By Frank S. Washington
DEL MAR, Calif., — Quilted leather, 300 horsepower, an eight-speed automatic transmission, paddle shifters, adaptive variable suspension, a 1200 watt, 14-speaker audio system, all this stuff and more suggest that the 2019 Toyota Avalon is no longer your grandma’s conservatively styled four-door sedan.
The fifth generation of Toyota’s flagship has undergone a radical makeover. Daring was the word used internally when describing what was in mind. At times during the development, as the team put together its content list the question was, “you do know that this is an Avalon.”
Engineers switched to direct injection of the 3.5-liter V6 engine and picked up 22 horsepower, boosting output to 301 ponies and 267 pound-feet of torque. During my test drive I found this engine to be powerfully smooth and it moved the 2019 Avalon with authority. The front-wheel-drive (big) midsized sedan got 22 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg combined.
The new eight-speed transmission was decisive in its gear selection. Upshifts were imperceptible, so were downshifts and our test car had paddle shifters. The new Avalon was longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. It goes on sale late this spring.
Toyota hopes to split a hair with the Avalon. The average age of current owners is 64; needless to say the automaker wants to lower that. But it doesn’t want to offend current owners. Thus, they’re utilizing the two track approach through the trim lines. There are four: the XLE, the XSE, the Limited and the Touring. There will also be three hybrid trim lines.
The hybrid will be powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It makes 176 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque. The fuel rating was 43 mpg in the city, 44 mpg on the highway and 43 mpg combined.
The XLE and XSE were a little tamer in design and they will be aimed at current customers. While the Limited and Touring models were more robust including love it or loath it grilles and the new quad tipped exhaust.
LED head and tail lights are standard across all Avalon trim lines. And I found the turn signals intriguing. In the front they rolled on and they rolled off in the rear. Small LEDs sequentially came on or turned off creating the effect of an arrow when the turn signal was engaged. You’ve got to see it to appreciate the visual effect.
Top of the line models had paddle shifters and an adaptive suspension; the AVS could make 650 levels of corrections in 20 milliseconds. In other words, it could read the road and adjust the suspension accordingly.
I tried the drive mode on our Limited test car. The sport setting adjusted transmission mapping, steering got a little tighter and the car held gears longer to build torque.
The interior was just short of sumptuous. The leather was soft to the touch, so was the dash and the doors. Fit and finish measured up to what you’d expect from Toyota. In other words, it was excellent good. It was a sunny day and there wasn’t too much reflection in the windshield; that is a pet peeve of my driving partner. The 2019 Avalon had the feel and the look of a premium sedan.
The interior was dominated by a floating center stack. It looked like it was carved from one piece, almost like a ski jump ramp. There was a storage space at the bottom of the stack. The Avalon had five USB jacks and four of them supplied rapid charges. The premium audio system was formidable; 14 speakers and 1,200 watts.
There was quilted leather, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats and the usual suspects of creature comforts. Our test vehicle had satellite radio, a navigation system, moonroof, paddle shifters and push button start/stop.
A JBL performance audio system is standard on Limited and Touring grades and is available on XLE and XSE grades. In the XLE and XSE passengers can listen to crisp tunes on a standard 8-speaker audio system having Entune 3.0 Audio Plus with Connected Navigation Scout GPS Link App and Entune 3.0 App Suite Connect, featuring new in-vehicle third-party applications. Apple CarPlay is standard on all grades.
Entune 3.0 Toyota Connected Services include: Safety Connect and Service Connect with a 3-year trial period and Remote Connect with a 6-month trial. Wi-Fi Connect Powered by Verizon trial with up to 2GB within 6 months and the Entune 3.0 App Suite is subscription-free.
The system’s new 9-inch capacitive touchscreen can be pinched and flicked, just like personal mobile devices. Its refresh rate is quicker, its voice recognition is more perceptive, (we didn’t try it), and it better recognizes users’ gestures, so said Toyota.
The 2019 Avalon will also feature Toyota’s first integration of smartwatch or Amazon Alexa-enabled device connectivity, as part of Toyota Remote Connect. This will allow drivers to lock/unlock their doors, start their engine, or check their fuel level, all from the convenience of their smartwatch or Amazon Alexa-enabled device.
It’s voice controllable and compatible with select Android or Apple devices. Toyota said it is among the first automakers to feature Amazon-enabled device connectivity capable of executing home-to-car and car-to-home interactions.
All this connectivity technology is about attracting a younger buyer. With that group, if you can’t connect forget about selling them anything.
But even though sound is central the 2019 Toyota Avalon is a car and how it drives is very important to the ownership experience. The sedan was athletic as I pushed it through twisting two lane roads. The 2019 Avalon stayed level and never lost its track.
I was impressed with the handling and even thought that it might have all-wheel drive it stuck to the road that well. There was no torque steer with this front-wheel-drive sedan. It was quiet and there was not much wind noise. The car was not difficult to drive.
About the only thing we found to gripe about was the gas and brake pedals. After pressing them, there was a click when they were released. We reported it but had to remember these were pre-production cars. We certainly expect that to be remedied by the time the 2019 Avalon goes on sale.
The gasoline XLE starts at $35,500, for the XSE it is $38,000, the Limited starts at $41,800 and the Touring starts at $42,200. The Hybrid XLE starts at $36,500, the XSE starts at $39,000 and the Limited starts at $42,800.
Toyota, just about any Toyota, was never known for dynamic styling. Design-wise they were thought to be, well, boring. With each new generation of the brand, styling gets a lot more aggressive. That was the case with the Camry; now the same holds true for the 2019 Toyota Avalon. A lot of things will be said about it but I doubt that boring will be one of them.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com