Toyota Avalon

The 2018 Toyota Avalon is available in XLE, XLE Plus, XLE Premium, Touring and Limited models, with Avalon Hybrid versions available for all but the base XLE.

Standard versions of the Toyota Avalon are powered by a 268-horsepower, 3.5L V6 that has variable valve timing for smooth response across the entire rev range. It's hooked up to a 6-speed automatic transmission that has Eco, Normal and Sport modes as well as steering-wheel paddle shifters for manual control.

Avalon Hybrid models get a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine and a 105-kW electric motor system as part of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive-- the same as used in the Camry Hybrid. The electric motor system adds to the powertrain's output when needed and recovers energy when decelerating or braking. The powertrain makes 200 horsepower altogether. Fuel efficiency for the Hybrid is estimated at 40 mpg city, 39 highway.

The Avalon has ride and handling characteristics help bridge some of the difference between a plush luxury car and a sporty premium sedan. With MacPherson struts in front and dual-path dampers, plus a dual-link rear suspension, anti-roll bars front and rear and pillow ball joints in back, the Avalon has been tuned to be agile yet refined. Electric power steering provides less boost at higher speeds and is weighted to for good centering in tight corners.

While the Avalon is more enjoyable to drive than the previous models, it's still one of the quietest sedans without a full-fledged luxury badge. Thanks to measures such as an acoustic windshield and special sound-absorbing materials throughout, road and wind noise are especially well-masked.

All models are neatly finished on the outside with LED tail lamps and a chrome-tipped exhaust; but it's inside that the new Avalon is most noteworthy. The Avalon's instrument panel uses special IntelliTouch capacitive switches under a grained surface; they're designed to be used with gloves, and by those with long fingernails.

Equipment is comparable between normal V6 and Hybrid versions of the Avalon. The base XLE includes heated exterior mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, a backup camera, cruise control, leather upholstery, woodgrain interior trim, heated power front seats, a Smart Key system, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming and a Display Audio sound system with a 7-inch touch screen, eight speakers and auxiliary and iPod/USB inputs.

XLE Premium models add push-button start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a compass and a blind-spot monitor/warning, while the Touring model adds 18-inch painted alloy wheels, LED headlamps/fog lamps and premium leather upholstery. It also gets an upgraded sound system with nine speakers, a navigation system and Entune services and Bing search, iHeartRadio, Pandora and OpenTable apps.

The Limited and Hybrid Limited models are at the top of the model line and include HID headlamps, heated exterior mirrors, 3-zone automatic climate control, premium heated/ventilated leather upholstery, a 10-way adjustable driver's seat (8-way for passenger), heated rear seats and LED daytime running lamps, A Premium Navigation system is included, as well as that steps up to an 11-speaker JBL setup plus subwoofer and separate amplifier, as well as HD Radio with iTunes tagging. The system also allows access to customizable vehicle settings.

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Editors' First Take

The new Toyota Camry learns an old trick with the addition of an all-wheel drive option for 2020. It bears mentioning that it's been nearly 30 years since Toyota offered the 1991 Camry All-Trac -- the last Camry model with all-wheel drive -- but with more and more buyers gravitating toward SUVs for their increased all-weather capability, the best-selling sedan in the US has to adapt to remain relevant.

The new Camry is not alone. The 2021 model year Avalon sedan will also be offered with AWD on certain trim levels. To gauge how well these more surefooted models perform, I headed to wintry Utah and hopped behind the wheels of both models on a slippery, snowy handling course.

Dynamic Torque Control AWD

Mechanically similar to one another, the all-wheel drive Camry and Avalon sedans are powered by the automaker's 2.5-liter Dynamic Force four-cylinder engine, making 202 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque for most trims, or 205 hp and 185 lb-ft in the XSE models. The Dynamic Torque Control AWD system -- inherited from Toyota's RAV4 -- features a single-speed front transfer case that can send power to the rear axle via a driveshaft. A coupler just before the rear differential can be disconnected, allowing the back axle to spin freely under most conditions (such as dry pavement or at highway speeds) when front-wheel drive is sufficient.

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