Toyota’s Oldsmobile-channeling family sedan asks you to take it (somewhat) seriously.
The 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD is something new, at least for Toyota. This is the first time the company has re-trimmed its Sansabelt-friendly, largest family sedan for driving excitement. It’s Lawrence Welk playing Nirvana, Alfred Hitchcock’s version of Thor: Ragnarok, and Calvin Coolidge’s podcast. As those would be, it’s strange and awkward but kind of fascinating. And kind of lovable.
First, the front-wheel-drive Avalon TRD is not a fire breather. Toyota hasn’t touched the standard 3.5-liter V-6, and it produces the same 301 horsepower here that it does in any other Avalon. The accompanying eight-speed automatic transmission is intact, and all-wheel drive isn’t available. Fundamentally, the Avalon remains a Toyota Camry with a 1.8-inch wheelbase stretch and a couple more inches of overall length. And it’s still built in Georgetown, Kentucky, on an assembly line shared with the Camry.
Modest yet Meaningful Upgrades
The functional substance of the transformation from regular Avalon into a TRD is pretty much the same bits and pieces that underpin the Camry TRD. So, starting with the Avalon in Touring trim, there are stiffer coil springs that lower the car 0.6 inch; stiffer anti-roll bars; retuned dampers; some strategically thickened underbody braces to reinforce the body structure; new front brake rotors that are 0.9-inch larger in diameter and clamped by two-piston calipers instead of single-piston units; and 19-inch matte-black aluminum wheels wearing 235/40R-19 all-season tires. Summer-spec performance tires are an option but not on the TRD-tuned Avalon. The Avalon TRD wears all-season Michelin Primacy MXM4s.
The best of the TRD stuff is the dual-outlet exhaust system. The polished stainless-steel tips look, well, spiffy. But it is the growling alto voice it gives the Avalon that elevates the entire experience of the car. And it’s a natural exhaust sound, not a computer simulation pumped in through the sound system.
What the TRD loses is the Touring’s Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) system. AVS is effective on the Avalon, allowing the driver to choose the right driving mode for the task at hand and noticeably restraining body roll under most conditions. Toyota says the Avalon TRD has 44-percent better roll stiffness in front and 67 percent in the rear.
Looks-wise, the Avalon TRD also hews closely to the Camry TRD formula. The spicier Avalon adds a front splitter, aggressive side skirts, a rear underbody diffuser, and a decklid spoiler. All those bits, and the ginormous front grille, are piano-black plastic because Steinway & Sons is all about aerodynamics.
Lots of red contrast stitching, red accents, and red seatbelts offset the interior’s black leather and Ultrasuede surfaces. The pedals are aluminum, and the front seats manage the neat trick of being both generous in accommodation and offering good support. The rest of the interior is mostly familiar Avalon, stuffed with all the whiz-bang safety and communication tech. It all works and manages to appear modern without looking like a spaceship console. And, in back, there are 2.3 inches more legroom than in the Camry.
The essential character of the Avalon is still there in the TRD. This is an easygoing sedan that’s simply been sharpened. Slightly. The console shifter doesn’t have a mechanical connection to the transmission, but it engages like it does. The steering is heavier than in other Avalons but not any more precise. While the exhaust rips as the car accelerates, at cruising speed this is a whisper jet, a shuttle craft between the main house in Connecticut and the winter getaway in Florida. Yes, the ride is stiffer, but it’s still comfortable enough to cover big miles on the interstate.
Use the paddles on the back of the steering wheel to quickly manually shift the eight-speed on a back road if you’re feeling feisty. The turn-in is quick, understeer is pretty tame, and the chassis never feels unsettled even as the road undulates. The Avalon TRD is not a sharp corner carver, but it hangs on well enough. There’s a bit of 1983 Pontiac 6000STE in its attitude (three times a C/D 10Best winner) and a lot of Lexus in its quiet demeanor.
In a world where 500-plus-hp sedans easily run to 60 mph in less than four seconds, the Avalon TRD’s 6.0-second performance seems modest. Actually, that’s decent for a sport-trimmed family car that weighs 3708 pounds. Its quarter-mile pass came in at 14.6 seconds at 100 mph.
The ubiquitous Toyota V-6’s power delivery is so friendly that under some circumstances it can be easier to gallop along in the Avalon than in more intimidating machinery. The power is seamless, easily metered, and never overwhelming. It’s hard to get yourself in trouble, and easy to maintain a cruising speed. Sedans with naturally aspirated sixes are facing extinction. Appreciate this one while it’s here. All the other test-track performance numbers are in line with the acceleration. It takes 170 feet to stop from 70 mph, and the skidpad orbit comes in at 0.88 g.
Pricing for the Avalon TRD starts at $43,255, which is $200 shy of the Touring model’s floor. But that’s a hefty $11,260 more than the Camry TRD, which is only slightly less opulent and has a bit less rear seat legroom but is no less exciting and competent.
Sure, the Avalon TRD’s grille is ludicrous, there’s a sort of dad-wearing-a-football-jersey-to-the-game feel with the TRD decor, and it may look dated before the lease runs out. At least it’s not another crossover, and the TRD tweaks all improve the experience. And, for that, it’s worth celebrating.