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With the current Avalon, Toyota decided to try and shake up the sedan's formerly sleepy image in the hopes of attracting buyers whose personal Venn diagrams don't overlap entirely with AARP membership. I'll be damned if Toyota wasn't successful, because not only is the 2020 Toyota Avalon interesting to look at, it's pretty decent to drive.
The 2020 Toyota Avalon is available with two very different powertrains. The standard version has a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 engine that makes 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. But for this review, I'm focusing on the Avalon Hybrid, powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with the brand's electronic continuously variable transmission, which results in 176 hp and 163 lb-ft.
My test car is an XSE Hybrid, and despite the not exactly headline-making power number, the car feels totally adequate while accelerating up onramps and overtaking on the freeway. The best part of the hybrid drivetrain -- aside from its stellar, EPA-estimated fuel economy of 43 miles per gallon in the city and on the highway -- is its glassy-smooth delivery of power. Toyota's been doing this hybrid thing for a long time now, and it really shows.
The XSE version of the Avalon is the sportier of the two non-TRD trims, though that isn't saying much. The "sport-tuned suspension" of my test car doesn't seem to offer much in the way of added driver engagement or any perceptible increase in road holding. Thankfully, the engineers didn't take the sport-tuned part too far, because the car remains comfortable even over broken Los Angeles pavement.
The Avalon's steering is surprisingly nice, with adequate weight to the wheel and a nice linear feel. The system doesn't offer a great deal of feedback to the driver, but in a car like the Avalon, that's certainly not unexpected, nor is it a deal breaker. Braking is also not what I'd call brilliant but lacks any vices or apparent weirdness, which can happen with hybrid powertrains and regenerative braking. There is plenty of initial bite when you want it, but the brakes don't feel overly grabby at low speeds, which is a plus.
The Avalon packs plenty of standard safety tech in the form of the Toyota Safety Sense P suite of driver assistance systems. TSS-P includes things like a precollision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control. Also on board is a standard blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert. No surprise, the systems all work well.
The interiors of modern Toyotas, in general, are fairly lovely places to spend time, but the Avalon is on another level -- particularly in its more expensive trims like the range-topping Limited. It's very Lexus-like, but with better infotainment. Win/win, right?
My more modestly priced XSE Hybrid tester lacks the rich brogued leather of the Limited trim, but that doesn't mean it isn't excellent. The high point of the interior for me is the front seats. They're spectacular. They feel soft and cushy while also being plenty supportive for long stints behind the wheel. On top of how they feel, they also look great. I'd love to see Toyota start to offer these in other models.
The Avalon has plenty of interior room for front and rear passengers along with lots of cargo space in its good-ol'-fashioned big sedan trunk -- 16.1 cubic feet, to be exact. The cabin materials are well thought out and of very high quality. Overall fit and finish are excellent, and the whole car feels premium, especially for its price.
The biggest issue with the interior of the Avalon is the noise. The car doesn't transmit tons of road noise necessarily, and there aren't any squeaks or rattles to speak of. Still, the wind noise that the car generates is a little egregious, especially considering that the car features double-pane glass. For comparison, I recently spent some time in the much bigger and bulkier (and older) Toyota Land Cruiser, and even at California freeway speeds, it was dead quiet. Not so with the much sleeker Avalon. Whether the sound is coming from the door mirrors or some of the body styling touches is hard to say, but at higher freeway speeds it's enough to make conversation difficult at times.
From an infotainment standpoint, the Avalon isn't what anyone would call cutting-edge -- this simply isn't Toyota's strong suit -- but it's much better than it was even a generation ago, such that its flaws are mostly ignorable. This is especially true if you're a regular user of Apple CarPlay or Amazon's Alexa, but if you're an Android user, you're out of luck for now.
My tester features the upgraded premium audio system designed with JBL. It features built-in navigation as well as Clari-Fi audio enhancement, engine sound amplification (ugh) and Toyota's Active Noise Control system. It's not a supercheap package at $1,750, but as someone who loves music and audiobooks, I consider it a worthwhile box to tick -- even if the noise control tech doesn't really seem to do much at highway speeds. It's also worth mentioning that on the XSE Hybrid, the upgraded audio package is the only option. Everything else is standard.
So what will a well-equipped 2020 Toyota Avalon XSE Hybrid cost you? Less than you might think, actually. My tester retails for $42,836 ($836 of which is accessories), which makes for a pretty compelling value proposition, given Toyota's resale values and reputation for reliability.
To be honest, the Avalon doesn't have a lot of competition, not only because of its size but also because of its price. There aren't many full-size sedans being built these days, and most of the ones that are left are pretty expensive compared with the Avalon. Still, there are a few worth discussing like the Lexus ES 300h, the 2020 Kia Cadenza and Chevrolet's not-long-for-this-world 2020 Impala.
The Lexus' pricing is eerily similar to the Avalon's, but in going to the fancier badge, you're actually giving up some creature comforts. Namely, the Lexus has a worse infotainment system, the interior design is a little less chic and flowing and the Lexus doesn't allow you to fold down its rear seats.
The 2020 Cadenza presents a real challenge to the big Toyota if buyers can get past the Kia badge. The Cadenza gets a refresh for 2020 that improves its looks inside and out and features some suspension tweaks to give it a more supple ride. The downside is that it's only offered with a 290-hp V6, so if you want something a little thriftier on gas, it may not be the car for you. The Cadenza is priced fairly close to the Avalon, with the Technology trim starting at $38,885, while the more luxurious Limited costs $44,585.
The 2020 Toyota Avalon isn't a perfect car, but it's still undoubtedly the big fish in its ever-shrinking pond. It's a pleasant car to drive, and should last for eons and hold onto its value in a way that the competition likely won't. If you can get past the styling, the Avalon Hybrid is an excellent choice.