Wait…Is This A Toyota Avalon?

Have you ever heard an exhaust note from a Toyota Avalon?

I am assuming your answer is "no." And, that assumption is correct. 

The last Avalon I drove was a 2019 Hybrid Limited. Because it was partially electric, there was clearly no distinguishable exhaust sound whatsoever. I would also assume that any V6-powered Avalon – including the sports models, the XSE and Touring – would have some sort of exhaust sound, but only on heavy throttle. 

The Toyota Avalon is known for being a large luxurious sedan. It is one of a few of its kind left standing in a segment that has been on its last legs for years. These large sedans were the pride of every automaker. Nowadays, they have been replaced by equally large SUVs. 

After all, the sedan is nearly a memory of automobiles past.

Back to this idea of a Toyota Avalon with an exhaust note, it seems something that you would trust a tuner to do. Something from the Toyota Racing Development parts bin to replace that quiet luxurious exhaust system. Or, maybe from a third party supplier of custom parts – one that is a member of the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association. 

On a side note, they cancelled the SEMA Show this year. Thanks, COVID-19…

Again, who would have thought to make the Avalon louder…even sportier…than it really is. Something that is meaner than the XSE or Touring model. 

Let’s get back to the TRD parts bin for a moment. Toyota decided to put more brand equity into TRD by creating several trim levels across a select number of models. One of those models is the 2020 Avalon. 

The result is something only Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – and their Mopar division – would do to their Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300. To make their big car into something with some street cred and swagger. 

How did Toyota leverage TRD to add some swagger and street cred to their large sedan? 

The first thing I noticed was the amount of ground effects that was added to the Avalon TRD. With two splitters on each side of the front clip, a series of black ground effect moldings would stretch all the way to the rear bumper. Out back, TRD added a rear diffuser for under chassis air flow to exit. I also noticed that on each edge of the lower front fascia were actual air ducts that send air into the Avalon’s massive brakes.

Massive brakes? On an Avalon?!?

TRD felt compelled to add a set of 12.9-inch front rotors – up from 11.6 inches for all other Avalons – along with another set of 11.06-inch ones in the rear. The calipers are painted red – and, no, they are not from Brembo. Toyota and TRD also added a specific brake booster designed to handle the larger rotors and two-piston system added to this model. 

For the exhaust, TRD planted a cat-back muffler with aggressive tips through the rear diffuser. It comes alive at start; however, it ends up with a dull and semi-quiet drone at highway speeds. 

The crowning piece of the Avalon TRD is a low rear spoiler sitting on top of the trunk lid. I was hoping it would be wing that was affixed to the Camry TRD, but I like this more subtle spoiler as a way for the Avalon TRD to keep a low profile out on the street. 

Step inside the Avalon TRD, and you will be greeted with more sporty elements in the cabin. The seatbelts are red. Some of the screens have red accents to match the red stitching on parts of the interior. The pedals are aluminum finished to match the sportiness of the systems they are designed to work with. 

The seats get a mix a perforated SofTex leatherette and UltraSuede cloth with red accents and the TRD logo emblazoned on the headrests. Up front, they are big comfortable and supportive seats, nonetheless. Yet, I was hoping for a more aggressive set of bolsters to lock me in and encourage more aggressive driving, as the TRD model encourages us to do. The rear seats were fine and offered loads of leg and head room. 

Everything else is standard issue Avalon. You have the standard 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine and 8-speed automatic transmission, a big trunk with 16.09 cubic feet of space, and that massive black mesh grille denoting one of Avalon’s sportier models. 

With all of these upgrades to make this big sedan aggressive looking, does the Toyota Avalon TRD act the way it is intended? In other words, is this an exercise in ridiculousness?

Let me start by approaching the latter question. In short, that answer is "no."

Toyota made a commitment to sell sedans in North America. They also made sure they are built here, too. To expand the Avalon lineup to include this model is an act of gumption. Rather something that may induce laughter. 

