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First drive: 2019 Toyota Avalon [Video review]

by Drew Johnson

Toyota\'s flagship sedan gets a total overhaul for 2019.

Toyota's fifth-generation Avalon sedan couldn't be landing in showrooms at a worse time. Customers are abandoning sedans for SUVs in droves, and the full-size sedan segment has been one of the hardest hit. In fact, Avalon sales sunk by nearly a third in 2017. But none-the-less, Toyota is pressing on with an all-new Avalon for the 2019 model year.

In order to combat those sliding sales, the new Avalon goes all out with bold styling, a high-tech infotainment system and a few more features and trims to enhance the car's athleticism. But will it be enough to keep the ship from sinking? Come with us as we find out.

Stepping out
Toyota's styling has gone decidedly edgy in recent years, and the company's angular motif has finally made its way to the Avalon. Overall styling is actually similar to the last-generation Avalon, but everything is just sharper, with more creased lines and hard edges.

The front end of the Avalon is dominated by an oversized grille — even more so than last year — with the center treatment reflecting the particular model line. Sporty Avalon variants like the XLE get a black mesh insert while luxury-oriented models, like the Limited seen here, receive horizontal slats.

Headlights are now standard LEDs across the board, which allowed designed to thin out the Avalon's headlight housings. The Avalon's taillights are also LEDs. Toyota made the most of the Avalon's LED lighting technology by also including a cool turn signal effect similar to the style currently used on some Audis.

There's no shortage of cuts and creases on the Avalon's body work, including a sculpted hood, twin character lines along the vehicle's sides and an angular rear end with a full-width light bar and integrated dual exhaust outlets.

The Avalon's interior styling isn't as whimsical as its exterior, but it does look modern. The center stack has a semi-floating design, highlighted by a new 9-inch touchscreen display that runs Toyota's Entune 3.0 infotainment system. The Avalon is also the first Toyota vehicle to offer Apple CarPlay connectivity. Android users are out of luck, but Toyota says it is looking into adding Android Auto compatibility.

Despite going high-tech, the system is still easy to use thanks to Toyota's inclusion of buttons and knobs. The same can be said for the Avalon's climate controls, which are straightforward and easy to use.

Other nice touches in the Avalon's cabin include a cubby in front of the shift lever with Qi wireless charging, quilted leather door panels and leather seats with a random perforation pattern. Limited models get real wood accents supplied by Yamaha, and XSE and Touring models use real aluminum accents. The base XLE uses fake wood trim.

The instrument cluster of the 2019 Avalon features a standard 7-inch LCD display flanked by two analog dials. The center screen is fully configurable and measures 3-inches larger than the Avalon's previous standard display. A 10-inch color head-up display is also available.

Most materials in the Avalon feel up to luxury car specs. The Cognac leather upholstery in our test car was surprisingly soft, and it's also used on the dash, doors and center console. The top of the doors and dashboard are rubber, but soft to the touch material. We imagine the 2019 Lexus ES, which will be based on the Avalon, will offer a full leather package for some trim levels.

As you's expect from an Avalon, seats are comfortable with an abundance of space. Front seat passengers are also treated to heated and cooled seats; rear seat occupants have to make do with just heat.

Break it down
The 2019 Avalon is offered in several different trim configurations and can be had with gas or hybrid powertrains. The Avalon XLE and Limited are the luxury-oriented trims of the bunch, with the XLE representing the entry-point into the Avalon family. The Avalon XSE and range-topping Touring are positioned as the athletes of the Avalon family.

All 2019 Avalon models come standard with a 3.5L V6 developing 301 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. That power is sent to the front wheels via a new eight-speed automatic transmission. Avalon gas models are rated at 32/22/26mpg highway/city/combined.

All Avalon trims, save for the Touring, can be optioned with a revised hybrid drivetrain that consists of a 2.5L naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and an electric motor backed by a nickel-metal battery pack. Power for 2019 has been increased to 215 horsepower. Avalon hybrid models, which use a continuously variable transmission that can simulate 10-forward speeds, are rated at 43/44/44mpg highway/city/combined.

In addition to trying to wipe away the Avalon's soft image with a couple of sport models, Toyota has also include available features like an Adaptive Variable Suspension, an Intake Sound Generator and Engine Sound Enhancement.

On the road
Despite all Toyota's talk about making the Avalon sportier for 2019, it still feels like a big, comfortable sedan out on the road. The Avalon feels weighty and planted, with enough suspension travel to soak up pretty much any size road imperfection you'll come across in the civilized world. But, to Toyota's credit, the Avalon is still well behaved in the corners; it's not floaty and feels composed. Steering in the Avalon is surprisingly good too, with the tiller providing just the right amount of weight and a nice on-center feel. The Avalon is still no sports sedan, but it's shockingly competent.

In a world of 700 horsepower super sedans, the Avalon's 301 horsepower rating doesn't sound like a ton, but it's more than enough to get the big sedan moving. The 3.5L engine has good punch throughout the rev range, with the eight-speed more than willing to kick down a gear or two when more power is summoned. In normal driving the eight-speed shifts smoothly and seamlessly in the background, as a transmission in a good luxury car should. A Sport mode is available via a button in the center console, but we found it did little to change the Avalon's overall personality.

The 2019 Avalon comes standard with Toyota's Safety Sense P safety suite, which includes advanced features like blind spot monitoring, full-range adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist. On the freeways of Southern California, we found those systems helpful and to work as advertised.

Leftlane's bottom line
Toyota has managed to walk the fine line of making the 2019 Avalon better to drive without sacrificing comfort. Toyota has also done a nice job of upgrading the Avalon's tech without over-complicating things. For people that just want a big, luxurious sedan that won't break the bank, the 2019 Avalon might be the best game in town (depending on how you feel about its exterior styling). But with that buyer pool drying up, it's possible that the Avalon, no matter how good it now is, won't live to see a sixth-generation.

2019 Toyota Avalon pricing, XLE $35,500; XSE $38,000; Limited $41,800; Touring $42,200. Add $1,000 for hybrid option. All prices exclude a mandatory $895 destination charge.

Photos by Drew Johnson.