2020 Toyota Avalon Review

Liz Kim | Sep 13, 2019

Introduction

In an era where big, bulky crossovers and SUVs line every highway and driveway, many automakers are canceling their car models because people increasingly prefer the increased cargo space and flexibility of utility vehicles. Toyota, however, is not one of them. From the entry-level Yaris subcompact to the full-size Avalon, Toyota offers a 4-door sedan in every size and for every budget.

Redesigned for 2019, the Avalon is available in numerous trim levels, from fairly basic to luxury laden, and equipped with a brawny V6 or a fuel-saving hybrid powertrain. The 2020 Toyota Avalon also gets a new performance-oriented version tuned by the wizards at Toyota Racing Development (TRD).

2020 Toyota Avalon XLE Hybrid Harbor Gray Front QuarterI did not test the Avalon TRD. For this review, J.D. Power evaluated the sensible Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited equipped with the Advanced Safety Package and the Carpeted Mat Package. The price came to $45,514, including the $955 destination charge.

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What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Toyota Avalon, it is helpful to understand who buys this large car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Most full-size sedan owners are men (70%), and so are most Toyota Avalon owners (70%). However, according to J.D. Power data, the median age of a large car owner is 60 years, whereas the median age of an Avalon owner is 68 years. Not surprisingly then, 81% of Avalon owners are members of the Pre-Boomer or Baby Boomer generations, compared to 60% of all large car owners.

Avalon owners are more affluent, earning a median annual household income of $119,246 per year (vs. $102,207 for the segment). More than a third of them (37%) agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company; perhaps the Avalon’s Kentucky assembly plant assuages that preference.

There are some big differences between Avalon owners and all large car owners. They are more likely to strongly agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is reliability (76% vs. 63%), that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is quality of workmanship (65% vs. 57%), and that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (73% vs. 60%).

Avalon owners also skew green, likely due to the hybrid version Toyota sells. Among people who own an Avalon, 61% agree that a first consideration when choosing a new vehicle is miles per gallon (vs. 53%), and 65% agree that they’re willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly vehicle (vs. 53%).

Styling and performance are less important to Avalon owners. According to the data, only 46% strongly agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and strong acceleration (vs. 63%), while 75% like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (vs. 85%).

Owners say their favorite things about the Avalon are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, driving dynamics and seats in a tie, interior design, and exterior styling. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Avalon are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, climate control system, infotainment system, storage and space, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her perceptions about how the Toyota Avalon measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Exterior styling lands mid-pack when it comes to favored aspects of Avalon ownership, and I agree with owners on this front.

The car’s silhouette suggests a long, lean sedan, with attractive proportions and wheels pushed out to the corners for an athletic stance. My Avalon test vehicle came with attractive 18-inch wheels, which seemed a bit puny. Larger wheels, however, would reduce fuel economy and cost more in terms of tire replacement, so the visual trade-off is worthwhile.

The headlights and taillights also display a cool, eye-catching LED sequence feature that lights up when you unlock the vehicle. And when viewed from the rear or the sides, the Avalon is a great looking car.

But oh, that face. From the headlights down, the grille flares into a gaping mouth that few people can ignore. Perhaps distinctiveness is the point, but it should not come at a cost to aesthetics. 

Interior

Poshly furnished, the Avalon Limited’s cabin features quilted leather on the seats, stitched dashboard and door panel trim, and a dual-tone color scheme throughout. The plastics feel solid, the panels are carefully assembled, and a huge 9-inch touchscreen display dominates the center stack, giving the interior a modern look. 

The overall impression is that an Avalon Limited is pretty close to a luxury car. Given that the Lexus ES is essentially the same thing, but nicer, lends credence to that sensation.

Seats

The Avalon Limited’s front seats offer plenty of adjustment range in order to reach an ideal position, and prove well cushioned for long-distance comfort. The rear seats may be rather flat and featureless, but it’s hard to argue with the vastness of the passenger space. Back seat riders will also be happy to find both rear USB charging ports and air conditioning vents.

I found it noteworthy how wide the Avalon’s doors open, almost to a 90-degree angle from the car. It makes life easier for those with mobility issues, aiding entry and exit. At the same time, the rear doors could swing open too far and ding the car next to you if you have careless little kids, as I do. 

Climate Control System

During a sweltering week in Southern California, getting out of the sun and into the Avalon’s plush cabin required an immediate blast of conditioned air. But the Avalon Hybrid took its sweet time delivering, requiring several uncomfortable minutes before a truly icy blast began blowing. Even the front ventilated seats provided little relief.

Once it was “primed,” usually after a mile or two of driving, plenty of frosty air flowed into the cabin. Also note that clearly marked controls made the system easy to use. 

Infotainment System

Toyota’s Entune 3.0 infotainment system is one of the best on the market. But as is always true, there is room for improvement.

In the Avalon, a big 9-inch touchscreen houses the Avalon’s entertainment and information options, and Toyota makes it convenient to access main menus by providing buttons along both sides of the screen.

