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2019 Toyota Avalon: First Drive Review

If you want to buy American, it doesn’t get much more American than the 2019 Toyota Avalon. For those in our business who chant, "follow the money," it’s true, profits for the Avalon get shipped back to Japan; however, the next-generation flagship Toyota sedan was designed and engineered and is being built right here in the good old U.S. of A.

New from the ground up, the reimagined fifth-generation Avalon should be arriving in showrooms by the time you read this. As important as the car itself is the message Toyota sends with it: We still believe in sedans. Resting on Toyota’s flexible platform, which it calls TNGA for Toyota New Global Architecture, the Avalon joins a squad of all-new or freshened models benefiting from this versatile foundation. The Camry, Prius and C-HR also utilize the TNGA.

There is some truth that, historically, the Avalon’s appeal has been to older consumers in search of an aircraft-carrier-sized sled, but who don’t want to buy a domestic sedan like the Mercury Grand Marquis or Chrysler 300. One of Toyota’s aims in redesigning the Avalon is to put that notion to rest. They believe they have created a big sedan to appeal to 30-somethings with large-sedan needs. Certainly with four grades (three of which are available as hybrids), there is opportunity for wide appeal to wallets, if not age.

Grandma, What Big Teeth You Have

More than a year ago Toyota’s president Akio Toyoda proclaimed, "No more boring cars!" A glance at the Avalon’s front end may have him dialing back his proclamation. Stylists unified the upper and lower grille into one honking-big grille. In fact, there’s barely room for the cat’s-eye LED headlights flanking the top portion and the fully functional vertical air vents on either side of the lower grille. The beautifully sculptured hood is easily missed because, like an impending train wreck, you can’t avert your eyes from the grille.

Otherwise, the Avalon is quite stylish. A coupelike roofline accentuates its lower stance. Overall, the Avalon is longer, lower and wider than the 2018 version. The wheelbase is stretched, as well. Long creases run along its sides, culminating in a multifaceted backside with wrap-around LED taillights. It’s difficult to grasp that the big, smiling snout and jewel-like tail belong to the same sedan.

The Brothers Trim

Toyota offers the new Avalon in four trims: XLE, Limited, XSE and Touring. Covering the premium side of the equation are the $36,420 XLE and the $43,120 Touring. Representing the sporty side (with available sound-tuned exhaust, for example) are the $38,920 XSE and the $43,120 Limited.

Every Avalon comes standard with LED exterior lights, automatic dual-zone climate control, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a 7-inch TFT multi-info display, four USB charge ports, a Smart Key system and at least an Entune interface with an 8-speaker audio system, 9-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay.

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff …

The Avalon offers two modes of propulsion: a 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, and a 215-hp hybrid system with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and two electric motors/generators. That’s a 33-hp boost for the V6 and an increase of 15 ponies for the hybrid. Only the top-end Touring grade isn’t available with the hybrid system; the other three trim levels qualify for it for an additional $1,000. Adding two cogs to last year’s count, an 8-speed automatic transmission spins the front wheels for the V6; while a CVT with sequential-shift mode tackles the job for the hybrid.

No surprise that the somewhat heavier, less powerful Avalon Hybrid isn’t quite as responsive as the V6-equipped version that delivers a satisfying amount of thrust. No speed demon, though, the V6 Avalon goes about its business efficiently and without drama. Cruising the streets and nearby roads of Del Mar, CA at the national media drive for the 2019 Toyota Avalon in April, we found both versions fulfilled our expectations. We expected a sedan moderately better than the outgoing model and that’s what Toyota gave us. Oh, and there was some hinting that an AWD version may be in the works.

Will You Walk Into My Parlor?

Besides not being able to see the Avalon’s grille from behind its wheel, there are all manner of good things to talk about once inside its cockpit. Despite Toyota’s stated goal of attracting younger buyers to the Avalon, its interior furnishings won’t discourage older consumers. Beautifully styled, well-appointed and nicely crafted, the cabin is inviting and comfortable. It is a terrific-looking interior.

For the most part, high-end materials cover all the surfaces, many of which are soft touch. Where there is stitching, it’s real stitching. Where there is wood, it’s real wood. There is more head, shoulder and legroom than in the last Avalon. Firm and supportive, the front seats offer power adjustments. Toyota has overlooked very little in the way of convenience and detail. For instance, one of cupholders in the front console has a flat side to accommodate a smartphone.

Our only nit to pick is the 9-in Entune touchscreen that looks like it was added as an afterthought, sitting upright above the dashboard. The Avalon isn’t alone here. As the touch display screens continue to grow, even the most clever of designers can’t seem to integrate them into the instrument panel. It may look a bit out of place, but it functions better than last year’s. It has more conveniently arranged apps and connected services that can be accessed through smartphone or smartwatch. There’s even Amazon’s Alexa and (gasp) Apple CarPlay.

Safe Haven

What is a redesigned or all-new vehicle today if it isn’t safer and less stressful to drive than those vehicles that have gone before it? Every Avalon comes armed with 10 airbags, a backup camera, brake hold, hill-start assist and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Every Avalon is Safety Connect (emergency assistance, stolen-vehicle locator and so forth) capable and comes with a 3-year trial subscription. Standard across the board is Toyota Safety Sense with a precollision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and Dynamic (adaptive) Radar Cruise Control. Available on Limited and Touring grades are rear cross-traffic braking, a 10-in head-up display and a 360-degree bird’s-eye-view camera.

Happily Ever After

We put about 150 miles on assorted versions of the Avalon while in Del Mar. There was nothing surprising in the way it drove or handled. Tuned for comfort, it still handled decently. The lower center of gravity provided by the TNGA deserves some of the praise. The Avalon Touring comes with an adaptive variable suspension, offering a sportier feel.

We like the way it behaved, the quiet and high-end look of its cabin and the amount of elbow room. All in all, it’s a fine large car.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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