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2021 Toyota Avalon gets all-wheel drive, blacked-out Nightshade trim

This large, cushy cruiser gets an update for 2021, gaining all-wheel drive and some fresher style.

2021 Toyota Avalon
The Avalon isn't a bad-looking sedan, but that grille is enormous.

Toyota is updating a few of its core four-door models for 2021, including the full-size Avalon. The cushy cruiser benefits from a few tweaks, plus the addition of some important underbody hardware, which Toyota debuted Wednesday.

Undoubtedly, the biggest news here is the availability of all-wheel drive. This will be the first time an Avalon has been offered with AWD, and it will be an option on XLE and Limited trims. This grip-enhancing feature will be paired with a familiar 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that's good for an adequate 205 horsepower. With an eight-speed automatic transmission, this system can send up to 50% of available torque to the rear wheels as dictated by conditions. To improve efficiency, it can also disconnect the rear axle when not needed. This helps deliver an estimated fuel economy rating of 25 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined. Naturally, Avalons equipped with all-wheel drive also feature special wheels and tires, plus unique suspension tuning. Toyota estimates these models will account for around 20% of Avalon sales.

As for the Avalon hybrid, it currently accounts for roughly one-third of total deliveries. For 2021, the car's nickel-metal hydride battery has been replaced by a new lithium-ion pack, though this change should not affect fuel efficiency. The XLE trim is expected to return 43 mpg city, 44 mpg highway and 44 mpg combined. Other models are a whisker less economical, averaging a still-impressive 43 mpg.

For drivers that want a little more style, the Avalon will be offered in a Nightshade trim for 2021. An extension of the XSE grade, which already comes with a blacked-out grille, black mirror caps, rear spoiler and badges, the Nightshade variant adds dark 19-inch wheels, black window trim and door handles and a special shark-fin antenna that, you guessed it, is also black. Available paint colors include Celestial Silver Metallic, Wind Chill Pearl and Midnight Black Metallic.

On the technology front, there's not much news to report, though most importantly, all Avalon models now gain Android Auto functionality, and it's about time. Toyota's Safety Sense-P suite is standard on the 2021 Avalon, which includes adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, steering assist and more. Curiously, Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 Plus, which is debuting on the updated 2021 Camry, is not being offered here. Also new for 2021, two USB-C ports will be added. These are in addition to a pair of traditional USB type-A outlets, bringing the car's total to four.

Finally, there's the sporty Avalon TRD, which originally launched for 2020. With a more rigid body, stiffer springs and lightweight wheels, it's the driver's choice in the Avalon range, which isn't really saying much. It's kind of like wearing a cream-colored button-down shirt instead of a white one. Anyway, further enhancing the TRD model's dynamics, the automaker is now offering a summer tire option.

Avalon aside, you might be wondering why Toyota is still making so many sedans as more and more shoppers move to SUVs. According to Cynthia Tenhouse, vice president of vehicle marketing and communications at Toyota, the answer is simple: because they continue to sell.

Even though sedan deliveries are rather weak these days, with traditional four-door cars overshadowed by more stylish and versatile utility vehicles, they do continue to move in large numbers. They account for around one-third of Toyota's sales, and according to Tenhouse, around 4.5 million were delivered in the US last year, which is no small figure. "Quite honestly," she said while speaking with media during a conference call this week, "We are happy to take as much of that as we can."

Look for the updated Avalon to go on sale this fall.

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