Toyota's New Large Sedan Is a Different Kind of Avalon
A Bit of a Tough Sell in a Tough Segment
I’ve always thought of the Avalon as an old man’s car. The big sedan is a family car that’s been focused on comfort and spaciousness. The idea of a sporty Avalon seems to go against everything that Toyota has done with the vehicle up to this point. However, times are changing, and Toyota isn’t the only company to realize it needs to start marketing it’s stuff to The Youths.
In order to connect with a younger generation, the company has set out to make most of its lineup a little more interesting and sporty. The latest Camry and Corolla are both the best they’ve been in years and more sporty than ever before. The company also got its hands on the Avalon design and made it better than ever before, taking the lessons it learned from the Camry and the Corolla and using them on this much larger sedan.
One thing is for sure about the new Avalon, this a different kind of car, a different take on what the Avalon can be, and the TRD trim level takes that premise to all-new levels with a fancy body kit, a TRD interior, and plenty of other aesthetic upgrades. The TRD model also gets some minor performance upgrades, which I’ll discuss in-depth later.
My Time With the Vehicle
Toyota dropped an Avalon TRD off at my house for a full week of testing. I drove the car around the streets of Indianapolis as well as on the highway on a long road trip that led me down to the southern portion of the state almost to the Ohio River.
I feel like I put the car to the test over the several hundred miles I drove. While I found the Avalon TRD to be a fine sedan, I was not that impressed by the car in the ways that I was hoping. It’s a decent sedan, but the TRD trim level doesn’t make much sense to me, and during my week with the vehicle, I became less enamored with it the more I drove it. I was disappointed with the car as a whole.
What Is the Avalon TRD?
The Toyota Avalon is a large sedan. In Good Car Bad Car sales rankings, the car pops in next to vehicles like the Nissan Maxima, Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300, Chevrolet Impala, and Buick LaCrosse. In an age when most automakers are focusing on crossovers, Toyota has gone and redesigned its large sedan.
The car features eight trim levels from the lowly XLE model all the way up to the Limited and Hybrid Limited. Speaking of the hybrid, Toyota offers three hybrid models. The TRD (Toyota Racing Development) trim level falls pretty much smack in the middle of the trim level line and offers the sportiest version of the Avalon.
The TRD gets a lot of goodies, including a TRD piano black front splitter, side aero skirts, and rear diffuser; 19-inch TRD matte-black alloy wheels; TRD cat-back dual exhaust with polished stainless steel tip; TRD track-tuned suspension; 12.9-inch front disc brakes with red calipers; TRD piano black rear spoiler; SofTex-trimmed seats with red stitching and fabric inserts, red-stitched TRD headrest logo; and perforated Utrasuede heated front seats.
A Familiar V6
The Avalon comes with either a 3.5-liter V6 engine or a 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid powerplant. The TRD gets the 3.5-liter V6 that’s mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. The engine is the same as the other versions of the car that have it. Toyota didn’t add more power to this engine for the TRD model.
The engine is a familiar one. Toyota has used a 3.5-liter V6 in various forms in several vehicles. In this application, the engine makes 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. It’s a good strong engine, that has more than enough power to get the job done.
The fuel economy for the V6 isn’t fantastic. The car manages to pull 22 mpg city, 31 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. I spent the majority of my time in the car on the highway and at the end of a week with the vehicle, I saw an average of 26 mpg. Not bad, but a fuel-sipper, the TRD is not.
As far as the engine and transmission go, I thought they worked fine, however, I did have some quibbles with the 8-speed auto. There were multiple times where the transmission waited a long time to shift.
I noticed this primarily on the highway. I’d set the adaptive cruise control and I often found the car zooming along in seventh gear as opposed to eight, which would have made sense to me. I suspect this to be the reason I never saw close to the 31 mpg highway that Toyota claims.
On the highway, I was less than impressed with the 8-speed transmission, but around town, the car seemed fine. It shifted as needed and I never noticed any issues.
An Interior Fit for a Lexus
The most impressive part of the Avalon TRD was the interior. There is plenty of room, which can be said of any trim of the Avalon, but the TRD treatment takes the look and feel of the interior up a notch.
The SofTex seats not only look great, but they feel great. I thought they were leather until I looked it up. There is also plenty of adjustment with these seats—forward, back, up and down, lumbar. If you can’t get comfortable in the Avalon, then you won’t get comfortable anywhere.
The subhead above says that this interior is fit for a Lexus, and I truly believe that. The fit and finish is top-notch and the interior materials are very good for a lowly Toyota. The interior has a solidness that other cars simply don’t have. Everything in the cabin felt sturdy and solid from the steering wheel and dash to the buttons and knobs on the infotainment center.
