Revising The Mission Statement: The 2019 Toyota Avalon Touring

Front 3/4 view of 2019 Toyota Avalon Touring
The 2019 Toyota Avalon Touring.
When the first Toyota Avalon arrived 24 years ago, it was summed up by a lot of observers as the Japanese having built a better Buick.  It was, after all, the closest thing Toyota had built to a luxobarge, the late 70s through early 90s Cressida, a stodgily-styled sedan that could be had, in some years, with a velour interior, but which also had the same engine as the sporty Supra under its hood.

You may have noticed that Toyota is working very hard to shake off its bland image of late.  And for 2019, the Avalon, a new fifth-generation model, has gotten essentially the same styling treatment the smaller Camry got last year.

Rear 3/4 view of 2019 Toyota Avalon Touring
2019 Toyota Avalon Touring.
That is by no means bad news, though it does signal a change in course for the Avalon.  At a time when sedans are losing popularity and large sedans are doing the least well, does it make sense to position the Avalon this way?

Our tester was the Touring model---which costs a bit more than the more luxury-oriented Limited ($42,200 to the Limited's $41,800).  There are XSE and XLE ($38,000 and $35,500 respectively) below that.

The Touring comes loaded, with the emphasis more on sport or at least the pretense of it than the Limited.  Standard equipment is comprehensive, including a 301-horsepower, 3.5-liter 24-valve DOHC engine with an eight-speed transmission (EPA estimate 22 city/31 highway), 19-inch black machine-finished alloy wheels, a sport-tuned adaptive variable front and rear suspension and engine sound enhancement with active noise control.

Also standard is Toyota Safety Sense, which includes pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams and dynamic radar cruise control.  And there's the Star Safety System, which folds in vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock braking, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and smart stop technology.  There's also an anti-theft system with engine immobilizer.

But, wait!  There's more.  LED headlamps and daytime running lamps with automatic on/off, adaptive cornering, dynamic turn signals, heated outside mirrors with turn signals, piano black mirror caps and rear spoiler, dual exhaust with quad chrome tips and a power tilt/slide moonroof.

Interior view of 2019 Toyota Avalon Touring
2019 Toyota Avalon Touring interior.
There's also a dual-zone climate control with filter and rear seat vents, an Entune 3.0/JBL Premium audio system with 14 speakers, Clari-Fi, Siri Eyes Free, Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and four USB ports, a heated tilt/telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power heated and vented front seats with four-way power lumbar support, smart key with pushbutton start, a ten-inch head-up display and Qi wireless phone charging.

It's so complete, our tester only had two options---the Advanced Safety Package---intelligent clearance sonar, birds' eye view camera with perimeter scan and rear cross-traffic alert with braking ($1,150) and Wind Chill Pearl (pearlescent white) paint ($395).

With $920 delivery, processing and handling fee, the bottom line was $44,665.

All good.


In chasing away the "beige" the Toyota brand has long been accused of, the Avalon and the Camry seem to be occupying the same space in terms of emotion, attitude and feel.  The Avalon has nicer soft-touch materials, but somehow the designers have managed to put them next to, not on, the surfaces you'll touch.  So you see stitched leather, but your the places your hand touches are hard plastic.  As a result, the new Avalon feels like a bigger Camry rather than its own machine.

A fatal error?  No.  The Germans have made "same sausage, different lengths" work very well for their cars (think Audi A4, A6, A8).  But the Avalon has, until now, felt different---and given that it rides on the Lexus ES350 platform, it could make a convincing case for a niche between Camry and Lexus, a place we think it successfully occupied with the last generation.