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It's no secret that I loved the previous generation Toyota Avalon. The new model is objectively better in almost every way. It's more spacious, more comfortable and more pleasing to drive, whether you're looking for comfort from the Limited model or a more engaged Touring model's ride.
Toyota has even overhauled its Entune infotainment and made most of its advanced safety technology standard across the lineup. If you're in the market for a large-mid size sedan, the 2019 Toyota Avalon is an excellent choice.
Subjectively speaking, this new generation debuts an exterior design that's just… well, it's mostly terrible. That new grille is simply too big for the even a car of this size and too aggressive, I think, for the sedan's target audience. The the profile and rear end look alright and the headlamp and taillight designs are interesting. But that front end is a lot to take in.
Fortunately, it looks a hell of a lot better from the inside.
The new Avalon is available with two powertrain options. There's a hybrid model, we'll get back to this momentarily, and the conventional 3.5-liter V6, which will likely make up the bulk of the Avalon's sales volume. The V6 makes 301 horsepower (33 more ponies than the outgoing model) and 267 pound-feet of torque (19 pound-feet more). It's mated to a single-option 8-speed automatic transmission sending power to the front wheels; a setup that's good for an estimated 31 highway mpg, 22 city mpg and 25 mpg combined. (The base XLE model is rated at 32 highway mpg due to its slightly lighter curb weight.)
Passing power is passable. The 2019 Avalon feels like it has the right amount of power for a vehicle of this size -- not enough to overwhelm, but enough to get the job done. Acceleration is good and, more importantly, smooth. The 8-speed automatic and the V6 work well together with imperceptibly smooth shifts and whisper-quiet operation at highway speeds.
Conventional or hybrid, the new Avalon is longer, wider and lower than before, freeing up additional room in the cabin and giving the sedan a more planted stance on the road. Underpinning that stance is is a suspension that varies between the different trim levels. XLE and Limited models do great job of soaking up bumps with a ride that compliments the Avalon's more quiet cabin. XSE and Touring models are more engaging with firmer springs, dampers and suspension bushing that allow just a bit more road feel and slightly more responsive handling.
The Touring model is also available with an optional adaptive suspension that constantly monitors and changes the firmness of the dampers every 20ms. With the touch of a button, it's also able to toggle between compliant and firm presets. With weightier steering and active sound enhancements piping engine noise into the normally quiet cabin (and simulating exhaust sounds with the JBL surround speakers), the Touring model can feel downright sporty in its Sport+ setting on a winding road.
However, even at its most aggressive settings, there's still a very high level of comfort here. This isn't a car that'll rattle your teeth out in the pursuit of a level of performance that its hefty body and the laws of physics can't agree upon. So Toyota's engineers have chosen to offer slightly better feel and better road engagement in the Sport and Sport+ settings, while keeping things nice and comfy. I dig that.
Thriftier buyers will want to consider the more fuel efficient Avalon HV models. Featuring the automaker's new hybrid system, the HV starts with Toyota's new 2.5-liter "Dynamic Force" four-cylinder engine making 176 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque and adds a pair of electric motor-generator units and a battery pack. The e-motors can send up to 118 horsepower to the front wheels or capture engine or braking energy to recharge the "Hyper Prime" nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Working together, the electric and gasoline motors make a total of 215 horsepower, because hybrid math is never simple addition. Combined torque has been left unstated.
The hybrid model is slightly heavier than the conventional model and less powerful, so it's no surprise that it feels a bit slower and less responsive. What it lacks in performance, the Avalon HV makes for with significantly improved economy and refinement.
The 2019 Avalon HV XLE is the most efficient in the lineup with an estimated 43 city, 44 highway and 44 combined mpg. More feature-laden XSE and Limited models drop down to 43 highway and combined mpg, which is still pretty darn good. I only averaged around 38 mpg for my short time behind the wheel, but I had to test out the Sport mode.
There is no HV Touring model, so you can't get a hybrid with the adaptive suspension, but that's not really much of a disappointment considering the HV's even stronger focus on comfort. Electrification has made the hybrid's cabin even quieter than the V6 and its performance smoother around town and off-of-the-line thanks to the continuously variable transmission (CVT) and e-motor torque filling in any gaps in the gasoline engine's performance.
Toyota has also moved the Avalon HV's battery pack from the trunk to under the rear seats, so this generation sacrifices none of its cargo volume relative to the V6 model's 16.09 cubic feet and keeps its rear seats' ability to fold down intact.