This car’s interior reaches well beyond what you usually think of when you think Toyota. There is real aluminum trim or soft-touch materials in most areas.
The interior is also one of the best from an overall design standpoint. Toyota has a history of getting weird with where it places certain aspects of its interior. In the Avalon, everything is where you’d expect it and it’s well-placed. I had no issues reaching anything or finding any of the buttons or controls. It’s a well-designed interior and it looks darn good too—everything from the dash to the door pockets.
Technology for the Modern Age
The infotainment system was another high point for the car. This isn’t the most forward-thinking car when it comes to technology, but the Avalon has more than many people will actually use.
The infotainment system is easy to use and fairly intuitive. The operating system is quick and the 9-inch touchscreen is precise. There are some buttons and knobs for the things you often use like the volume and some common menu buttons like maps and audio. The system comes with a JBL stereo system with Clari-FI, which is excellent and provides top-quality sound quality at any volume.
The system also has features like Apple CarPlay, Amazon Alexa, Siri Eyes Free, SiriusXM, HD radio, and access to plenty of other apps. There’s also Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging.
In terms of driver-assist technology, there’s full-speed dynamic radar cruise control, three drive modes (ECO, Normal, Sport), Bird’s Eye View 360-degree camera, and lane departure warning with steering assist. But now we’re getting into the car’s safety features, of which there are plenty. Let’s dig into that below.
A Safe, Big Car
Big cars should be safe cars and the Avalon certainly is. The vehicle gets a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS. The car also gets five stars from the NHTSA’s rating system. These two ratings alone mean that the car is very safe, but the car has plenty of good safety technology, too, and I wouldn’t want to overlook those.
The car comes with an Electronically Controlled Braking System and the Star Safety System. Additionally, the car gets Active Cornering Assist and Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. The Avalon also has Toyota Safety Sense with Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beams, and Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
How Big Is the Avalon TRD?
The Avalon is a large, full-size sedan. But how big is it really? Let’s take a look at the car’s dimensions and see how it stacks up against the competition.
A Long and Large Exterior
The Toyota Avalon has an overall width of 72.8 inches and an overall length of 195.9 inches. That’s over 16 feet in length. That’s a big car, but it’s not as large as some of the competition.
The Dodge Charger is actually longer, measuring a full 200 inches. The Chevrolet Impala is longer, too, at 201 inches. The Nissan Maxima is one of the Avalon’s immediate competitors that’s actually shorter in length.
When it comes to width, the Avalon’s dimensions are slightly under the competition. All of the competitors mentioned are a little bit wider. Not by much, though. The Charger is the widest at 75 inches.
Room to Stretch-Out on the Inside
Inside, the Avalon is also large. The car offers 42.1 inches of legroom in the front seats and 40.3 inches in the rear seats. These are very commendable stats.
The competition is better in some ways and worse in others. The Chevrolet Impala features 45.8 inches up front and 39.8 inches of legroom in the rear seats. The Dodge Charger features 41.8 inches of legroom up front and 40.1 inches of legroom in the rear seats. The Nissan Maxima has 45 inches of legroom in the front seats and 34.2 inches of legroom in the rear seats.
As you can see, the Charger is the winner here, but the Avalon was very close. It beat the Impala and Maxima quite a bit in the rear seat legroom.
A Trunk to Swallow Everything
The car has a spacious trunk with 16.9 cubic feet of space. It’s perfect for a few large pieces of luggage, a whole bunch of groceries, or petty much anything else you need to haul around. Pair that with the ability to fold down the rear seats to expand the trunk and you have a lot of space for cargo.
The Chevrolet Impala has the largest trunk space of the car’s immediate competitors. The Impala features 18.8 cubic feet of cargo space. The Nissan Maxima and Dodge Charger aren’t nearly as impressive with 14.3 and 16.5 cubic feet respectively.
Does the Avalon TRD Work?
The Toyota Avalon is a good option if you want a large sedan that will work as a family vehicle. However, the TRD trim level doesn’t work for me. If I were to buy an Avalon, I’d not buy the TRD version. It just doesn’t make much sense.
The Avalon is a really nice car, but there are some downsides to the TRD trim level. The first is the sport-tuned suspension. The suspension in the TRD is firm. Not rock hard, but much firmer than I’d want in my full-size sedan.
Second, is the fact that the body kit makes the car much lower to the ground, too low. While this is fine in some instances on the cracked city streets of Indianapolis this becomes an issue. I like to think I’m very careful with the cars I review, but the front splitter on this car rubbed the concrete more than once.
