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New Cars Review: 2019 Toyota Avalon gets sportier, better connected as it targets younger buyers

Toyota is hoping a shift back toward larger sedans rests in the new Avalon's longer, lower and wider fastback form.

JAMES HALFACRE/Handout

The new lighter, more rigid and lower TNGA family platform gives the fifth-generation 2019 Avalon a sportier look, and when coupled with new connectivity technology, Toyota is clearly aiming at a younger buyer.

The catch: The average age of Avalon’s current buyer is 66. So it’ll be an uphill battle, given a shrinking sedan segment and the push towards more compact, fuel-efficient SUVs.

“While the sedan market is currently declining, there’s still a strong demand for good sedans,” Toyota Canada vice-president Cyril Dimitris says. “We know that many Canadian motorists feel betrayed by their traditional brands because they are no longer offering sedans as a choice.”

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Toyota is hoping a shift back toward larger sedans rests in its longer, lower and wider fastback form – a styling that’s made possible thanks to the global platform.

Refined specialized touches are instantly noticeable, such as laser ablation cuts on its headlamps and taillights, sharp angle window corners from its A- to C-pillars, as well as two polarizing grille versions (one blacked-out in XSE and a mesh version in Limited) that take of most of its front fascia real estate. Altogether, the Avalon comes off as one sleek and sporty ride that allows its shapely physique do the talking.

Inside, luxury touches include real-wood trim, Cognac-coloured leather surfaces with striking perforations and heated seats set the tone for a refined sanctuary only to be enhanced by modernized technologies that speak to its attempt to reach a younger, more connected demographic.

For the first time in a Toyota, Apple CarPlay is available and standard on both trims deriving from its nine-inch touchscreen, while Android users still play the waiting game. The flip side occurs for its wireless charging unit, where Android phones charge at will, where iPhone users are limited to the latest X version.

The fifth-generation Avalon’s refinement continues into its 3.5-litre V6 engine that’s been given a power boost relative to its outgoing model for a total of 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. Additional changes from a six-speed automatic transmission to a brand-new eight-speed Direct Shift gearbox create a smoother ride aimed towards comfort and bettering fuel efficiency.

That comfort is emphasized by the ease and calmness in its acceleration, as well as its non-existent vibration and body roll on turns and over potholes that can be attributed to its standard MacPherson strut and rear multilink suspension found in the Limited trim (the XSE receives a sport-tuned suspension). But don’t let that relaxing state fool you; it has plenty of power and handling dynamics at its disposal, launching you to cruising or passing speeds at a moments notice.

The final TNGA touch comes down to improved visibility owing to the lowering of its hood. A better view of the road from all angles combined with Toyota’s standard Safety Sense P suite of technologies makes the Avalon a value-packed choice compared with its competition.

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Starting at $42,790 for the XSE and $47,790 in Limited, the 2019 Toyota Avalon is a safe, quiet and comfortable option with modernized styling and technology to boot. The only hangup is that a large sedan is not the ‘in’ thing at the moment. Perhaps that changes, but for now, at least those who enjoy a larger sedan can get all that’s desired at an affordable price. Just don’t expect many under-40s to flock so quickly.

Tech specs

  • Base price: $42,790
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V6
  • Transmission/Drive: eight-speed transmission/front-wheel
  • Fuel efficiency (litres/100 km): 10.9 city, 7.6 hwy
  • Alternatives: Kia Cadenza, Nissan Maxima, Chevrolet Impala, Buick LaCrosse, Genesis G80, Chrysler 300

Looks

The mammoth front grill might be too aggressive for the Avalon's traditional clientele.

Handout

The Avalon adjusts slightly in size but, more importantly, possesses all the right lines and curves to appeal to a younger demographic. They will be pleased by a sportier profile that features a lower hood and lower seating position, along with a sleek, sloping roofline. There’s potential up front with a drawback coming from its mammoth grille that borders on too loud for its clientele.

Interior

The Limited trim offers up swanky leather surfaces on its doors and seating.

Handout

Interior touches come off more luxury than mainstream, which could potentially sway some from spending a little extra on the Lexus GS. The Limited trim offers up swanky leather surfaces on its quilted doors and on its comfortable seating. Additional real wood trims are added to its steering wheel and dashboard for that classy touch. Back seat passengers have plenty of room to spread their legs and enjoy a bit of the fine life with heated seats and USB ports.

Performance

The Avalon has an abundance of juice and three drive modes: Normal, Eco and Sport set up your desired ride, and the Avalon does the rest soaking up the many bumps along the road. It can be frisky on straightaways and shows off precise turns at regular speeds. Go beyond that, and the large sedan starts to falter with slight steering corrections factoring in. Fuel economy has improved, but still at an average level compared with its competition.

Technology

The 2019 Avalon takes a leap to the good in technology with a large, nine-inch touchscreen centre stack display featuring Apple CarPlay for the first time and wireless charging capabilities. It’s a big step for Toyota, but not the rest of the industry as Toyota lagged behind in this department. The Avalon still suffers from blocky buttons and large fonts. A complicated built-in navigation screen on the Limited trim fails to simplify menu options.

Cargo

The trunk may be less visible from the outside, but when opened, it still maintains astronomic depth with 453 litres of space. If we’re going by golf clubs, you can fit at least four sets with room to spare, eliminating any SUV-advantage.

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The verdict: 8.0

Altogether, the Avalon comes off as one sleek and sporty ride that allows its shapely physique do the talking.

Handout

Toyota may have whipped the Avalon into a modernized masterpiece, but only time will tell, whether a vintage-inspired comeback is in the cards.

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