Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 15, 2018
Toyota has been doubling down on making their bread and butter sedans appear sporty and more athletic. Just take a look at the new Camry and Avalon. Both can be spec’d with quad exhausts, blacked out wheels, piped-in exhaust noises, a sport-tuned suspension, and even an optional rear spoiler. The new Corolla has also been teased recently too wearing a similarly styled front end. And while I admit that from certain angles these Toyotas do look aggressive and appealing, I don’t think they are targeting the right audience with this design language.
Buyers who want a large and affordable sedan with hints of sporting panache would probably end up checking out the Honda Accord Sedan, which is available with a manual, the athletic and fun driving Mazda6, or even the Chrysler 300 with its mighty HEMI V8. The Toyota brand isn’t exactly synonymous with “sport”. Look at what happened with the Scion spin-off.
Toyota’s flagship sedan, the Avalon, hasn't been spared of this treatment either, and after spending a full week with the top-trim Avalon Limited (I’ve driven the sporty XSE variant too), I can tell you that it’s not even close to being sporty, but it does comfort and luxury rather well, enough to warrant cross shopping it with its more expensive luxury-oriented cousin, the Lexus ES.
Sedans are a dying breed but the Avalon lives on hoping to get a slice of this small market, persuading buyers to sway away from an SUV. And to lure those potential customers in, the Avalon adeptly harnesses what I like to call anonymous comfort, that is coddling occupants with a soft ride and easy drive but without standing out in traffic and devoid of any glitz or glamour. The Avalon does this exceptionally well, better than most in its class. The Avalon Limited with its generic chrome grill and inoffensive lines will blend into traffic like a lizard in the trees. Most of its design features can be found in the rest of the Toyota lineup, but that’s not a bad thing - it just makes it even easier to be camouflaged in city traffic.
The cabin ambiance and interior experience is what gives this Avalon the upper hand in the mid- to full-size sedan segment. The layout isn’t anything revolutionary but is imbued with a rich mix of colours, leathers, and textures. I particularly enjoy the details, like how the dashboard slices right into the passenger side air vent, or the sizable storage grove hidden underneath the center stack. Toyotas were never known for having aesthetically pleasing steering wheels, but I am a big fan of this two-tone brown-black leather variant. It feels comfortable and natural under grip, though the heated wheel effect only heats up the 9’-and 3’-o’clock positions - right where your hands should be at all times anyways.
The large infotainment screen floats on top of the center stack, creating a modern design worthy of 2019. Luckily, it isn’t hindered by a messy touchpad like in neighbouring Lexus and Acura vehicles. While it’s not the most responsive unit, taking a split second or two to register and bring up the desired screen, the learning curve is small - easy enough for geriatric populations to modulate without fuss. It’s definitely better than Honda’s systems and about par with Hyundai’s. The only nuisance was how far the touchscreen was positioned from the driver. A bit far out of reach, I have to actively get off my seatback to reach up and input commands - such is the sacrifice of not having a dedicated rotary dial. At this price point and trim, the Avalon does come with enough standard features to make you forget its minor vices, like a head-up display, keyless entry, genuine wood trims, Apple CarPlay, and heated rear seats.
One noteworthy feature found in the Limited trim (and almost worth the price premium itself) is the 14-speaker, 1200-watt JBL audio system. They’ve definitely stepped up their game in the audio department, and even when listening to Sirius XM radio, the notes are rich, you can hear where most instruments are coming from, and the bass offers a proper kick.
Out on the open road, the Avalon delivers exactly what you would expect: a predictably calm ride with a gentle yet punchy naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 that produces 301 hp and 267 lb-ft exclusively to the front wheels. Like the Camry, all-wheel drive isn’t available. This engine does without turbochargers and as a result, doesn’t relay the same wallop of thrust as some of its rivals, but the delivery of said power is more much linear because of it. Acceleration comes on gradually yet predictably, making it painless to modulate and get up to cruising speed.
The Avalon also makes due with an 8-speed automatic transmission - no drony CVT here like in the Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima, or Subaru Legacy. Shifts are clean, crisp, and largely go unnoticed when driving. The only demerit to all of this is fuel consumption and while the Avalon doesn’t bring terrible numbers, our 12.2 L/100km city driving average is just as expected from a free breathing V6 without start/stop technology or cylinder deactivation.
The Avalon drives like its more luxury oriented cousin, the Lexus ES, which is as big of a compliment as it gets. Around corners, it moves about with gentle and fluid body motions, never feeling overtaxed or gasping for breath. The Avalon soaks up bumps exceptionally well, coddling occupants in its soft yet noticeably not-top-shelf leather seats. The quilting looks expensive though, and is found along both the front and rear seats, as well as their door inserts. Passenger space is worth mentioning, as rear seat leg- and headroom are above average for my six-foot figure. This Avalon was made for a full house. The cabin is not as well insulated as the Buick LaCrosse but it comes close with just a bit more tire noise seeping through the cracks. Visibility is excellent from all angles, aided by blind spot monitoring and a 360-degree camera display.
The redesigned 2019 Toyota Avalon makes a worthy case for itself as a spacious sedan with enough comfort and luxury features to warrant its attractive sub-$50,000 price tag. The real challenge however will be persuading buyers away from the RAV4, Highlander, or the similarly attractive Camry. The Avalon may seem like a pretty penny and no, it does not carry a premium badge, but it’s packed with all the right ingredients to appease a willing audience that doesn’t give a damn about street cred or popularity. No kid is going to dream about an Avalon or have one on their bedroom wall, so quit pushing for it to be sporty, Toyota. The Avalon isn’t exciting and never will be, but it damn sure is comfortable, something that will surely go appreciated once the dreamy idea of owning a luxury branded vehicle fizzles off.
Model: 2019 Toyota Avalon Limited
Paint Type: Harbour Grey Metallic
Base Price: $47,790
Price as Tested: $47,790
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,976 / 1,850 / 1,435
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Horsepower: 301 hp @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 267 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, FWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 10.9 / 7.6 / 9.4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.2