Toronto – With the recent consumer shift towards CUVs and SUVs, flagship sedans seem to be a thing of the past. The likes of the Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300 and Ford Taurus appear to be relics from a few generations gone by as the “larger is better” American marketplace shows signs of a slowdown.
Conversely, other automakers have embraced these large sedans with fairly new models such as the Buick LaCrosse, Kia Cadenza and Nissan Maxima, all the while expecting tepid Canadian sales numbers.
Enter the Toyota Avalon – a flagship car since 1994 – stuck in the crossroads. Toyota could have gone either way, but a strong sales record in the United States has propelled it to enter its fifth-generation with a variety of changes made possible by the new TNGA platform.
Based on a quick drive around Toronto, it seems a good decision for consumers who don’t feel the need for a luxury logo. The 2019 Avalon exudes luxury coupled with cutting-edge design, a plethora of interior room and technology, and a comfortable and relaxing ride.
Two trim offerings
The Avalon started sales in May and offers Canadians two trim choices: XSE and Limited. The XSE (starting at $42,790) leans toward a bolder, sportier choice; while the Limited ($47,790) adds plenty of luxury touches that come close to its Lexus ES cousin.
There are advantages present in both trims, so consumers will have to scrape through the nitty gritty to see what suits them more. XSE buyers receive a blacked-out mesh grille, rear spoiler, quad tip exhausts, paddle shifters, sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch alloy wheels. The Limited gets 18-inch alloys, but comes with LED headlights, real wood trimmed interior, perforated leather seating with front ventilation, heated rear seating and a Bird’s Eye View monitor.
Regardless of trim, all Avalons receive a 9-inch infotainment unit, 14-speaker JBL premium audio system and for the first time ever in a Toyota – Apple CarPlay. Like most Toyotas, the Avalon comes standard with Safety Sense P, a suite of advanced safety technologies that include Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, and Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
A smooth and refined ride
This new version is aimed at changing the mindset that the Avalon nameplate is mundane. That offensive comes from many fronts including a bump in power that goes all too well with the new fastback exterior design.
Powering the front-wheel drive Avalon is the same 3.5-litre V-6 running off the Atkinson cycle found in the Camry, using both direct and port injection. It produces a peppy attitude that’s rated at 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque mated to its new 8-speed Direct Shift automatic transmission that replaces an outgoing 6-speed. The change in transmission is noticeable, improving all-around ride quality with seamless shifts as you move up and down the rev line.
The power is there when it’s needed, especially in Sport mode, to complement handling capabilities you wouldn’t expect from a large flagship. But the Avalon seems best suited in Normal drive as a cruiser, at least for the Limited trim. Road imperfections are soaked up in Normal mode creating a calm, smooth ride with comfort top-of-mind. Road noise and harsh vibrations are unnoticeable as the Avalon takes on that luxury persona; a big nod goes to its comfortable leather seating.
As for fuel economy, the Avalon finds itself in a decent spot at par with the Maxima and ahead of the Cadenza at 10.9 L/100 km in the city and 7.6 L/100 km on the highway, but that’s still below the ratings of the LaCrosse.
Luxury for the mainstream
The Avalon’s Limited trim comes pretty close to what is considered luxury in the marketplace. Having a seat inside, occupants are treated to real wood trim throughout, quilted leather door trim, as well as ventilated and heated Cognac-coloured leather with cool-looking stipple imperfections. It’s simple and sophisticated with the right touch of class along with the ample space luxury consumers appreciate. That roominess continues in the rear where three more adults can sit comfortably with ample headroom and legroom.
The typical Avalon buyer may average 66 years of age, but that hasn’t stopped Toyota in making its large sedan more connected. As mentioned earlier, a standard 9-inch touchscreen dominates the dash and comes with Apple CarPlay, which could be a good thing given its confusing built-in navigation system. In addition, a smartphone cupholder has been added in the front for passengers looking for quick access along with wireless charging for most Android phones and some iPhones.
The interior may be Avalon’s biggest strength, but its sporty styling creates an additional touch of class. The Limited trim receives LED lighting with sharp ablation cuts for its headlamps and taillights, and sleek angular cuts in its windows. The most polarizing aspect of the new car comes down to its front grille, where both trims showcase a unique look: blacked-out in XSE and a mesh version in Limited. They are both mammoth in size, but that’s a risk we’ve seen both Toyota and Lexus take before.
The 2019 Toyota Avalon takes on a whole new demeanour thanks to its new TNGA platform that shifts focus from size and trunk space to a more sporty, fastback style. There are a few head scratching moments, especially concerning its large grille, but the overall look and feel moves away from Avalons of old.
If comfort, luxury, safety and price are key decision factors for your next car, the Avalon checks all those boxes and adds some power to boot. It’s one of those cars that can be easily overlooked, but when tested, it sure does surprise and makes you question whether the large sedan should really become a thing of the past.