Toyota, a brand once synonymous for only bullet-proof reliability, has also become known for being boring. There’s nothing wrong with boring, as having a vehicle that does everything you need day-in and day-out is a virtue of its own. Toyota, though, for what it’s worth, is looking to change that by sprucing up their lineup with new, sportier offerings like the Camry, Corolla, and Avalon.
RFD recently reviewed a 2019 Avalon Hybrid and found it to be a competent flagship sedan from the Japanese brand. Not to rehash the article, but the new Avalon looks, depending on your thoughts on the front end, pretty good, has an amazing interior, and is well priced for what you get. The only gripe we had with the hybrid variant was the way it handled.
When Toyota kindly dropped the keys off to an Avalon Touring, I went into the review looking to see if the sporty aspect of the regular vehicle was a little better than the hybrid’s. Here’s a quick teaser: it sure is, and it’s a lot better than I thought it would be.
Besides the Toyota 86, there aren’t a lot of sporty vehicles in the automaker’s lineup. There’s the new Corolla Hatchback, but that’s more lukewarm that full-on hot hatch. Sure, the Camry can be had when a V6 engine at a time when the majority of others are moving toward turbocharged four-pots, but it’s all bark and no bite. Toyota’s cars may look sporty, but, besides the 86, they don’t exactly really fulfill on any promises of being enjoyable to drive for individuals that prefer to go out of their way to find a good road to drive on.
So, when the Ruby Red example with the massive black grille and slim headlights turned up outside my apartment, I was more apprehensive than excited. This is a flagship sedan, which usually have a reputation for being large and cushy, yet the Avalon Touring that turned up is currently the sportiest offering in the sedan’s lineup.
Over the XSE trim, going with the Touring adds smoked chrome bezels for the LED headlights, dynamic LED taillights, a sport-tuned exhaust system, engine sound enhancement (more on this later), sport seats with Ultrasuede, a four-mode switch with two Sport settings, and adaptive suspension. That’s not some hodgepodge of features, but a good list of items that any other automaker would put on their cars, too.
Knowing that the Avalon Touring came with some sporty parts, but still had a long, lengthy, luxurious body, I was perplexed as to what the vehicle was. Sporty sedan like the Chevrolet SS? A capable grandtourer like the Kia Stinger? Or a luxury-first sedan like the old Avalon? A short ride revealed that this is a luxury sedan that manages to dip its feet in the other two categories.
Unlike the hybrid variant, the rest of the Avalon lineup is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 churning out 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. No, the Touring doesn’t come with any more power than the other, non-hybrid Avalons, but the V6 is plenty strong. And with the quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, the large sedan is deceptively quick. The Touring also comes with paddle shifters on the steering wheel that feel surprisingly good to use. The result is a 0-to-60 mph time of roughly six seconds – front-wheel drive being the inhibiting factor with the vehicle.
Off the line, the Avalon feels quicker than the figure lets on, not exactly pinning you into your seat, but definitely pushing you back with some force. Turn traction control off – crazy that you can even do that in an Avalon – and the tires will squeal with delight. Being able to experience that in a Toyota Avalon of all vehicles is enjoyable.
With its aggressive face, sharp 19-inch wheels, and massive quad exhaust outlets – quad! – one would assume the Avalon Touring is a sharp scalpel around a corner, but that’s not the case. Not even with two Sport modes, Sport and Sport+, does the Avalon Touring come off as a canyon carver. There’s still a noticeable amount of body roll and sending power to only the front wheels hinders handling, as well. The ride – oh man the ride – is buttery smooth in Eco and Normal, and gets slightly sportier in Sport, and then slightly sportier in Sport+. It never gets jarringly sporty, staying comfortable and composed over rough roads, though.
The way the Avalon Touring drives is impressive, and all of the sporty components add an athletic edge to what was seen as a boring, luxury vehicle. But the level of sportiness also transfers to the inside where the model features a thick steering wheel, well-bolstered leather seats with Ultrasuede inserts. The Ultrasuede inserts continue onto the doors, which is a nice touch, while the fake carbon fiber-like trim throughout the entire vehicle is meant to be sporty, but actually comes off as cheap. The massive pedals have alloy covers that make them look like they’ve been pulled right off of a sports car, too.
It’s clear to see that the new Avalon Touring is a luxury-first sedan with a sporty edge. And after a week and roughly 500 miles with the car, I think Toyota made some obvious changes in the name of – I hate to use this word, but nothing else adequately describes it – performance. Toyota’s pumping engine noise into the cabin and the quad exhaust system has baffles (there’s the engine sound enhancement), which amplifies the noise when put into Sport+ mode. It’s barely noticeable, but there’s a little growl when you push the right button twice.
The Avalon Touring really is a sporty sedan that you can take a 300-mile highway trip, passing other drivers with ease, find a good set of back roads and have a good time in, and still have a car full of passengers that are happy and comfortable. It’s shocking that this combination comes from Toyota of all places, but alas, it has. And with the Avalon TRD on the horizon, which promises to be sportier thanks to beefier suspension components, I think Toyota has finally learned that it can no longer just be the safe option.
Want a quiet, comfortable Avalon? Go with one of the other trims. If you want something that can actually tackle a corner, while still providing you with comfort and luxury, the Touring trim is the one to get. I can’t wait to get some seat time in the Avalon TRD to see if the extra goodies result in a more athletic feel. And I can’t remember the last time I actually turned back to take a second look at a parked Avalon, but I did with the Touring trim, which says something.