“Sporty Avalon” is no longer an oxymoron.
You would be forgiven for thinking the 2019 Toyota Avalon is a big, boring sedan that only Florida retirees consider buying. That’s the reputation previous versions of Toyota’s largest car have cultivated. Take one look at this latest version, though, and you’ll see the Avalon’s mission has changed.
This is the new Toyota Avalon Touring, one of four trim levels in which the car is offered for 2019. Along with the lower-priced XSE trim, the Touring represents a 180-degree flip from the Avalon you thought you knew. Aggressive styling, sportier handling, and a decidedly un-Avalon-like attitude separate these two trims from the more familiar XLE and Limited models, which better fit the mold this car created for itself over the years.
Can the Toyota Avalon be a relatively fun and sporty car, or is what you see all smoke and mirrors? The answer to the former question, surprisingly, is yes.
The 2019 Toyota Avalon’s starting price is $35,500, which is highest among non-luxury full-size sedans. The lowest is the Ford Taurus at $27,800, while cars such as the Nissan Maxima and Kia Cadenza come close to the Avalon with starting prices of $33,950 and $32,290, respectively. There’s nothing immediately obvious that justifies the Avalon’s higher starting price, especially since some good alternatives such as the Buick LaCrosse and Chrysler 300 also start below $30,000 (not including cash on the hood, of which there will be much).
As previously mentioned, this Toyota Avalon is the Touring model, which has a starting price of $42,200. My tester also includes this trim level’s only option: a $1,150 Advanced Safety package that adds front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree “Bird’s Eye” camera view with clever perimeter scan (more on that later), and rear-cross-traffic-alert with automatic braking.
The as-tested price of this fully loaded Avalon Touring comes to $44,913, but includes upgraded features such as an adaptive variable suspension, Toyota’s Entune 3.0 infotainment system with JBL sound and navigation, an aggressive front fascia paired with piano black body accents, a rear spoiler, and active noise cancellation that can enhance the engine’s sound.
Some might call the Avalon Touring ugly, but I like it. The Touring trim, along with the less expensive XSE, makes the Avalon look decidedly aggressive and sporty. Compared with the softer and more elegant look of the XLE and Limited trim levels, the Touring is downright mean-looking. Yes, the “grille” is ridiculously oversized, and only a small portion of it lets air through, but it grabs your attention, and without any obvious insults to good taste, the car’s overall design is appealing.
But much of that appeal can’t be appreciated in pictures or from a distance. There are body panels that jut out and sharp angles that intersect to create some interesting surfaces, yet they’re only apparent when you’re up close. Toyota also deserves kudos for fitting the Avalon Touring with actual exhaust tips (four of them!), and not some artificial housing that has no physical connection to the exhaust pipes.
The Avalon’s interior is much less controversial than its exterior, and it scores high for being both attractive and ergonomically designed. Case in point is the infotainment system’s large nine-inch touchscreen display, which is flush-mounted atop the floating center stack that descends and elegantly curves into the center console. The screen is also flanked by eight physical buttons (four on each side) and two control knobs, thus ensuring not all inputs must be made by using the touchscreen alone.
As for comfort, the Touring model moves the Avalon from fluff to firm. This trim level receives special front seats with the highest degree of adjustability. The adaptive suspension is also more stiffly tuned, which is great for increasing feedback from the road, but not so great for soaking up bumps. Likewise, the din inside is louder, thanks in large part to the aforementioned Engine Sound Enhancement system that amplifies the V6’s sound through the stereo system.
While the Avalon Touring is still a comfortable large car with plenty of space for four full-sized adults, the XLE and Limited models are better options if being coddled is a priority over having fun behind the wheel.
With the 2019 Avalon, Toyota has finally brought Apple CarPlay to its model line. Unfortunately for Android users, compatibility with Google’s mobile OS is still conspicuously absent. That aside, Toyota’s Entune 3.0 infotainment system is a decent technological dance partner with no glaring faults. The large 9.0-inch touchscreen display is a particularly nice piece of hardware, and I appreciate the extra physical buttons and knobs for easier inputs and quick jumps around the system.
Other tech highlights on the Avalon Touring include an upgraded JBL sound system with 14 speakers and 7.1-channel surround, compatibility with the Toyota Remote Connect smartwatch app, a large 7.0-inch LCD info display between the gauges, and a wireless smartphone charging pad in the center console.
The most unique bit of tech in the Avalon, though, is a feature within the car’s 360-degree “Bird’s Eye” camera system. At the press of a button, the system will reconfigure the exterior cameras’ composite image to do a 3D fly-around of the car’s exterior. Toyota calls it “perimeter scan,” and it could reveal something such as a child’s bike in your path before backing up.
Toyota outfits the Avalon with a 3.5-liter V6 engine producing 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. Crossing the 300-horsepower mark is impressive for any front-wheel-drive car, but it’s actually common among full-size sedans. The Nissan Maxima offers 300 hp, the Chevy Impala has 305, and the Buick LaCrosse boasts 310.
The Avalon’s power is routed through an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is not available, but you can order your Avalon with a more fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain on every trim level except the Touring. And that makes sense, considering the Touring is designed to be sporty, not fuel efficient.
And sporty it is. While the Avalon Touring isn’t a true sports sedan, it does offer a selection of driving modes that can change its character from mild-mannered to asking-for-trouble. The modes range from Eco to Normal to Sport. There’s also an enhanced Sport+ mode that’s exclusive to the Touring. These modes affect settings for the Avalon’s adaptive suspension, throttle sensitivity, electric power steering, and engine sound.
In Sport+, the Avalon is at its sharpest and loudest. In this setup, it’s hard to believe you’re even driving an Avalon, as it handles like a far smaller and more responsive car. And yet, even back in Normal mode, the Avalon Touring feels more athletic and engaging to drive than your average full-size sedan thanks to its adaptive suspension, larger wheels, and, to be honest, amplified engine noise that creates the right atmosphere.
Like all Toyotas, the Avalon earns high marks for safety because all of its trim levels come standard with Toyota Safety Sense P, which is a suite of advanced safety technology that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-departure alert with steering assist, and automatic high beams. A blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert also comes standard.
That would be enough to earn any car a high safety score in our book, but the Avalon Touring also offers an optional Advanced Safety package for $1,150 that includes a full array of eight front and rear parking sensors, the 360-degree camera view system with its trick perimeter scan view, and the addition of a rear automatic-braking system.
The Avalon Touring’s official fuel economy rating is 22 miles per gallon in the city, 31 on the highway, and 25 combined. That’s about the same as the Nissan Maxima, which also achieves 25 mpg combined, and is slightly higher than cars with more powerful engines such as the Chevy Impala and Buick LaCrosse, which earn 22 and 24 mpg combined, respectively.
If you’re looking for the most fuel-efficient full-size sedan, though, the obvious choice is the Avalon Hybrid, which can be had in all trim levels except the Touring. It nearly doubles the gas-powered Avalon’s fuel efficiency with a combined rating of 44 mpg.