Some say Toyota is like a Cruise Ship – once it starts moving it takes a while for it to make a turn.
We say not so, in the last couple years, under the direction of new management to create a sportier, livelier, more-fun-to drive product. We’ve seen model after model, from Camry to Corolla, get some sharp new duds, make sharp new moves, and surprise a lot of people.
And nothing is more surprising as the all-new 2019 Avalon.
Not in the bad-not-good sense, but in the bad-is-awesome sense. Once the poster car for our seasoned citizens (along with much of the Buick line), this new Avalon is stunning. We got loads of compliments and double takes during our time with our tester. Mind you, the older model was quite handsome in a tasteful way, but sexy? No.
Built on the same platform as the all-new Camry – itself quite a looker, the Avalon looks even larger, longer (by 2-inches) and lower (by an inch). The massive grille is polarizing to some, but we like it – an Avalon that carries some menace is cool by us.
And if you want the most menace, we’d say go for the XSE or Touring models, sporting a piano black mesh grille, machine-finish gloss black wheels, and headlight bezels and mirror housings also in black. Add in the Touring’s trunk lid spoiler, lower diffuser and quad tailpipes, and you have the epitome of badness. Bad Grandpa, indeed.
It’s your bestie
Inside, the surroundings deliver a true quality experience. The new Camry is very nice, but the Avalon is bordering on stunning. The first impression is one of space – the rear seat is huge, with best in class shoulder, leg and headroom.
We’ll take the front, thank you, with leather trim and perforated ultra-suede covering surprisingly-supportive seats. (Yes, bucket seats.) No plastic-covers on Grandma’s comfy, springy, couch here. You are surrounded with the goodness of real wood trim, real aluminum, and soft-touch materials throughout. Very plush.
In front of the driver is a large 7-inch Multi-information display, flanked by nicely-sized analog gauges. Yes, that is an 8,000-rpm tach and 160-mph speedo looking back at you. The real eye grabber is the 9-inch screen rising like Mount Vesuvius out of the dashboard – it looks more like sculpture than info-tainment. You can even flick and pinch the screen, like a tablet.
Being the good, sensible Toyota it is at heart, you still have the screen flanked by switches, large vents below, simple climate controls, and of course, a volume knob. Every Avalon also has a standard audio system with 14 speakers – the most in its class.
Yeah, we noticed that too – there’s a lot of best-in-class stuffed in the new Avalon.
The Avalon puts plenty of tech at your fingertips. The war is over – sort of – you can now enjoy Apple CarPlay. However, Android Auto won’t be available. Toyota makes up for this with a 3-year trial period of Entune 3.0Toyota Connected Services include: Safety Connect, Service Connect, and Remote Connect.
You also get the segment’s first integration of smartwatch or Amazon Alexa-enabled device connectivity, as part of Toyota Remote Connect. Letting you lock/unlock doors, start the engine – even check their fuel level – all from your smartwatch or Amazon Alexa device.
For those who want even more information, Touring models like our tester feature a 10-inch Head Up Display – the biggest in the segment – and takes use of that space to provide vehicle and engine rpm, turn-by-turn directions, audio settings and drive mode.
Think speedboat, not land yacht
The fact that we punched our tester to redline within two minutes of getting the keys should tell you something – this is a driver’s car. It starts with a nice deep rumble burbling out of the quad exhaust tips from the 301 hp, 3.5-liter V6 that’s finding a home in much of Toyota’s line up.
Torque is strong at 267 lb-ft, coming higher up the rev range at 4,700 rpm. No problems, the 8-speed automatic is quick to shift – especially in Sport Mode, and paddle shifters add to the fun. The combination gives the Avalon a lot of punch, whether off the line, or executing a quick pass on the freeway, and darn that exhaust sounds sweet as you give the V6 the boot.
Power check. Handling? Another surprise. This is a big broad-shouldered car, but it likes to be bent into a turn. The steering feels great – Toyota has really sorted these systems out – and the ride is firm, not harsh, while the chassis feels rock solid. It’s got a big German sedan vibe – never flustered, just calm, capable. Maybe not as overtly sporting as the Europeans, but confident and responsive. Overall, the feel is Premium with a capital P.
Can you afford the Premium?
This is where buying a Toyota – versus, say a Lexus – pays big dividends.
The Avalon lineup starts with the XLE at $35,500. The 44 mpg (wow!) XLE Hybrid a mere $1,000 more. You can build through the trims, and then you decide if you want full lux Limited at $41,800, or go the sporting route with the Touring like our tester, at $42,200.
Options on our red rocket included the Ruby Flare Pearl paint ($395), the one available package – Advanced Safety – that includes Birds-eye view Camera, Intelligent Clearance Sonar and Rear Cross-Traffic Braking. ($1,150). All totaled with Delivery ($920), our car came in at $44,665.
Competitors include the Nissan Maxima $41,835 comparably equipped. Kia Cadenza $45,590, and the all-new Lexus ES350 F Sport $49,125. So, the Avalon sits in the middle of its class and is notably more affordable than a luxury brand.
The fact that we’re comparing an Avalon with European cars, let alone the pricey luxury brands says what a giant step the new model is.
Great looks, luxurious interior, and surprisingly fun to drive, the all-new Avalon is a worthy flagship for the Toyota line.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.