There are few cars destined for such serenity as the Toyota Avalon, and for 2021, the big sedan receives all-wheel drive to carry that calming experience confidently through the winter months.
Joining the front-wheel drive’s smooth V6 and the torquey hybrid powertrain configurations, the AWD system is matched exclusively with a relatively large, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and an excellently-geared eight-speed automatic transmission. That last bit is a critical component to the large car’s livability. The low-ratio first gear allows for confident off-the-line acceleration, however, pulling ahead of the traffic light pack requires working the engine harder than it likes and it sounds a bit coarse when the rev’s carry into the upper third of its rev range.
With a bit more patience, the engine can spin more calmly yet still deliver a hefty amount of torque while the transmission quickly sheds one gear for the next to get the Avalon confidently get up to speed. Even when cruising up and over the high-altitude highway mountain passes, the powertrain feels well suited – just don’t expect turbo-like passing power. Simply put, the engine’s lesser power ratings than the V6 or hybrid don’t detract from the big Toyota’s mission.
What the four-cylinder takes away in power output, it giveth with all-wheel-drive capability. Toyota’s North American engineers spurred the development to fit the mechanical bits- also be available with the Camry – with very few chassis modifications, helping to minimize the added cost. The system itself is also cost-conscious. Whereas more complex, sport-oriented systems exist to help improve handling through torque vectoring or with rear-axle bias, this simplified on-demand system is much more benign but still very well aware of what’s happening underneath. It is able to send up to 50% of the power to the rear wheels and then rely on the stability control and traction control systems to allow for a controlled getaway. Turn those systems off, and the Avalon’s long wheelbase (and good body control) allows for some very un-Avalon-like snowy-day drifting antics.
Compared to the V6/FWD powertrain, the AWD model achieves an EPA-estimated 25 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway, and 28 combined which is three mpg points better despite the added hardware and it can also travel farther on a tank of gas (403 miles). The hybrid remains, as expected, the fuel-efficiency champ with 43 mpg. My time with the Avalon included many frigid days (some below 0 deg F) so my overall rating of 26 mpg was about what I had expected. Of note, the engine is very quick to warm up.
This current Avalon generation debuted in 2019 and its exterior continues to look modern with a low stance and long styling lines that impose its big car dimensions while the slim and wide LED headlight and taillight designs punctuate this car’s modern credentials. The interior’s design is much more of a mixed bag, where high-quality materials and prominent styling features are hindered by low-rent infotainment graphics and a few areas that serve as daily reminders that this is not a Lexus. The dash includes textured wood that scores premium points but the piece of wood added to the upper door panel feels like an afterthought and looks much less luxurious. The rising central control panel makes a design statement but its hard plastic pillars cheapen its impact and restrict access to the cubby underneath.
Legroom, as you can imagine is very generous, as is the trunk space, but the low roofline limits upward visibility, restricts headroom, and makes one be always mindful of the entry and egress process.
Whether out on the open road or maneuvering through a winding suburban neighborhood that has fallen in love with the concept of traffic circles, the Avalon always feels poised. Its suspension is relaxed to absorb small and large road irregularities yet its geometry allows for impressively flat cornering. The steering is accurate and feels immediately familiar although it (and the wide and flat seats) does little to encourage exploring the canyon roads with any verve and wind noise at the base of the A-pillar disapproves cruising above 75 mph.
The road ahead is narrowing for the Avalon, unfortunately, as more crossovers fill in for the practical roles that sedans once owned but Toyota still gives it the full attention that it deserves. Its big car proportions, calm demeanor, and overall ease of use can sometimes feel a bit nostalgic already, as we look for a bit of serenity among today’s chaotic times.