But, think of this is an act of confidence. Toyota is confident that enthusiasts that still love big sedans might embrace this Avalon full of ground effects and other TRD add-ons.

However, there is a flip side to the ground effects package. The side extensions feel a bit flimsy and is susceptible to damage. If you take your Avalon TRD to a car wash that has rails, make sure they are very extra careful that the underneath sides of those ground effects do not scratch. That’s not going to be a cheap fix, I'm afraid. 

Better still, give your Avalon TRD a hand wash. Or, hand it over to a detailer. I did the latter. I recommend Carsmotology in Plymouth, Minnesota. Just saying…

Now, to tackle the question about whether the Avalon TRD drives as it was intended by its appearance and mechanical upgrade package. I’m afraid there is no short answer to this. 

Let me start with the driveline. Toyota’s 3.5-liter V6 is one of the engines in the world. It is reliable and performs quite well. In the Avalon TRD, I feel that it might need a bit more than 301 horsepower and a lot more torque to make things livelier. The eight-speed automatic transmission is just fine with good shifts. Although, I found some slight initial lag in some lower range gearing on occasion. 

Fuel economy-wise, I averaged 26.6 MPG. That is about what I expected from a V6-powered Avalon.

Because TRD had Toyota lower the ride height by 0.6 inches, they added beefier shocks and stronger undercarriage bracing to the package, the Avalon has a somewhat firmer ride. Not exactly the smooth Lexus-like ride I expected from any other Avalon, but you can tell that this is not going to be a Limited or an XSE with aggressive aero. It feels different – more in tune with what I really want in a sporting sedan. 

With a more aggressive suspension set-up, handling and cornering are very good. Though you will find a limit on some corners, coming sooner than I’d prefer in such a sedan. Toyota slapped on a set of Michelin Primacy MXM4 onto TRD's 19-inch matte black alloy wheels. These tires are fine for a sporting Avalon, but I would want something more aggressive to go along with the suspension set-up. Then again, I’m now thinking like an enthusiast at this point – and not an Avalon owner.

I did notice a difference in the larger brakes in terms of stopping power. Stops were much shorter than the usual Avalon, which is a good thing. Pedal feel is slightly soft, which did not instill confidence in these enlarged brakes. However, the rest of the system took care of the rest. A bit more pedal feel would make these brakes worth the upgrade.

A large steering wheel is fine. However, I noticed a larger turning radius overall in the Avalon TRD. The system is electric and feels that way. Nothing wrong with that, but I would a faster steering set to match the rest of the TRD package. 

However, there is a fix to practically everything. If you press the Sport button on the center console, your Avalon TRD experience will be absolutely much better. The steering is weighed down for better control. The suspension firms up even more – but not too firm, mind you. And, the throttle mapping improves for better gearing and control. Not to mention the exhaust gets a bit louder upon acceleration. 

All told, this tester comes with a sticker price of $45,394. Out of eight Avalon trim levels – including Hybrids – the TRD is fifth in the pecking order. 

Let me admit something here. I had high expectations for the Avalon TRD. However, I have to understand that this more than an appearance package. It does have some enthusiast aspirations with some of the upgrades Toyota and TRD made on this Avalon. 

Because the appearance package looks really aggressive on this car, it could be the boost Toyota needed for Avalon sales. Or, to give some Avalon owners who have an enthusiast bent to come up with ideas for their rides. 

If the Avalon TRD package is a bit much for you, check out the XSE and Touring trims. They are around the same price range as the TRD with some variations on equipment levels. 

But, in my own humble opinion, I like the look of this package. The TRD ground effects, lower stance, and other appearance upgrades make it stand out more than the usual Avalon. You may not like the grill in terms of size, shape, texture, and presence, but, damnit, it looks cool!

No matter which Toyota Avalon you choose, you will find a big car that is really a treat to own. 

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America

All photos by Randy Stern

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