CHATHAM, Mass. – The sinister looking silver-with-black-and-red trimmed Toyota sedan in driveway was an unexpected surprise since I was expecting a straight-forward Avalon to evaluate.
I should not have been shocked because in recent years the Japanese automaker’s designs have been evolving into more aggressive cars and its marketing has been concentrating on performance and fun characteristics as the company looks to broaden its image and attract a younger buyer.
In pursuit of this goal, Toyota added a TRD variant to its Avalon (joining the extant XLE, XSE, Limited and Touring variants) and Camry range of sedans for 2020.
The Avalon TRD is much more than just paint, stripes and aerodynamic cladding – Toyota track-tuned the chassis, dropped in a 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine and added an eight-speed direct-shift automatic transmission to provide the sporting feel promised by the TRD badge.
The TRD aerodynamic body kit, which includes the front splitter, side aero skirts, trunk lid spoiler, and rear diffuser, blends bold styling elements while also improving high speed vehicle stability. Red pinstriping on the aero body elements complete Avalon TRD’s styling makeover.
Chassis tuning helps transform a simple sedan into a sport machine
The Toyota Racing Development (TRD) engineers went through the Avalon chassis to sharpen agility while preserving ride compliance. “Track-tuned” means exactly that. The engineers developed this special Avalon’s dynamic characteristics through extensive testing at Toyota Arizona Proving Ground, TMC Higashi-Fuji Proving Ground (Japan), and MotorSport Ranch (Texas).
Thicker underbody braces increase torsional rigidity, and unique coil springs lower the Avalon TRD by 0.6 inches for a reduced center of gravity.
The chassis (primary components: MacPherson-type struts in the front, multi-link in the rear) is further enhanced with stiffer coil springs and stabilizer bars for increased roll stiffness of 44 percent in the front and 67 percent in the rear. A unique set of TRD shock absorbers complete a chassis enhancement that adds to body control, handling agility, and steering precision.
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The 19 x 8.5-inch matte-black alloy wheels reduce unsprung mass by 18 pounds compared to the 19-inch wheels on the Avalon XSE version. These wheels wear P235/40R19 all-season tires.
Inside these wheels are front brakes which are larger with 12.9-inch diameter ventilated rotors and dual-piston red calipers, compared to 12.0-inch rotors and single piston calipers on the Avalon XSE. All Avalon versions feature 11.06-inch solid rotors in the rear along with red calipers for the TRD.
Brake performance is tuned to provide more direct feedback.
Toyota Safety Sense-P ADAS
Toyota equips all Avalons with its Toyota Safety Sense-P of active safety/advanced driver-assist system (ADAS) which encompass: Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection (PCS w/PD), Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist (LDA w/SA) and Automatic High Beams (AHB).
The TRD trim also incorporates additional ADAS: Blind-spot monitor (BSM) and Rear Cross-traffic Alert (RCTA), thus providing a very comprehensive suite of ADAS.
Additional safety features on all Avalons include rearview camera, 10 standard airbags and Toyota’s Star Safety System, which incorporates Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist, Anti-lock Braking System, and Smart Stop Technology.
Interior carries on TRD theme and capabilities
Entering the TRD’s cabin you drop into black sport SofTex-trimmed heated front seats (power adjusted) with Ultrasuede inserts and red accents which hug driver and passenger through any aggressive driving. Red-stitched TRD-embroidered headrests, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching, red seatbelts, a shift knob with an embossed TRD logo, and unique TRD floor and trunk mats complete the trim’s appearance package.
A nine-inch touchscreen dominates the center of the dashboard and, along with buttons and knobs, controls the infotainment system (AM/FM/SiriusXM satellite radio/streaming audio/Apple CarPlay) and the standard navigation system. Voice activation supplements the touch screen and buttons to control these features.
Our TRD added the optional Toyota Premium Audio system with JBL featuring 1,200 Watts of power, 7.1-channel surround sound and 14 speakers.
Avalon also features Toyota’s first integration of smartwatch or Amazon Alexa-enabled device connectivity, as part of Toyota Remote Connect, which were unable to review (but is worth noting). The latter allows drivers to lock/unlock the car’s doors, start the engine, or check fuel level, all from the convenience of an Apple Watch, compatible smartwatch or Amazon Alexa-enabled device. It is voice controllable and compatible with select Android or Apple devices.
The Toyota Avalon TRD was introduced as a 2020 model (which we drove) for $42,300. The 2021 models are now available with changes limited to additional exterior colors and a $575 price increase.
There are 10 versions of the Avalon, with the XLE base model starting at $35,875 and the top-of-the-range Limited Hybrid at $43,300. Our extensively equipped TRD totaled $45,410 (which included the Premium Audio system and delivery charges).
The driving experience
All the pieces add up to a car that is fun to drive aggressively, much more so than its size (this is the largest sedan Toyota sells in the United States) would lead you to believe. There is plenty of room for four, legitimate room for a fifth, middle passenger, in the rear for short trips, and a sizable trunk to carry everyone’s stuff.
Despite the Avalon’s size, the federal Environmental Protection Agency rates the sedan at 22 miles per gallon in the city, 31 on the highway and 25 combined. Our rather aggressive (funny, that is the word which keeps coming to mind as I think about my week driving the Avalon TRD) still returned a terrific 29.9 mpg!
Toyota vehicles, especially the sedans, have a reputation for value, quality and reliability. The Avalon, now in its 25th year and fifth generation, continues this tradition and can provide a fun-to-drive package with the capabilities of any large sedan. This is no longer a vanilla sedan, but a car built to demonstrate that its sporting looks are more than skin deep.