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2019 Toyota Avalon First Drive

2019 Toyota Avalon First Drive

With crossovers slowly supplanting traditional cars as the preferred choice for families, it seems as if the timing has never been worse to redesign a car in one of the segments most affected by the SUV's rise: the full-size sedan. But these times of uncertainty in the large car market don't worry Toyota as it prepares to sell the newest version of its flagship four-door, the Avalon. The 2019 Toyota Avalon is totally redesigned with a sportier profile, revised powertrains, and new safety and infotainment features. The result is a comfortable cruiser that is easily one of the best cars in its class. But will anybody care?

2019 Toyota Avalon First Drive

Courting Younger Buyers
For the new Avalon, Toyota is setting its sights on younger buyers for its full-size sedan. According to Toyota, the average age of customers in this segment is 64, and the typical Avalon customer is 66.

To lower that age and appeal to a wider audience, every effort has been made to give the new Avalon an edgier feel compared to the previous version. Its razor-sharp front fascia has more in common with current Lexuses than the midsize Toyota Camry. The profile view reveals complex forms on the lower rocker panels and a character line that splits in two just aft of the front doors.

Toyota has been staunchly opposed to using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in its infotainment systems, instead favoring its own Entune app suite. We haven't agreed with this approach since Entune is not nearly as intuitive as those programs and the number and variation of apps it supports is fairly limited. That changes somewhat for 2019 as the Avalon will be the first Toyota equipped with Apple CarPlay integration. (Android Auto is still conspicuously absent.) Also on board is support for Amazon Alexa, so you can issue basic commands to your car from home and vice versa.

For the past couple of years, Toyota has included a standard suite of advanced safety features on the majority of its cars, and the 2019 Avalon takes it a step further with additional safeguards. To recap, last year's model came with Toyota Safety Sense P, composed of adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking (with pedestrian detection), lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and automatic high beams. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is added to the list of standard features for this year. Limited and Touring models can also be equipped with front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree parking camera, and an automatic braking function for the rear cross-traffic alert system.

2019 Toyota Avalon First Drive

Loyal to the Base
Even with the Avalon's new high-tech features and expressive exterior styling, Toyota has not turned its back on the Avalon's traditional strengths. It's still a large, luxurious sedan that is more at home gliding down endless boulevards in silent comfort than storming up twisty mountain grades. That isn't to say the Avalon stumbles over itself if you ask for a little extra on adventurous roads. On the contrary, the big four-door feels fairly buttoned-down at higher speeds, and the Touring's adaptive suspension dampers further reduce body roll, and not at the expense of ride comfort either. Stiffening the dampers does little to upset the Avalon's serene ride.

On that note, comfort is still the name of the game in this class, and the 2019 Avalon delivers. Our test car in Touring trim featured the largest wheels available, but road imperfections did not jostle the composed sedan. That said, our test drive didn't feature any roads with undulations, so we don't know how the Avalon's comfort-tuned chassis performs when required to deal with vertical body motions. Even with the 19-inch alloys, road noise was muffled. The engine was quiet, too, until we found a deserted straightaway and punched the accelerator pedal. Touring models come standard with piped-in engine noise and a throatier exhaust note.

All of these improvements would be for naught if the Avalon wasn't distinct from the midsize Camry, a comfortable sedan in its own right. Though it's only marginally bigger than the Camry, the Avalon partially justifies its higher price tag with a superior interior. Most trims come with seats and door inserts trimmed in faux leather (premium vinyl that Toyota calls SofTex), and the sport-themed XSE and Touring levels add faux suede elements to both. The luxury-themed Limited dresses up the cabin with perforated leather upholstery, wood trim sourced from Yamaha, and quilted leather on the doors and seats. Not only is the Avalon's interior a clear step above the Camry's, we think it's also a bit nicer than the interiors of some entry-level Lexuses.

The front seats are pleasantly comfortable, with little side bolstering for easy entry and exit and four-way lumbar adjustment on the Limited and Touring models. There's excellent legroom all around and more than enough headroom in the back. Headroom in the front is decent, though taller drivers may find their hair brushing the headliner if you select a trim with the sunroof. (It's standard on all trims except the base XLE, where it's an option.)

2019 Toyota Avalon First Drive

V6 or Hybrid?
The standard engine is Toyota's tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6 paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Power output is rated at 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, an increase of 33 hp and 19 lb-ft. The EPA estimates the Avalon will earn 26 mpg combined (22 city/32 highway) for XLE models, while XSE, Limited and Touring models carry a rating of 25 mpg combined (22 city/31 highway). Avalon buyers will be happy with the engine's power, transmission logic and throttle calibration, though selecting the Eco driving mode dulls throttle response too much for our tastes.

That said, we were more impressed by the available hybrid powertrain. Like the previous Avalon, the new model uses a continuously variable automatic transmission, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an electric motor. Combined system horsepower stands at 215 hp, a 15-hp gain over last year. Fuel economy is also improved; XLE models earn 44 mpg combined (43 city/44 highway), while the others are rated at 43 mpg across the board.

On the road, the Hybrid doesn't feel significantly slower than the V6, with the electric motor making up for some of the four-cylinder's power deficiencies. And there's decent passing power to keep yourself out of trouble on the freeway. Given its excellent fuel economy and low price premium of $1,000 over a comparable V6 model, we think it's the powertrain to get for the majority of buyers. We think so especially now that the hybrid's battery pack has been relocated from the trunk to below the rear seats, making cargo space identical in the V6 and hybrid models.

2019 Toyota Avalon First Drive

Four Trim Levels, Two Themes
The 2019 Toyota Avalon will be sold in four trims in two distinct themes. The XLE ($36,395) and the Limited ($42,695) are the luxury-oriented models, distinguished by their dual exhaust outlets and grilles with silver horizontal strakes. The XSE ($38,895) and Touring ($43,895) carry a sporty theme, with black-painted exterior styling elements (including the grille), larger wheels and quad exhaust tips. Essentially, Limited and Touring models offer more features than the XLE and XSE models, respectively. These include slim-design LED headlights and daytime running lights, cornering lamps, heated and ventilated front seats, and an upgraded sound system. The Touring also gets adaptive suspension dampers and an additional driving mode, allowing users to choose between a comfortable and a sporty ride. All trims are available with the V6, and the hybrid powertrain is available for an extra $1,000 on XLE, XSE and Limited models.

The Bottom Line
The 2019 Toyota Avalon improves upon its predecessor with additional features, better fuel efficiency and a more responsive chassis. Its high-class cabin looks and feels as nice as some entry-level Lexus products without the luxury-car price tag. All things considered, the Avalon is undoubtedly one of the best sedans in the full-size market. We'll know in time how large that market actually is.