Toyota introduces an all-new Avalon for the 2019 model year. Now in its fifth generation, the new Avalon rides a 2-inch longer wheelbase and is one inch lower than the outgoing model. As before, the 5-passenger Avalon is only available as a front-drive, 4-door sedan. Direct competitors are few and include the Buick LaCrosse, Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Kia Cadenza and Nissan Maxima.
Beyond all-new exterior and interior styling, changes for 2018 include an available adaptive variable suspension, standard Apple Car Play compatibility, integration with Amazon Alexa and available engine sound enhancement. Also new are LED headlamps and a 9- or 10-inch touchscreen featuring an enhanced version of Toyota's Entune infotainment system dubbed 3.0. Safety features include lane-departure alert, pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and head-up display.
As before the Avalon shares chassis and engine with the Toyota Camry. That said, both a V6 and hybrid model return. The 3.0-liter V6 is rated at 301 horsepower, a gain of 33 over last year. The hybrid combines a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with twin electric motors to offer a combined output of 215 horsepower, up 15 from last year. While the hybrid gets a CVT automatic, the V6 gets a new 8-speed automatic (replacing a 6-speed unit from last year).
Trim levels include XLE, XSE, Touring and Limited. The V6 or hybrid powertrains are offered on all trim levels with the exception of Touring. Pricing starts at $35,550 and climbs to $41,850. The hybrid powertrain adds $1000 to the price of each trim level.
Avalon's 3.0-liter V6 is a sweet and smooth powerplant, perhaps the best overall in class. It provides solid acceleration, reasonable fuel efficiency and is as smooth as a sewing machine. That said, the addition of the new 8-speed automatic further refines the driving experience. Its buttery smooth shifts are hardly noticed and it promptly downshifts when more power is needed.
On paper, the slim $1000 premium of the hybrid powertrain makes a lot of sense. While other hybrid systems add $4000 or more to the price tag, it's easy to recoup the $1000 premium with improved fuel economy, possibly in just one year's worth of driving. There's a penalty though, both in performance and refinement. Step on the pedal, and acceleration is just adequate -- perhaps dowdy with a full passenger load. At the same time the hybrid engine isn't as smooth under hard acceleration and tends to whine when pushed hard.
There's certainly a difference at the pump though. While the V6 nets middling EPA ratings of 22 MPG city and 31 MPG highway, Avalon Hybrid sees compact car like numbers of 43 MPG city and highway. According to the EPA, average annual fuel cost for the V6 is $1,450 while the hybrid comes in at just $850. Both engines run fine on regular-grade fuel, but the gas tank on the hybrid is smaller: 13.2 gallons to 15.8 gallons. In routine suburban commuting, expect the hybrid to average close to 40 MPG overall. Keep in mind that hybrids perform best around town and in mild weather.
Avalon has always been a traditional American car with a bias toward suspension compliance over athletic road holding. That's true with the 2019 edition as well. Regardless of model, you'll find that the Avalon provides great ride comfort and bump absorption. The new adaptive suspension tidies things up a bit, but this is still a large sedan with tall tires and a soft suspension. Thankfully, Toyota engineers paid extra attention to steering and braking enhancements.
Overall, the Avalon provides a comfortable ride with little of the bouncing and bobbing that was commonplace in large sedans of yore. The suspension does allow a fair amount of body lean in quick maneuvers and the tires are tuned more for comfort and wet-weather grip than they are for dry-road handling. The steering is nicely weighted and provides great on-center feeling and good feedback on twisty roads. The brakes have plenty of stopping power and are easy to modulate -- on the gas model. On the hybrid, there's still a defined "transition" period where the brakes switch from regen to traditional friction braking. While not as disturbing as in past hybrid models, it definitely takes a bit of training to produce smooth and even stops.
Interior noise levels are very low with great suppression of engine and wind noise. The hybrid's fuel-efficient-minded tires kick up a bit of road rumble that's a out of place in a near-luxury sedan. (To be honest, this is likely only noticeable because there's so little wind and engine noise.)
Inside the Avalon coddles and caters to occupants more like a luxury sedan than a mainstream car. The cabin is decidedly upscale in both design and materials. The seats are extremely well padded and offer great long-haul comfort -- a trademark of the Avalon that has only improved with this generation.
The sweeping dashboard is disrupted by a large infotainment screen that grows up from the center console position of last year to a dash top location this year. Gauges are still traditional dials, but there's a programmable center cluster and an available head-up display this year. Though there are plenty of buttons and knobs, they are well placed and clearly marked. Unfortunately, a few hide to the left of the steering wheel in an awkward to see-and-reach location.
Toyota has added Apple Car Play support this year, and that's a step in the right direction. Hopefully Android Auto integration is right around the corner. If you go sans phone and utilize Toyota's Entune infotainment app, you'll find that it's a bit easier to use now. That's partly thanks to the large touch screen but also thanks to some streamlined commands and the useful traditional buttons for the climate control system.
With great head and leg room, the front seats are as spacious as any car in the class - though the center console feels a bit large and really separates driver and passenger now. As mentioned, cushions are thickly padded and there are ample adjustments. Outward visibility is good, thanks to thin pillars and a large back glass.
Toyota has suggested that it increased rear-seat leg room over the previous model. That's likely due to the longer wheelbase, but in practice, the rear seat feels very similar to last year. They offer adult-size leg room on well-padded seat cushions. Head room is also quite good. Entry-exit, front or back, is easy thanks to wide-opening doors and a fairly tall roofline.
With 16 cubic feet of cargo space, Avalon offers plenty of cargo space. The trunk opening is wide, but the available cargo net and somewhat shot opening conspire to make it hard to get large items in and out. To be fair, you can remove the net, but the opening is still quite short. Rear seats fold to increase cargo space, though they sit a few inches above the floor. Interior storage is just average with a few open and covered bins.
Bottom Line -- Avalon continues to impress. It offers modern take on the traditional American family sedan. Strengths include the impressive V6 engine, quiet and comfortable ride and comprehensive suite of safety and technology features. The hybrid is a very intriguing offering given it's small $1000 premium over the V6. You lose a lot in performance and refinement, but you pick up considerable fuel savings. While that's not such a big deal with $3.00 gas, if prices were to go up you'd be smiling all the way past the pump.