Once was when I pulled into a friend’s driveway. That pesky hump at the curb kissed the bottom side of the splitter. I can only imagine what would happen if you hit a deep pothole, which are prevalent in Indiana and the rest of the Midwest.
The third thing is that special sports exhaust doesn’t sound great. It’s just louder than most other exhausts. Loud doesn’t automatically equal good. The V6 engine sounds like a regular old V6 engine. Instead of making the engine sound tough or racy, the exhaust just made it loud and that grew annoying, especially on the highway when the transmission was in seventh gear instead of eighth and the engine was humming along.
Subtract those two things from the TRD equation and you have a nice car. However, if you take out those things from the equation, you might as well buy a different trim level. That’s actually exactly what I suggest you do. Forget the TRD trim level in the Avalon. It doesn’t work.
What works is the Avalon as a large car. Let the Avalon be the large comfy car it should be. The new design will speak for itself. It’s a much-improved car. The vehicle is spacious, comfortable, well-equipped, and the V6 engine (which is the engine I suggest you get) is powerful. Overall, this is a good car from Toyota, but don’t buy the TRD trim. Get the Touring or Limited trim level.
Does It Justify Its Price?
I was not provided with a Monroney for the Toyota Avalon TRD I drove, but I can give you ballpark figures based on Toyota’s website. The Avalon starts (in XLE trim) at $35,875. If you jump up to the TRD trim level that I drove, you’re looking at a $42,375 price tag. Add to that the Supersonic Red exterior and upgraded sound system my car had and you’re looking at a total of $44,560. That’s not including any accessories my car may have had.
Now, let’s compare that to the competition. The Chevrolet Impala starts at $31,620. Already it has a savings advantage. If we jump to the Premier trim level of the Impala, we’re looking at $36,095. Again, a considerably lower price tag.
The Nissan Maxima starts at $34,250. The car in its top trim level is $42,780. This one is more in line with the Avalon’s pricing, but still a little less expensive when we’re comparing details. The mid-range trim—the SR—is only $41,450 which would be a closer comparison to the TRD Avalon.
Now, if we go look to Dodge’s Charger, you’ll see that the SXT trim level starts at a low $29,895. If we were to jump up to the mid-range sporty offering, that would be the R/T, which starts at $36,890 and comes with a V8. It is truly a four-door muscle car, outpacing the Avalon in many ways. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper, too.
Now, it’s important to note Toyota has a superior reliability reputation. That is sure to demand a premium. Also, the car’s safety ratings are very high and only really matched by the Nissan Maxima. Those two things could account for paying more for the car, but that’s a decision each individual would have to make themselves.
Personally, I think most of the competition offers better cars for the money. If I wanted a sporty four-door car, I’d buy the Dodge Charger over the Avalon. It’s cheaper and more fun to drive. If I wanted an affordable four-door car I’d buy the Impala hands down.
The Nissan Maxima is the only large sedan I’d pass up on in this segment in favor of the Avalon. The small back seat and trunk of the Maxima would make me spring for the Avalon without thinking twice.
What’s the Verdict on the Avalon TRD?
The new Toyota Avalon TRD is a decent large sedan, but it leaves some things to be desired. The points I’ve outlined above show that it’s more expensive than the competition and not very satisfying.
In an industry that is quickly shifting away from cars in general, the new Avalon had to be superb. This new car isn’t that. It’s good, but the TRD trim level is less so.
I could see buying the Avalon in Touring or Limited trim level, but the TRD trim level here makes little sense to me. Toyota did its best work in the interior of the car. The cabin is much improved over the previous model and felt like it was at near Lexus levels. This is the high point of the car. The rest of the vehicle was good but not great.
Some of the Avalon’s competition may make more sense for you, and I suggest you take a look at the other cars in this segment. The sales numbers for the large car segment would seem to show that the market agrees with me here as the Avalon is not the segment leader and finishes in the middle of the pack.
Optional Equipment: Supersonic Red Paint, JBL Premium Audio System
2020 Toyota Avalon TRD Review
The 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD is a decent large sedan, but it’s more expensive than the competition. The TRD trim level is also an odd choice for this sedan, and somewhat unsatisfying.
The most agile Avalon
Extremely comfortable seats
Top-notch interior materials
Tested and reliable V6 engine
A sporty Avalon doesn’t make sense
Could do better on gas
Ugly exterior and TRD body kit too low to ground
Transmission can’t make up its mind
Louder and not great-sounding exhaust
2020 Toyota Avalon TRD Image Gallery
2020 Toyota Avalon TRD Review
The 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD is a car that tries to be sporty and interesting but fails at its mission. The regular versions of the car are better and the competition is more affordable. Still, this car has some merits of its own.