We’ve always liked the Toyota Avalon. Toyota’s flagship full-size sedan has always exceptionally, comfy, roomy, well-turned out. Ok, kind of a Grampa car. What it really hasn’t been is exciting to drive.
Toyota has been on a tear lately, though to make their vehicles a lot more fun, and after we tested the Camry TRD, (Toyota Racing Development is their in-house racing arm) we were so impressed, we hoping the company would do the same magic with the Avalon TRD.
One Bad Grampa
Ok, we have never had an Avalon that got this kind of attention before! The massive front grille is aggressive, and the mesh pattern looks serious. It also looks like the Jumbo Size version of the Corolla XSE we recently tested. Flanking the grill are LED reflector headlights with smoked chrome bezels. Adding to the visual thrill is a unique front splitter. While it looks like it sits low, we didn’t have problems scraping or entering driveways – a little caution saves the horrible scraping sounds.
The profile really catches the eye too. This is a big vehicle, so you’re rolling with a lot of presence. The TRD sits about 0.6 inches lower, but it looks more than that, and hunkered down over unique 19 x 8.5-inch matte-black alloy wheels with the large red TRD calipers peeking through, it looks serious. Side aero skirts finish off the look.
The rear is special, too. We like the subtle trunk lid spoiler (the one on the Camry TRD was a little goofy), while the special rear diffuser and massive twin tailpipes – courtesy of the TRD-tuned cat-back dual exhaust system – promise power. Blacked out Toyota logos and red TRD badging let you know this is one special Avalon.
The perfect finishing touch is the new Ice Edge exterior color, exclusive for Avalon TRD. The pictures don’t do it justice. While it looks white in the images, in person, there’s a gray tone that gives it a light cement appearance. It is simply stunning.
Sporty but Comfortable Interior
Inside, the changes are less overt, but it is still clearly sporty. The front SofTex (not leather) sport buckets look the business, with Ultrasuede inserts and red accents. TRD is stitched in the headrests for a custom look.
You should like red if you’re thinking about an Avalon TRD – the fat-leather wrapped wheel, the shift lever and much of the cabin has loads of red stitching throughout. Even the seatbelts are red! But since the interior would otherwise be on the subdued side – we like it.
Style is one thing, function another, and here the big Toyota scores big. Those front buckets are supportive and comfortable, and there is loads of room for those in back. The Avalon is an older model, so you’ll forgive it if it doesn’t have a full digital dashboard, and we certainly do – the large analog gauges are handsome and sharp, with a 7-inch multi-function display in between serving up key info.
There’s a monolith-shaped 9-inch center info-tainment display, and with standard Apple CarPlay, our WAZE was easy to see and use. For non-Apple folks, Android Auto joins for 2021. Tech is also along for the ride with Qi mobile device charger, Wi-Fi, and two USB-C ports in the front and rear console box, also new for 2021.
The Avalon is also the first Toyota to include integration of smartwatch or Alexa-enabled device connectivity. You can lock and unlock the car’s doors, start the engine, or check fuel level, all from your Apple Watch, compatible smartwatch, or Amazon Alexa-enabled device. It’s voice controllable and compatible with select Android or Apple devices. Neat stuff.
Audiophiles will probably want to pony up for the optional the premium JBL Premium Audio system, with 1,200 watts, and 14-speakers – which Toyota says is the most speakers in the segment. Impress your friends. It sounds excellent, too.
Performance is a three-letter word: TRD
All this stuff is nice, but outside of the outrageous looks, you came here for driving thrills. Under the hood is Toyota’s familiar 3.5-liter V-6, which also finds a home in the Camry as well.
With 301 horsepower, it is a strong powerplant, but you probably don’t expect much sportiness from an Avalon/Camry V6. But you’d be wrong!
The big player here is the TRD-tuned cat-back dual exhaust system. It gives a nice deep note on idle and sounds good running through the rev range. But if you’re willing to hold on to the last 1,000 rpm, it sings like a high-performance thoroughbred. A thrill, and a surprising one at that. And because this is no cheap aftermarket exhaust, there are no droning notes at highway speeds or funky resonances. In fact, at cruise, it’s as quiet as well, an Avalon.
For a relatively large car, the eight-speed automatic gets you off the line quickly, and in Sport mode, you can have a lot of fun shifting and tearing around. Paddle shifters, or the stubby shift lever, you decide. We won’t call the Avalon fast, but it is certainly quick, and the responsiveness makes it great fun.
The suspension makes it even more exhilarating. A lot of work was done here – thicker underbody braces increase torsional rigidity, and unique coil springs drop the big sedan 0.6 inches for a reduced center of gravity. Exclusive TRD shocks, stiffer coil springs and stabilizer bars work to keep things under control.
This is a beautifully balanced chassis. The ride is firm but compliant, the response to the steering is great (Although the new Acura TLX wins for big-car steering response) and the car eggs you on to toss it around and have fun.
You never lose awareness that this is a big sedan, but this baby loves to hustle. Brake feel is excellent. And yet with all the performance goodies, it’s a quiet comfortable cruiser for the daily commute.
Do I need an IOU for the TRD?
We think Toyota was very clever building this vehicle. Like the Camry TRD, they built off a nicely-equipped, but not maxxed-out trim level, so prices are held in check.
Your most basic Avalon, the XLE, starts at $36,195, and with the huge interior space, 301-horse V6, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto/Amazon Alexa capability, plus available AWD, it’s a fine, comfortable, full-size luxury sedan without paying through the nose.
Those wanting to go big on a small budget should also consider the XLE Hybrid, with city/highway EPA figures of 43/44, you’ll save a lot on gas. Yours for a modest $37,100.
We’re pretty won over by the TRD’s great look and performance, so we’d pony up the $43,125 asking price. Our tester also had the Summer Tire / Premium JBL Audio Package for $1,720. Add in $995 for Delivery, and we rang the bell at $45,840.
Competitors are tough – not many in the class use their in-house racing departments on their big sedan. The Nissan Maxima SR is quite sporty, and at $43,200 a bit less. But you really do miss the special feeling of the TRD, plus the Maxima’s slurry CVT holds it back.
The BMW 5-series is one of the standard bearers in the class. Loading up a 530i sedan comes in at a cool $58,870 – and at that price you’re only talking a 2.0-liter, turbo 4-cylinder. It’s probably just as fast as the Avalon, but it sure won’t sound as good. And that $13,000 extra would be a horse pill to swallow.
The 2021 Toyota Avalon TRD is a great sport sedan. It looks mean, it’s wonderful to drive, has loads of room, and considering its pedigree of performance goodness, it’s a bargain, too. Sorry Gramps, we’re taking your car.
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.