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2019 Toyota Avalon first drive review and impressions

We spend some time in the various new Avalon models to investigate the changes for 2019

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The large car class is small but there is some good competition going on between its occupants, which is raising the bar all around. The redesigned 2019 Toyota Avalon isn’t the best-selling model in its class- an honor that belongs to the Chevrolet Impala, but it does have a sizeable impact.

Toyota has a long way to go to get to the top of the class and it hopes that a fiercer flagship with a newly refined hybrid powertrain will help it claim more market share. Is it better than the competition? Let’s take a closer look.

For this review, I drove a number of Avalon models in many configurations during a full day on the road. The preproduction vehicles were mostly fully equipped in their various trim levels but no specific pricing was available for each model. The full Avalon price structure is available in the Pricing section of this article.

Exterior

The 2019 Avalon’s muscular stance helps it look like it’s hugging the road in the same way the 2018 Camry does. It sits lower than the last generation. The car is wider and shorter and has a less lengthy wheelbase. Despite that, the Avalon has some segment-best shoulder-, leg-, and head room measurements.

At the front is a very large grille that looks better in horizontal chrome than in a black mesh style. When the black mesh grille is paired with a black paint job, it’s not as jarring a look.

Chiseled doors continue the beefier look of the redesigned Avalon as your eye moves to the rear. Unique tail lamp positioning puts them jutted out abruptly from the trunk though the bumper sticks out further creating a distinctive silhouette.

Powertrain

The Avalon is built on the Toyota New Global Architecture platform and is powered by either a 3.5-liter V6 engine or a 2.5-liter Dynamic Force four-cylinder Toyota Hybrid System II engine paired with a 650-volt electric motor. It is the only car in its segment to boast a full hybrid variant.

The 301-horsepower V6 delivers 267-lb.-ft. of torque and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The engine is proficient but seemingly unwilling to conquer quick starts off the line or speedy passing uphill. In the two models I drove with this engine, the transmission struggled to find the right gear.

On the other hand, the 215-net-horsepower hybrid powertrain was as smooth as butter. Though heavier than the V6 model, the Avalon Hybrid delivered smooth shifts and acceleration/deceleration in all driving situations. As part of the redesign, engineers moved the car’s Nickel-Metal Hydride battery pack to a location under the rear seats, helping the car stay planted and not feel trunk-heavy when accelerating.

The Avalon is generally easy to drive and maneuver. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it sporty, but it is composed and has very little body lean. Eco, Normal, and Sport drive modes come standard on all models while Touring trims add a Custom setting.

Where the Avalon wins big against its competition is in fuel economy. The XLE V6 achieves an estimated 22 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg in combined driving situations. The XSE V6, Limited V6, and Touring V6 do slightly worse coming in with 22/31/25. The XLE Hybrid achieves 43/44/44 while the XSE Hybrid and Limited Hybrid achieve 43/43/43.

Interior

The Avalon is at its best with a cabin filled with all-black or cognac with black accents. In gray, materials look inexpensive at best. Sportier models have suede accents throughout while real wood and aluminum are featured in higher trims.

The full size sedan features an architecturally strong center stack design with a flying buttress-like support structure near the base that likely made more sense on a drawing board than it does in real life. The plastics it is made of aren’t the most appealing. Unlike the modern piano black found in the Camry, Toyota uses muted tones here that appear dated.

The updated Toyota infotainment system is controlled via a standard 9-inch touch screen display that is centrally located and easy for both driver and passenger to control. It’s easy to use and quickly responds to a touch though the navigation screens have a bit of learning curve. Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa connected services come standard. Each Avalon has a Wi-Fi hot spot, powered by an opt-in Verizon subscription.

In front of the driver is a 7-inch Multi-Information Display that shows all the necessary and need-to-know information about the car. It’s not sexy, but it gets the job done in a reasonably attractive and easy-to-read fashion. A 10-inch head up display is available on Limited and Touring models.

Despite coming equipped with Active Noise Control, road noise permeates the cabin (especially during highway travel) but the road’s imperfections are not passed along.

On the plus side, the seats in the Avalon are comfortable. It seats up to five and adults will find plenty of head-, hip-, and legroom in the rear seats.

Cargo

The Avalon offers a good amount of cargo space and in-cabin storage is average. The back seat’s large passenger area allows many groceries bags to easily be piled on the seats and floor, negating the need to use the trunk most of the time, if you want.

A hidden bin below the floor of the center stack houses a 12-volt plug and wireless Qi mobile device charger (standard on all models except XLE), which is big enough for large smartphones. The charging worked as advertised and is a quick, convenient way to get power.

Safety

The Avalon comes equipped with a long list of standard and available safety equipment. A rearview camera, 10 airbags, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Automatic High Beam, Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and Back Guide Monitor all come standard. Panoramic View Monitor with Alert and Intelligent Clearance Sonar.

Pricing

The 2019 Avalon starts at $35,500 for the V6 powered Avalon XLE. The V6 XSE is $38,000 while Limited and Touring grades come in at $41,800 and $42,200 respectively. Hybrid variants of all the grades are available, except for Touring, and are priced just $1,000 more than V6 models.

Final thoughts

The Avalon is good. It’s a step forward for the company and the product line. However, its polarizing design some questionable cabin material choices prove the Avalon is not as complete a car as the Camry, and that is a shame.

The manufacturer provided travel, lodging and food for the purpose of this write-up. Opinions are always our own. View our disclosure policy for more details.

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Written by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Eileen is the writer of the nationally syndicated column Automotive Minute in The Business Journals, which explores the automotive industry focusing on news, reviews, and interviews. She loves finding out about the business strategy, design, and drivability of vehicles. Eileen is a contributor to U.S. News & World Report Best Cars.

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