Finding comfort in comfort.
Words by: Adam Allen
Toyota isn’t giving up on sedans just yet.
A cursory glance at Toyota’s lineup illustrates their commitment to the humble sedan with three available products, sized Small, Medium, and Large- there’s the Corolla, the Camry and the Papa Bear sized Avalon. Not everyone wants a crossover or SUV, and it’s nice to know that those who don’t can still enjoy a degree of choice.
What kind of person buys an Avalon?
One of the main reasons people buy a Toyota is because their reputation for reliability and durability is the stuff of legend. This kind of hard earned dedication to building cars that offer many years of trouble free motoring makes them the ‘sensible brown shoes’ of the automotive industry, and we mean that as a compliment. Everyone has a person in their life who embodies that premise and you know the type: they keep their lawns perfectly manicured; they fold and color coordinate their underwear drawer and their homes are always surgically clean and organized. They may not be the first person you might ask to revel in a weekend of debauchery in Las Vegas, but you know you can always count on them no matter what. That about sums up the Avalon, too. Its set of keys may not be the first you reach for if you are in the mood to sashay down a twisty bit of tarmac, but in virtually every other context (read: normal, everyday life) it excels. A lack of surprises, meticulous build quality and plush comfort still register as strong selling points for car shoppers, and Toyota has successfully traded on that ethos for years.
When did the Avalon get typecast as a ‘Grandpa’s Car’?
We aren’t sure about that, but perhaps the stigma can be traced back to the 2nd generation when the Avalon could be ordered with a front bench seat and a column mounted shifter; not exactly the kind of stuff that screams ‘hip’ or ‘cool’. Take a look at the images of our tester- it’s not dowdy at all, far from it. Dipped in Ruby Flare Pearl paint and bookended by handsome front and rear lighting elements complete with animated turn signals (take THAT, Audi) and we don’t get any of the Del Boca Vista vibes that you might expect. It’s the same story inside- the striking two toned colour scheme married with sumptuous materials are a huge step above a Lincoln Town Car and even better than more recent cars like the Infiniti Q50. We especially gravitated towards the wood trim that was manufactured by Yamaha, and those guys know a thing or two about wood detailing from their musical instrument business. What you can’t get from a spec sheet is just how quiet and comfortable the Avalon’s cabin really is. The instrument panel is no nonsense simple but smartly laid out and the infotainment screen is crisp and easy to use, if not the snappiest in response times to commands. If you were blindfolded and asked to determine if you were in a Toyota or a Lexus there’s a good chance you’d go with the latter.
All kinds of newfangled doo-dads come standard.
OK, we’ll knock it off with the geriatric stereotypes but suffice it to say, the Avalon comes very well-equipped. Apple CarPlay is on the menu as before, and it’s finally joined by Android Auto for those who resist adopting the iPhone as their phone of choice like your humble writer. Seats are heated and ventilated and the steering wheel gets nice and toasty quickly for cold morning commutes. On the safety front, Toyota’s holistic Safety Sense P suite of electronic driver aids are on board to keep you out of trouble and we found that they are much less intrusive than the last time we drove an Avalon. We developed a soft spot for the 14-speaker JBL audio system which really cranks out the tunes and sharpens up the milquetoast sound quality you get when you listen to satellite radio- doesn’t matter if your blasting Bobby Brown or Bobby Darin (sorry, we couldn’t resist.)
The Avalon is geared for winter battle with its All-Trac all-wheel drive system.
Not so fast. While we wish that Toyota would bring back All-Trac for the all-wheel drive gubbins it has added to the drivetrain, they would prefer if you called it by its proper but less retro cool designation of Dynamic Torque Control AWD. It’s a clunkier name but that doesn’t mean it’s any less effective supplying Avalon owners with superior traction when Mother Nature gets cranky. It should be noted that this AWD system is of the slip and grip variety, which means the Avalon sends its power to the front wheels exclusively until the sensors detect that power needs to be sent rearward. A maximum of 50% of the engine’s might can be shunted to the rear differential, but there’s no torque vectoring on the menu. Would-be parking lot hooners will be let down by the resistance to provide tail-out shenanigans, never mind the stern programming of the stability control which ends the party early anyhow. Whether you indulge your mischievous streak or not, the AWD Avalon will provide surefooted passage in any conditions you might find yourself in.
What might go wrong?
We’re not too sure that would-be Avalon owners will lament the inability for lurid oversteer, but they might kvetch about Toyota’s decision to pair AWD exclusively with the company’s 2.5 litre inline four. We feel the same way, because the four banger, while perfectly adequate for most, can’t match the effortless power offered by the V6 engine available on other Avalon models. With a price north of $50K, this feels a bit like a missed opportunity, especially when you consider that larger sedans are more synonymous with the languid power of a larger capacity motor. Our Avalon never sounded joyful when going about its business, especially when we gave it the spurs. And while it does achieve better fuel economy than its V6 counterpart, the difference isn’t meaningfully large enough for us to forget about missing the bigger (and much silkier) engine.
Should I buy an Avalon Limited AWD?
It’s no secret that we like sedans around these parts, so if you ask us, an Avalon will make for a much better choice than so many of the generic crossovers that you likely have on your shopping list as well. We wonder how long Toyota will continue to offer it as the unabated rabid interest in the RAV4 and Highlander threaten to render it irrelevant. We think of it as sort of secret handshake for entry level luxury sedan shoppers, a car that offers an impressive mix of roominess, comfort and all season usability that happens to cost much less than some of its competitors who carry a more prestigious badge on the trunk lid. ‘Sensible brown shoes’ may not always grab all the headlines, but you know exactly what you’re going to get, and it isn’t going to unnecessary empty your wallet either. Don’t let all the airport limo drivers have all the fun- get yourself an Avalon. Just don’t try drifting it, which we assume won’t be an issue for drivers who put one in their driveway.
2021 Toyota Avalon Limited AWD– Specifications
- Price as tested: $51,205
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/All-Wheel Drive
- Engine: 2.5 litre 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 202 @ 6,600 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 185 @ 4,600 rpm
- Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic
- Curb weight: 2,145 kg. (4,730 lbs.)
- Fuel consumption: 9.5L/100km (25 mpg)