I was last working on an automotive showroom in 2002, selling Volvos roughly six months before the on-sale date of Volvo’s first true crossover, the XC90. To be sure, Volvo was well regarded for its wagons, and a slightly lifted V70, dubbed XC70, did most of what a crossover could do – it was just doing it with a lower roof rack. This was immediately prior to the XC90 debut, when a Volvo showroom – and most others – was reliably filled with sedans, and only sedans. Today, to find a numerical balance between sedans and SUVs you need to visit an Asian showroom, and examine something like Toyota’s redesigned Avalon.
If you’ve paid attention, you know the Avalon is the upsized, upmarket variant of Toyota’s Camry. And no, I’m not talking the NASCAR/Daytona-winning Joe Gibbs Racing Camry; I’m looking at the whatever-floats-your-boat-it’s-got-it Camry offshoot, with a greater length, longer wheelbase and as many features as one product planning spread sheet will reasonably allow. If I were to compare it to anything on that 2002 Volvo showroom it would be Volvo’s S80, which was to the luxury import what ABBA was to rock: solidly built, easy to dance to and accessible…but slightly antiseptic.
Built atop an all-new platform, and as Toyota puts it, ‘designed, engineered and assembled in the U.S.’ (Georgetown, Kentucky), the new Avalon is designed to attract those customers with an ‘overarching’ (really…) desire for a design-centric, tech-savvy mode of attainable, premium transportation. Unquote.
If ‘design-centric’ is an abbreviation for eccentric design, we think the press release nailed it. In profile, or from the rear ¾ shot, this is essentially what we’ve come to expect from the Avalon for the many years we’ve known the Avalon. The greenhouse is a tad more 4-door coupe than in previous iterations, but there is the very real sense of an upmarket Camry here, a tad more mature than Toyota’s more volume-oriented 4-door, looking a bit more expensive. And in contrast to its Lexus stablemate, the ES 350, the Avalon is (surprisingly) now a tad more expressive. The overtly aggressive sheetmetal is underscored – on our top-of-the-line Touring – by 19-inch alloys wearing 40-series rubber.
Inside, buckle up for a veritable explosion of form-fitting, perforated buckets, aluminum interior accents, and a touchscreen Toyota found, presumably, in Elon’s recycle bin. Of course, within that touchscreen is Amazon Alexa connectivity (but none of Jeff Bezos’ sexts – we checked) and Toyota Entune 3.0 Connect. It’s all properly executed, and all of this century – even if the 4-door sedan format is of the last century.
It’s in starting the Avalon that its rationale becomes apparent. With its 3.5 liters of naturally aspirated, DOHC V6, you have at the ready 301 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque; both figures are middle-of-the-road relative to turbocharged fours, but there are few things that swing so sweetly than a naturally aspirated six. Connected to the front wheels through Toyota’s 8-speed automatic, and with Eco, Normal and Sport modes, you can play with the guy in the GTI far longer than the VW pilot would have thought possible. But then, you can also turn to channel 32 on Sirius/XM and just hang out.
The Avalon’s point-and-shoot capability is enhanced by an all-independent suspension with an available Adaptive Variable Suspension system on our test Touring grade. The balance between control and comfort is almost sublime, but in previous drives we’ve found that balance in lower trim levels, also. In short, from a driving standpoint the Camry and Avalon will do virtually everything a sober driver will ask of it, or its sober passengers will want of it.
If shopping, I’d probably opt for the mid-level XSE, which – with an optional JBL Audio – will stay under $40K, saving you 10% relative to the Touring I tested. But know, also, that $40K will get you into the Lexus showroom, and would probably access one very clean GS – or even LS – on the pre-owned side of that showroom.
You’ll spend your money and make your choice. And if a sedan continues to meet your needs, or – more likely – once again meets your needs, Toyota’s Avalon is one of the more competent options.