Comfort, if you haven't guessed, is a point of focus for the 2019 Toyota Avalon. There's more space in on both rows for shoulders and legs and the cabin that surrounds those seats has been overhauled with a look that has been praised as highly as the exterior design has been questioned.
The seat bolsters and door panels feature intricate and interesting stitching that looks amazing; the seating surfaces themselves have an almost random pattern of perforations that helps them breathe better. The dashboard layers textures and materials in a way that draws the eye smoothly around the cabin. The steering wheel features a two-tone perforated leather wrap that really classes up what could easily have been a parts-bin pick. It's a fantastic looking cockpit.
Toyota attention to detail can be found all around. One of the front cupholders, for example, has a flat edge that allows it to accommodate a smartphone. The optional Qi-wireless charging pad hides in its own cubby beneath the center infotainment stack. High-powered 2.1A USB ports are scattered throughout the cabin for charging passengers' devices.
At the center of the cabin is Toyota's newest version of Entune tech. Floating above the dashboard on its own tombstone-like panel, the 9-inch touchscreen system has been dramatically improved for its third-generation. Menus look better and are more smartly organized. Plus, there are new Toyota Connected Services including remote access and monitoring via smartphone, smartwatch and Amazon Alexa.
Entune 3.0 also features screen-sharing connectivity with the Scout GPS app, giving you a navigation option even if you don't take Toyota's onboard maps, and connectivity with Apple CarPlay for iOS devices.
The software overhaul makes Entune much easier to use and understand, but it's still not my favorite tech suite on the road. Responsiveness could still use some sharpening -- the lag after a tap is still just perceptible. And while Apple CarPlay give iOS users an easy software software alternative, Android users are left out due to a lack of Android Auto compatibility. Toyota cites data privacy concern for its omission of Android Auto, but I'd like at least the choice to opt in.
An optional 1,200-watt, 14-speaker JBL Clari-Fi audio upgrade is available and highly recommended. This premium stereo system sounds amazing with a wide range of music types: it bumps hip-hop, thumps driving rock and clearly reproduces delicate jazz and soul passages. Even at high volumes with loads of bass, it doesn't distort noticeably and stages the audio nicely with good stereo separation. JBL's system is helped by the Avalon's well-sorted cabin; there won't be any rattles coming from the door panels or dashboard to ruin that perfect beat drop.
The Avalon is bigger, quieter, more premium and more comfortable, but it's also more safe. At least, it's packed with more standard safety tech.
For the 2019 model year, Toyota's Safety Sense P (TSS-P) suite of driver aid technologies is standard on all Avalon models. So even the base XLE with no options is packing standard pre-collision auto-brake assist, pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with lane keeping steering assist, automatic high beams and radar adaptive cruise control. That's a pretty solid loadout, going a long way toward making the new Avalon feel more premium.
In addition to the impressive standard TSS-P setup, higher trim levels also offer blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts. For even more safety, Avalon buyers can opt for an Advanced Safety Package that adds auto-braking to the rear cross-traffic system, as well as sonar parking distance sensors and a bird's eye surround camera system.
Designed and manufactured in the U.S., the 2019 Toyota Avalon V6 goes on sale in May 2018 starting at $35,500 for the base XLE and working up to $42,200 for the top Touring model. The Avalon HV starts at $36,500 for the XLE and tops out at $42,800 for the Limited. That's before the $895 destination charges get added.
If you can get past the overly aggressive grille, this new Avalon is a massive improvement over what was already one of my favorite large sedans. It's comfortable and confident with the V6 and smooth and silent with the HV hybrid system. The cabin looks amazing and the level of safety technology offered standard is impressive.
The Avalon slots into an interesting place among its competition including the Buick LaCrosse, Chevy Impala, Kia's Cadenza and the aging Ford Taurus. The Cadenza is a particularly interesting alternative because it's less expensive (and a little less powerful) than the Toyota, but boasts similar ride quality, dashboard tech and advanced safety technology. With its more conventional design, the Kia's front end is also a lot easier on the eyes.
But the Avalon seems to aspire to a higher station. It doesn't just boast a good loadout of amenities, it pushes into premium territory with its gorgeous cabin, supple ride and attention to detail in its construction and design. For a lot less money, the new Avalon has me wondering why anyone would even consider a Lexus ES; it's that good.
Just try really hard not to look directly at that front end.
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