Elevating The Segment

A Victory & Reseda review of the 2019 Toyota Avalon

The last Toyota Avalon raised the bar for the brand's large sedan made for the North American market. It was developed on a new platform that still shared some DNA with the Camry, yet it evolved into its own as a big car worth owning and driving.

Keep in mind that the big Avalon has been with us since 1994 over four generations. Also, Toyota has always made such big, luxurious sedans for many markets around the world. Remember the 1969 Crown? It may have been the same size as a Chevrolet Nova, but this sedan exuded luxury like no other Japanese car of its time.

Then, came the Cressida – a car that hinted at things to come from Toyota. It challenged the notion that the Japanese can make a car that was smaller than a Ford LTD Crown Victoria but can offer luxury on the level of a Mercury Grand Marquis – even a Lincoln Town Car!

From the Crown to the Cressida to the Avalon, Toyota witnessed how its big sedan has weathered the challenges of the marketplace. It is that fortitude that enabled them to introduce the fifth generation of their large car.

The 2019 Toyota Avalon arrives when an entire segment has been wilting in the marketplace. It seems that fewer customers want cars, such as the Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Impala, and Ford Taurus. How do you keep the Avalon relevant in the face of a smaller demographic that want an SUV/crossover instead of a traditional big sedan?

You could take it upmarket. But, how much further upmarket do you want it to go? Lexus has the new ES out that sits pretty in the marketplace. You could meet it half-way and have it compete with the Chrysler 300, Buick LaCrosse, and Kia Cadenza.

The good news is that Toyota has done exactly that – and more. In addition to positioning their XLE and Limited models towards the "middle luxury" competition, they added two sports models to compete with the Dodge Charger – the XSE and Touring.

To add more fuel to the large car fire, Toyota continues to be the only competitor in this segment to offer a hybrid driveline.

2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

Having a three-pronged strategy solidifies Toyota's commitment to the large car segment. Have they executed it to the point of being the leader in it again?

Let’s break down what I have been working with. It is a 2019 Avalon Hybrid Limited. That means that not only do I have a mid-luxury trim level that competes well with Chrysler, Buick, and Kia – I also have the highly efficient and superior Hybrid driveline that is unique in its class. It is truly the best of both worlds. But, is it?

One look outside reveals a mix of evolutionary and revolution design strategies. The overall look is sharp – long and lean – and very ambitious. It exudes a premium look and feels all around. Creases never thought possible in a Toyota appear from front to back on the Avalon, making it completely stand out in the crowd. The headlamps are longer, giving it two bulbs and a series of LED running lights and turn signals in each unit. The rear taillights are magnificent, with LED turn signals running outward creating a sliding effect. The long doors also open wide for greater access to the front and back seats.

Perhaps the most controversial piece of the Avalon’s exterior design is its grille. The lower part is an evolution from the previous generation, while a new piece on the upper part of the front fascia is new – and narrower than before. On luxury models, you get a series of horizontal lines, while sport models get a black mesh treatment. Some have said it did not look good, but a further examination will help you understand that it is integral to a three-dimensional fascia that is sculptured to integrate both parts of the front end elegantly.

2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

The premium look and feel continue in perhaps the best cabin Toyota have designed for any sedan ever. The materials have been upgraded where they needed to be, especially in the Hybrid Limited. The two-tone Cognac and black leather interior that is tastefully done in a very near-Lexus manner. The center stack is influenced by the Land Cruiser, with its solid piece running from the center console housing the climate controls and infotainment screen. The console itself is more open, thanks to a narrow shifter housing and more space for smaller items – including smartphones.

The instrument binnacle is a mix of two large analog dials and a center TFT screen. The latter provides a mass of information necessary to keep tabs on the Avalon and its hybrid systems. You can also have the energy monitor show on the home screen of the Entune 3.0-driven infotainment system. All of the controls have been updated for improved logic and touch.

An Avalon cabin has always been large, and it carried over nicely for this new 2019 model. The seats provided a mix of comfort and support, especially on longer journeys. Front seats offer plenty of power-operated adjustments for all drivers. The rear area offers plenty of leg room, but people with taller torsos may want to watch their head on the sloping roofline. Trunk space is generous with 16.09 cubic feet available without folding the rear seats down.

JBL provided 14 Clari-Fi filtered speakers throughout the Avalon's cabin. While Entune 3.0 drives the system, there are now more connectivity options available. For example, this is the first Toyota to have Apple CarPlay available for connectivity and interface with the iPhone. Not to mention, this Avalon has onboard Wi-Fi, driven by Verizon. Meanwhile, this Hybrid Limited has onboard navigation, SiriusXM and app connection through the Entune app, when Apple CarPlay is not connected.

2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

Avalons get two power choices. Standard is the uprated 3.5-liter V6 engine, with 301 horsepower on tap, connected to a new 8-speed automatic. My Hybrid tester came with an improved version of the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with the Hybrid Synergy Drive system. Net total power between the gasoline and electric power plants are 215 horsepower. An electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission sends power from the hybrid system down to the front wheels.

The major reason you want the Avalon Hybrid over the V6 is the fuel economy. I averaged 42.5 MPG in mixed driving. What large sedan can say that?

The one thing I have always touted on the previous Avalon was its ride quality. Not only does it retain its smooth, luxurious ride – it has improved upon it. It just feels as smooth as…ehem…a Lexus. Not just because it shared the same platform as the just introduced 2019 ES, but because it is engineered for more aspirational customers wanting that same level of quality in their driving manners.

For a big sedan, the Avalon handles quite well. It loves corners, but a harder entry would yield some roll through the turns. Otherwise, the Avalon is very well composed in any situation. The brakes offer solid stops in normal and panic situations. The pedal feel is superb with great response down to the calipers/rotors. The steering has a good feel and solid response from the wheel. The turning radius is actually quite good for a long sedan.

2019 Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited

Perhaps I should start talking about driver assistance features in these V&R reviews. The reason for this is a debate that should really be one-sided. You see, Toyota makes a really good radar cruise control. If there is one thing that will keep you out of trouble and not cause any trouble on the highway, it is a cruise control with the right amount of sensitivity to keep pace and distance from the car in front of you, while keeping you relaxed over longer distances. If there was one feature I truly love about the new 2019 Avalon would be its Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control. That, and all other components of the standard Toyota Safety Sense P package.

The 2019 Avalon lineup starts at $35,500 for a V6-powered XLE. The Hybrid is just a $1,000 more. My Hybrid Limited tester came with a sticker price of $45,118.

What we have here is a luxurious large sedan that is fuel efficient, spacious, poised, and sleek. Toyota went "all in" to not only preserve its large car offering but to elevate it onto another plateau. This truly sums up the 2019 Avalon.

Toyota made sure to break away from the Avalon’s former stodgy image for something more dynamic and luxurious that fits its upmarket intentions. The last generation model made the leap towards that goal. This new generation model accomplished it.

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America

All photos by Randy Stern

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