You may have noticed that the 2019 Toyota Avalon is totally different from every Avalon that came before it. The fifth generation of the Toyota flagship, it’s meant to redefine the nameplate and provide a glimpse of things to come across Toyota’s lineup. Representing Toyota’s unflagging commitment to sedans, no corners were cut in design or engineering. While Ford is giving up on sedans completely, and other carmakers are shrinking their sedan choices, Toyota is stepping on the accelerator. The result is the totally reimagined Avalon (and 2018 Camry, for that matter), which was designed, engineered and built in the United States.
At the media introduction for the 2019 Avalon in Del Mar, California, this past spring, designers and engineers alike made a point of their mandate to create the best Avalon ever from scratch. As Toyota moves away from its conservative-design image, we wondered what challenges might be involved in a clean-sheet-of-paper vehicle. Particularly a large sedan with an historically specific owner base. Typically, battleship-class sedans like the Avalon are the go-to vehicles for older consumers. We wanted to know more.
Alan Schneider is with Toyota’s Calty Design in Newport Beach, CA. He headed up Avalon’s interior-design team. Between stints behind the wheel of assorted Avalons during the afternoon drives in the Del Mar area, we pulled Schneider aside to dig a little deeper into the challenges and benefits of creating a vehicle’s interior from scratch.
What made designing the interior of the 2019 Toyota Avalon radically different from previous generations is that it is fundamentally poles apart from its predecessors. At the core of this deviation was Toyota’s choice to build the new Avalon on its TNGA (Toyota New Global Architecture), a flexible platform allowing for a longer, wider cabin. Additionally, the exterior stylists created a lower roofline, adding yet another dimension to the interior design. Finally, among Schneider’s marching orders was to be authentic. To that end, where you see stitching, it’s real stitching. Where you see wood, it’s real wood — and so forth.
New Meets Old
Beyond working with a drastically different space, interior designers had to somehow incorporate aspects of the cabin appealing to the traditional Avalon buyer with forward-looking styling cues to attract a new, younger buyer. "It required more deep thinking," Schneider said. "There are aspects of an all-new interior that are freeing because you can think outside the box. But we had to appeal to two different buyers."
In the long run, however, more emphasis was given to attracting the new buyer. "You can sell an older person something new," Schneider explained, "but not vice versa."
The toughest nut to crack was how to maintain the feeling of class-leading spaciousness while, at the same time, creating the feeling of a driver’s cockpit.
A Few Tricks
Narrow A-pillars allow for a wider windshield, providing a panoramic view. In fact, there is an abundance of glass all the way around the cabin, creating an impression of wide open spaces. Early in the design process, Schneider’s team decided to move the air vents lower, allowing the entire instrument panel to move forward. While it created more passenger space, lowering the vents caused a major headache for the engineers who had to devise a path for rerouting the duct work. But they managed it. Adding to the illusion of greater width, the vents are all on the same horizontal plane, running from the driver’s door to the passenger’s door. No matter how the vents are pointed, they maintain perfect alignment.
Taking a page from crossover interior styling, the center stack is one continuous element beginning with the large vertical touchscreen that actually extends above the top of the instrument panel, then flows all the way to the back of the front seats. This helps create the cockpit feel Toyota believes younger buyers want.
What it means to you: Straddling the line between big-car space and comfort, leading-edge styling and technology, the 2019 Avalon may be that rare bird of a honking-big sedan that does have multi-generational appeal.