Stereo controls include knobs for power/volume and tuning. Also, Apple CarPlay smartphone projection comes with all Avalons, along with a generous 3-year subscription to Safety Connect subscription services. Additional service packages are available, offering a range of features such as a Wi-Fi hotspot, safe teen driving settings, and more.

Where is the room for improvement? The Avalon doesn’t offer Android Auto just yet, but since this feature is rolling out into other 2020 Toyotas, it is only a matter of time before this model receives the upgrade.

Storage and Space

The Avalon’s 16.1 cu.-ft. trunk can handle most cargo-carrying tasks, but herein lays the main appeal of crossovers over sedans. You can fit a lot more stuff into an SUV’s cargo area, allowing you to stand suitcases on end or toss in bulkier items. While a trunk accommodates most of what you have to throw into it, it doesn’t allow for as much flexibility. 

At least the Avalon makes the most of its interior space, with plenty of cup holders, storage nooks, and a large glove box and center console in which to organize your things. Everyone needs space to put a smartphone these days, and the Avalon provides a large tray with an optional wireless charger.

Visibility and Safety

Slim windshield pillars, a sloping hood, big side mirrors, and a height-adjustable driver’s seat ensure great visibility. A reversing camera is standard, and an available Advanced Safety Package equips the car with a 360-degree surround-view camera and with something called Intelligent Clearance Sonar, which also help drivers to maneuver the full-size sedan.

Every Avalon is also equipped with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with lane keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and adaptive cruise control. These functions are bundled together and are collectively known as Toyota Safety Sense P. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is also standard on every 2020 Avalon.

Should an accident happen, know that the Avalon is a safe car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives it a 5-star overall rating in its crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Avalon a Top Safety Pick + rating for the identical 2019 version, and this rating is expected to carry forward for the remainder of the 2019 calendar year.

Engine/Transmission

The Avalon’s standard engine is a tried-and-true 3.5-liter V6 making 301 horsepower. It uses an 8-speed automatic transmission to power the front wheels.

The test vehicle was the Avalon Hybrid. In addition to a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine, the Avalon Hybrid uses an 88-kW electric motor, a nickel-metal hydride battery pack recharged through regenerative braking, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Together, these components create a combined 215 horsepower.

Acceleration with the Avalon Hybrid is lively from a standstill thanks to the low-end thrust from the electric motor. As engine revs climb, the gasoline engine supplies smooth and steady power. The car’s CVT is satisfactory, too, with noticeable droning only when accelerating hard and for a prolonged period of time.

Based on my experience, unless you’re a real speed demon you won’t miss the surge from the standard V6, and you’ll definitely appreciate the boost in fuel economy, even if it doesn’t live up to expectations.

Also, note that for two years or 25,000 miles, Toyota provides no-cost maintenance for every Avalon, meaning your oil changes and tire rotations are free.

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is ranked last in terms of Avalon owners’ favorite features, and that aligns with my experience.

Still, while my test car’s average fuel economy fell short of the EPA-stated average of 43 mpg in combined driving conditions (43 city/44 highway), its 37.8-mpg showing on my test loop is still impressive. Name another full-size sedan that can do that.

Furthermore, based on the Avalon Hybrid’s 13.2-gallon fuel tank and my testing, the Avalon Hybrid effortlessly travels nearly 500 miles between fill-ups.

Driving Dynamics

Years ago, full-size sedans were a bear to drive, their 2-ton weight and soft suspensions allowing plenty of wallow and roll as they wafted down the highway. Back then, the car companies thought that big sedan buyers wanted a soft, pillowy ride over pleasurable handling. 

That’s no longer true. While the 2020 Avalon Limited is tuned to deliver comfort over tautness, ensuring that almost every zit in the road will be smoothed out into oblivion, it still handles with remarkable authority.

Serene and quiet during the daily drive, Avalon owners will enjoy muffled road and engine noise as well as soothing ambient lighting. Unexpectedly, even the Avalon Hybrid provides zippy performance on twisty roads, with an eager willingness to play. Given my experience in the Hybrid Limited, the new TRD must be a real thrill ride (as far as such cars go). The only thing you might not enjoy are the occasionally grabby brakes, but hybrid regenerative braking systems often are.

Overall, the Avalon is a pleasing car to drive, and it’s no wonder that driving dynamics is the second most favored aspect of Avalon ownership. 

Final Impressions

Despite the ubiquity of crossover vehicles crawling all over the roads of America, the full-size sedan still has a useful place in the market – especially for people who don’t need cavernous cargo spaces. After all, if you’re not going to actually use a third-row seat or haul big and bulky items, why would you spend more to get a less efficient SUV?

If you’re of a like mind, the 2020 Toyota Avalon is a particularly appealing alternative. And when equipped with its hybrid powertrain, the Avalon is in a class all by itself, providing a roomy and upscale interior, a comfortable and quiet ride, and undeniably impressive gas mileage.

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