Why does this exist? Why the hell not?!
Toyota's normcore veneer splits every so often, letting weird stuff out of the woodwork, like a skunkworks Prius rally car or a Yaris with way too much horsepower. One such car that is bound to elicit a double take from most anyone is the 2021 Avalon TRD. I have no idea who this car is for, but I'm very glad it exists.
"Sheesh." That's what I said when I first saw the Toyota Avalon TRD. It's… a lot to process. All Avalons carry that massive grille up front, yet on the TRD it seems to make more sense, what with the odd levels of aggression oozing from every other corner of the car. Sharp lips and protrusions surround the lower part of the body, while 19-inch alloy wheels fill the wells appropriately. Most of the Avalon's badges and trim are blacked out, which makes the TRD's cat-back exhaust stand out even more. The whole sedan sits 0.6 inches lower to the ground, too.
Sure, the car looks like a random aftermarket tuning shop had its way with it, but the Avalon TRD is fun in a way that Toyota's larger vehicles so rarely are. Like the aforementioned Prius rally car, I like when cars are taken out of their stereotypical elements and made to adapt to some strange new world. What fun is life if you can't get a little weird?
Inside, things are a little lighter on the senses. The Avalon TRD's interior is pretty close to the standard model, with a few notable exceptions like red contrast stitching, TRD logos in several places and some very loud floor mats. Oh, and the seatbelts are bright red, too -- just like in sporty Mercedes-Benz vehicles, if you want to try and spin that positively.
Despite all the boy-racer frippery, the Avalon remains a large family sedan at heart, so its usability stays along those lines. There's a metric truckton of practicality in here. The center armrest and door cubbies are massive, the flat tray ahead of the cup holders is great for phones or masks and the rear seats have loads of room for even taller adult passengers. The Avalon's 16-cubic-foot trunk is big enough for golf clubs, groceries and suitcases aplenty, beating the Nissan Maxima 's cargo capacity, although it lags a bit behind the Dodge Charger .
The Avalon TRD does a pretty good job approximating a sport sedan without going whole hog. Its 3.5-liter V6 puts out the same 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque as any other variant, and that power is routed through the same ol' eight-speed automatic transmission heading only to the front axle. There's more than enough forward motion for switchbacks and highway on-ramps, and while the TRD-specific exhaust sounds good across the rev range, I'm left wishing for about 50 more hp, which would be just enough to feel properly sprightly.
Under the sheet metal, Toyota added stiffer springs and sway bars, wider wheels, bigger brakes and tweaked static dampers. In normal driving, the TRD feels just a smidge stiffer than usual, carrying a few extra road undulations into the cabin, but it's still 100% Avalon in here, with a priority on a quiet cabin and a sufficiently smooth ride. This sedan is fun to chuck around, and it stays pretty flat, but most of these changes don't fundamentally alter the experience. The all-season Michelin tires have the same limits as any other Avalon, while a lack of both AWD and a limited-slip differential means those front piggies will squeal and struggle a bit to move the whole operation forward. Adding one of those two items would be welcome injections of character, and borrowing the adaptive dampers from the Avalon Touring might bestow it with more of a best-of-both-worlds vibe.
The Avalon TRD is the least-efficient Avalon on offer, but not by much. The EPA rates it at 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, numbers that I find quite achievable, and it's only a hair less efficient than the base and XLE variants.
I'm a big fan of automakers that don't poor-shame lower trims with shrunken screens and obscene bezels, which is part of the reason why I dig the Avalon. All trims, TRD or otherwise, come standard with a 9-inch touchscreen that includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, in addition to satellite radio and four USB charging ports (one USB-A and one USB-C per row). Navigation is optional, part of a $1,720 package that includes peppier JBL speakers. The whole system works pretty well; the graphics are dated and a little large-format for my tastes, but it has everything most buyers will want, and it functions well enough to keep the youths from getting angry.
On the safety front, every Avalon also comes with the Toyota Safety Sense P package, a suite of active and passive driver aids. Forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams and full-speed adaptive cruise control are all present and accounted for. It all works as flawlessly as it does on any other Toyota. The only thing I wish the Avalon TRD had is parking sensors, since it's a big boy and nobody wants to scuff up that big ol' grille. That said, they're available on other trims.
While a few key upgrades to the Avalon TRD would really wake it up in my opinion, I'm not so sure the price would be able to handle it. As it is, the 2021 Toyota Avalon TRD starts at $43,870, including $995 for destination and handling. That puts it above every single other Avalon trim, save for the tippy-tippy-top Limited Hybrid. Considering you can get a Dodge Charger with a 485-hp V8 (and a superior infotainment system) for nearly the same scratch, you have to really want the Avalon TRD to make a strong financial case.
But if sporty-ish Japanese sedans are your bag, then the 2021 Toyota Avalon TRD will certainly scratch your itch. It may not leap forth in a way that truly separates it from the rest of the Avalon crowd, but it's a fun four-door that bucks the notion that Avalons are basically shepherds carrying grandma from Boca Raton to the Pearly Gates.