For 2019, Toyota unveiled the latest generation of their largest sedan. Now in its fifth iteration, the Avalon has grown both in proportion and in refinement. When I saw a touring badge on the trunk, I knew the only way to review the car properly was to tour it. The decision was made, we would cruise it to the coast.
Incidentally, this would be our first road trip since our son was born a year ago. I used to believe girls packed a lot of stuff to travel. That was before I loaded three bags, a highchair, a pack ‘n play, loads of food and a laundry basket of toys into the trunk. All for a person who only weighs 20 pounds (yes, we forgot the stroller). I know now that 1-year-olds carry the most luggage. So, with our Avalon laiden with more stuff than we’d possibly need, we sallied forth on an Arthurian quest for some saltwater, sand and sunshine.
The front vented and heated seats were comfortable enough for sustained highway driving. Eight-way power adjustment and customizable lumbar support let us dial them in for support where we needed it. There’s plenty of room for heads and legs up front and the armrests are positioned perfectly to receive elbows.
The back seat has room enough for post-beach diaper changes and baby seat anchors come in handy for transporting little ones. Ample rear-seat legroom made it easy to stash our cooler in the footwell. The trunk is roomy too. With some finagling, it swallowed the aforementioned luggage without issue.
The 14 speaker stereo, infotainment and navigation are all controlled via a nine inch touch screen built onto the dash rather than into it. This cascades elegantly down into the console. In front of the gear selector a Qi wireless charging pad is stashed in hidden cubby. Almost all the upholstered components are joined with french seams that lend an upmarket feel to the interior. Overall, the cabin space is handsome and functional.
The Avalon’s aesthetic can be described in two words, wide and low. It grew in nearly every direction. It’s longer, wider and even a couple hundred pounds heavier. By the looks though, you’d never know it gained weight. It’s a little slipperier too. The redesigned body is slightly more aerodynamic than the last generation.
There are little touches that make it feel special. The the turn indicators have a sci-fi feel that’s sure to make the folks stopped behind you at a redlight salivate with envy. I like the brawny hood and high trunk. Slender A and C pillars frame the elegant arc of the roofline.
There are gills on either side of the grille that probably don’t do anything, but I don’t care because they look nice. The grille design and the chiseled body lines on the car’s flanks are likely to be divisive . The wheel wells are filled by black 19 inch alloy wheels wrapped in low profile rubber. Pearlescent white paint combined with the blacked out grille, side mirrors and B pillars gave our test car an appealing black-on-white storm trooper look.
Under the hood is a 3.5 liter V6 that’s good for 301 horsepower. It transmits power to the front wheels through a snappy eight speed automatic. When prodded, the V6 offers nice pull and a surprisingly good sound. The steering is light, and for a big car it changes direction easily. The ride is typically smooth and quiet but feels a little harsh on rougher roads. This is probably a due to the “sport-tuned” suspension.
Our press car came with the optional advanced safety package that includes helpful stuff like bird’s eye view and cross traffic alert. However, the intelligent clearance sonar sets off chimes and bells as the car approaches anything. It’s a little overwhelming during moments that require a driver’s undivided attention. Parallel parking is a cacophony of dings and pings which intensify the closer the car gets to other cars, building tension like a horror movie. All of this can be momentarily silenced by the touch of a button on the wheel, and I bet you could turn it off for good, or at least turn down the sensitivity in the vehicle settings.
Radar cruise control comes in handy on the interstate but even at the closest setting there’s just enough space to invite people merging left from the slow lane to hop in front of you. But weigh that against not having adaptive cruise and it’s a small inconvenience.
Driving home was as comfortable and uneventful as the drive down. While vacuuming the beach sand and stale Cheerios from the carpet, I had time to reflect on our journey and the Avalon. My offspring was fearless, he attacked the sand and the warm gulf without apprehension. Maybe he’ll grow up to be courageous, and hopefully he’ll learn not to eat the sand.
And as I was sucking up a crumpled parking receipt, I ruminated on how we might be living in a golden age of full-sized family rides. The ’70s saw smog regulations deplete the gains that muscle cars made in the ’60s. In the ’80s, it looked like automotive designers thought the epitome of cool was a slab sided box, bonus points if it was brown. The ’90s saw a warmed over box with the corners rounded off. There’s a reason they’re referred to as malaise cars.
Fast forward 20 years and you can buy a sleek machine stuffed with more technology than you can shake an iPhone at. It has a 300 horsepower engine and manages 30 miles per gallon. It’s got four swinging doors and seats five people. It looks great and it handles too. A base model will set buyers back $33,500. This test car costs $45,292. Not exactly cheap. But when you account for inflation, that’s only five grand more than a new Chrysler Voyager in 1988. I’d pay a few grand more not to drive a beige box.
The Avalon carried me and my little family across the nation’s largest contiguous state, mostly at 80 miles per hour, with poise and efficiency. Thus proving that this Avalon’s badging isn’t just marketing and that maybe, with a sedan this good, you don’t need an SUV to travel.