The Toyota Avalon doesn’t get much attention, which is a shame considering its solid styling, high-end interior, and smart packaging.
Fortunately, the automaker hasn’t forgotten about its stately sedan, with the 2021 Toyota Avalon adding available all-wheel drive like its smaller sibling, the Camry. That extra traction should broaden the big sedan’s appeal for Canadian buyers, but the Avalon needs to have much more than that if it’s to upstage the countless SUVs on the market, not to mention the jack-of-all-trades Camry.
I’m most critical of the choice of motors in the Avalon. While the sedan can be equipped with a V6, all-wheel drive models are saddled with a 2.5L four-cylinder. It’s a fine engine on its own, making 205 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque, but the Avalon weighs more than the gas-powered Toyota RAV4 that uses the same motor. As a result, the Avalon can feel a bit dull to drive, which is a shame considering how smart the all-wheel drive system is. When needed, as much as 50 per cent of the available torque can be sent to the rear wheels, but otherwise, the system disengages the rear axle to improve fuel efficiency.
An eight-speed automatic transmission performs shifting duties, and it’s acceptable. Drivers can toggle through a trio of drive modes (eco, sport, and normal), but none of them dramatically alters the driving experience. When the white stuff fell during testing, I found myself wanting a snow mode that would maintain a 50/50 torque split and prevent the rear axle from disconnecting for the confidence it would bring to the drive.
Fuel Economy: 7.5/10
Due to the smaller engine, the all-wheel-drive Avalon is more efficient than its V6-powered compatriot that powers only its front wheels. Expect fuel consumption of 9.5 L/100 km in the city, 7.0 on the highway, and 8.4 combined, according to the spec sheet. These figures are the same as higher-spec Camry models with all-wheel drive, so buyers shouldn’t have to worry about extra fuel costs despite the Avalon’s larger size. In my time with the Avalon, I averaged around 9.0 L/100 km – slightly worse, though it was equipped with winter tires.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
As long as you’re not in a hurry, the Avalon delivers a confident and comfortable ride. Even if you want some extra speed the chassis is surprisingly responsive, with a quick turn-in that’s unexpected for a vehicle of this size. The architecture that underpins the Avalon is similar to what’s found throughout the brand’s lineup, so the same kudos given to the Camry applies here. However, the large sedan has limited steering and road feel.
Fortunately, it feels sturdy at higher speeds. I’m glad the car doesn’t feel too floaty; in the past, the Avalon had a reputation for being a boring land-yacht, but this model feels robust and comfortable yet responsive. The Avalon proved to be a perfect companion for road trips, and the addition of all-wheel drive makes it even more so.
Save for the front end, which is dominated by a grille, the Avalon boasts some sharp styling cues. The slim lighting pods bring to mind a premium car – like, say, a Lexus – and while the wide grille looks cartoonish, the rest of the car is packaged attractively. Specifically, I like the C-pillar and Toyota’s reluctance to fill it out with black plastic. Instead, the design looks clean thanks to the extensive use of glass. The rear end features a red strip connecting the taillights, and two exhaust tips complete the look.
The interior is easier to appreciate, with a well-designed cabin that’s full of high-end materials. In particular, the stitched leather seating and door panels provide an alluring ambiance that’s somewhat rare in Toyota vehicles. It reminds me a bit of how upscale the Nissan Maxima has gone in recent years, and represents a very significant step up from the fully-loaded Camry.
User Friendliness: 7/10
Toyota does, however, need to work on the displays and interfaces in its vehicles. The infotainment screen is surrounded by slim buttons that look chic but can be difficult to tap with accuracy at times, especially while on the go. They’re fine once you get used to them, it’s just a matter of time and coordination. Another area that needs a rework is the two-tier bank of buttons to the left of the gauge cluster, where features like the heated steering wheel are found.
The graphics on the various screens inside also look basic, and it takes a few button presses to access Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Fortunately, the screen is responsive, and there are large icons and that are easy to work with while driving.
The Avalon comes loaded with plenty of equipment and features. Heated seats are found all around, as well as a heated steering wheel and ventilated seats up front – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Naturally, there’s dual-zone climate control, but there are four USB ports for charging devices, as well as a wireless phone charger. All-wheel drive is standard on the loaded Limited trim, which also includes a 14-speaker stereo, interior ambient lighting, and built-in navigation.
There’s a long list of safety features, too, including a head-up display and automatic high-beam headlights. There’s also forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, and lane-departure alert, as well as blind-spot monitoring, and the Limited trim adds rear cross-traffic alert and a surround-view camera system.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) hadn’t published its findings for the all-wheel-drive Avalon at the time of this writing, but the V6-powered version earned the not-for-profit organization’s Top Safety Pick+ award. The big sedan earned top ratings in every crash test conducted by the IIHS.
While sedans generally offer shorter suspension travel than SUVs, that doesn’t mean they’re uncomfortable and stiff on the road. That’s especially true of the Avalon, which is soft and smooth on the pavement. While headroom isn’t abundant, rear-seat legroom is generous.
Despite my criticism of the headroom, the all-wheel drive version of the Avalon has slightly more headroom in the front and rear than the front-drive model, and it’s noticeably bigger inside than the Camry. Those who feel cramped in that popular sedan may want to jump into the Avalon to see how much better it is. The Avalon even has more front-seat headroom than the RAV4.
The rear-seat space is what sells the Avalon, though, and with 1,026 mm (40.4 in) of legroom, there’s more room to stretch out here than in the back of the RAV4 or Venza. In the trunk, you’ll find a decent 456 L of cargo room, and the rear seats fold down to help with longer items.
As a large sedan, the Avalon carries a large price. While the V6-powered version starts at $43,350, this all-wheel-drive model is $49,050 before fees and taxes. By the comparison, the cheapest Camry with all-wheel traction starts at $30,590, while the top-of-the-line Camry XLE AWD is more than $10,000 less, at $38,650. But the Avalon is far roomier and far better equipped.
On paper, the price seems to be a lot for an average product. It is just a sedan, after all. But all-wheel drive helps to improve the Avalon’s appeal, and this is a car for shoppers who don’t want a crossover yet need something spacious and comfortable. It might seem like a niche, but if you’re the type who isn’t interested in the body style, seating position, or ergonomics of a crossover, then the Avalon is the best Toyota for the job. It’s just a shame it doesn’t have more oomph under the hood.
|Peak Horsepower||205 hp|
|Peak Torque||185 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||9.5 / 7.0 / 8.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||456 L|
|Model Tested||2021 Toyota Avalon Limited AWD|
|Price as Tested||$51,175|
$255 – Ruby Flare Pearl paint, $255