36,395 XLE V-6. Yes, $36,395, a base price that’s higher than the Avalon’s non-luxury-branded competition, a bit higher than two Lincoln MKZ models, and isn’t much lower than the least expensive six-cylinder Buick LaCrosse.

I’M RICH A soft leatherlike material stretches over the top of the center console’s armrest, around the cupholders, and above the Qi wireless phone charging area.

Even so, the Avalon’s standard features list is long. Every 2019 Avalon gets LED headlights, a 7.0-inch display in the instrument cluster, and a 9.0-inch central touchscreen at the top of the dash that makes the also-standard Apple CarPlay’s type look huge. (Android Auto isn’t available yet.) You also won’t pay extra for hands-free keyless access with push-button start, fast-charging USB ports front and rear, two years or 25,000 miles of complimentary scheduled maintenance services, and a full package of active safety tech. Available options include a surround-view camera system with a cool front wheel view mode, a head-up display with a 10.0-inch viewing projection, sequentially firing turn signals, real wood or aluminum trim, and a 14-speaker, 1,200-watt JBL sound system. But neither a power-closing trunk nor the Camry’s panoramic moonroof are available.

The Avalon’s standard safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking (the most important feature of the group), lane departure mitigation, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert; rear braking is optional. Full-speed adaptive cruise control is also standard, but more sensitive drivers might find the system comes to a stop just a tad too quickly and sometimes pulls away a little aggressively. It might be useful on long road trips, but it’s not at its best in stop-and-go traffic.

In a stagnating segment, Toyota is attempting to justify the Avalon’s reason for being. The car feels premium inside. If you pick the right trim, it’s comfortable, as well. Whether there are Touring buyers who want a big car with a less-than-plush ride remains to be seen—it’s worked for the Camry so far. Our feeling: A loaded Limited (instead of a base XLE or a sporty and loaded Touring riding on hot 19-inch wheels) maximizes its advantages with a more comfortable ride, a premium interior, and a decent driving experience.

2019 Toyota Avalon
BASE PRICE $36,395-$43,695
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINES 2.5L/176-hp/163-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 118-hp front elec motor, 215 hp comb; 3.5L/301-hp/267-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6;
TRANSMISSIONS 8-speed automatic, cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT 3,550-3,700 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 113.0 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 195.9 x 72.8 x 56.5 in
0-60 MPH 6.0-7.5 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 22-43/31-44/25-44 mpg (est)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 78-153/77-109 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.45-0.77 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently



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