Toyota Avalon TRD road test: Sophisticated yet sinister

New for 2020, the Avalon TRD is a customized sport sedan built on the legendary reputation of Toyota Racing Development. (Toyota)

Drop the kids at school and take the long way to work

Toyota’s new Avalon TRD is not your granddad’s Avalon. When the fifth-generation Avalon sedan was redesigned for the 2019, Toyota steered this flagship from its mooring as an icon of modern maturity to a speed-line cruiser. Authenticity and exhilaration were the mantras of design, Toyota said.

Designed and built in the U.S., the interior and exterior design makeover was done at Calty Design Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. Engineering work was done at Toyota’s R&D center in Saline, Mich., and production is in Georgetown, Ky.

Black sport SofTex-trimmed front seats with embroidered headrests are trimmed with Ultrasuede inserts and red accents. (Toyota)

Sold in gasoline and gasoline-electric hybrid models, the front-wheel-drive sedan was re-invented with a range of “Toyota firsts.” Among them are dynamic auxiliary turn signals, Toyota Safety Sense P, adaptive variable suspension and authentic Yamaha (guitar) wood trim.

Red seat belts … in an Avalon! (Toyota)

And 2020 brings another first for Avalon, a performance-tuned TRD model, which also is available for the midsize Camry.

Toyota says it has begun introducing TRD-tuned passenger cars to reflect the motorsports division’s 40-year heritage of tarmac racing. Toyota Racing Development has a trophy case of IMSA GTO and GTP championships, open-wheel racing successes (including the Indy 500) and, today, a formidable presence in NASCAR.

The Avalon TRD, $43,330, slots between the Touring and Limited models and above the entry XLE ($36,830) and step-up XSE. (Pricing incudes the $955 freight charge from Georgetown.) Check pricing incentives here, which currently include a $2,500 cash-back offer.

The eight-speed automatic has performance modes of Eco, Normal, and Sport. (Toyota)

TRD treatment

Based on the Toyota New Global Architecture, the Avalon foundation has steel-plank rigidity. It is an ideal platform from which to hang a performance suspension to create a track-capable but compliant sedan.

The performance tuning is a “holistic” approach, Toyota says. The engineering teams worked out the details at Toyota’s Arizona proving ground and at the Higashi-Fuji proving ground in Japan and at the MotorSport Ranch in Texas.

The cabin’s contemporary design includes metallic trim — and no faux wood. (Toyota)

Toyota gave the car a badass stance, wrapped in an aerodynamic body kit with red pinstriping. The kit includes the front splitter, side aero skirts, trunk lid spoiler and rear diffuser. Unique coil springs lower the car by a half inch, trimming the center of gravity and improving high-speed stability.

The TRD treatment builds upon the Avalon’s 301-horsepower, direct-injected, 3.5-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission with sport modes and paddle shifters. With a reasonably trim curb weight of 3,638 pounds, fuel economy ratings are achievable at 22 mpg city, 31 highway and 25 mpg combined, on 87 octane.

The Avalon TRD, $43,330, slots between the Touring and Limited models and above the entry XLE ($36,830) and step-up XSE. (Toyota)

From there, thicker underbody braces increase torsional rigidity. Stiffer springs and stabilizer bars increased body-roll stiffness by 44 percent in the front and 67 percent rear. The TRD model does not get the Avalon’s adaptive variable suspension, but with the TRD shock absorbers, there is almost an air-ride quality to the smoothness of weight transitions. The stiffness does not transfer to the cabin with waggling head-toss when traversing speed bumps or driveways.

The front brakes are larger with 12.9-inch diameter rotors and dual-piston calipers, compared to 12-inch rotors and single piston calipers on the Avalon XSE. Brake performance is tuned to provide more direct feedback, Toyota says, and I experienced no grab or dive on initial activation.

The front-wheel drive Avalon has a standard 301-hp, direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission with sport modes and paddle shifters. Performance in Sport mode is unhesitating but with achievable fuel economy. (Mark Maynard)

The lightweight 19-inch matte-black alloy wheels reduce unsprung mass by 18 pounds compared to the 19-inch wheels on the Avalon XSE.

A TRD-tuned cat-back dual exhaust system announces with deep subtlety the driver’s departure and arrival. The organic-sounding tone is channeled through sport-modified baffles with an electronically enhanced engine note. Hit the start button and the engine fires with a gutsy “flare” and settles into a throaty idle. The sound is never droning at highway speeds, but the enhanced sound can be switched off, if desired. The cabin is well soundproofed at highway speeds, even with the sound generators.

The front brakes are upgraded with 12.9-inch rotors and dual-piston calipers. Matte-black and lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels reduce unsprung weight and Michelin all-season “green” tires, 235/40, roll quietly at highway speeds and have good grip on cornering turn-in. (Mark Maynard)

Interior

Inside, there are black sport SofTex-trimmed heated front seats with Ultrasuede inserts and red accents — and red seat belts. Red stitching accents the TRD embroidered headrests, leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob with TRD logo and TRD floor and trunk mats.

Standard safety features and technologies include 10 air bags, blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert and Toyota Safety Sense P, which integrates a precollision system with pedestrian detection, emergency braking, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, full speed-range dynamic radar cruise control, rear cross-traffic braking and intelligent clearance sonar for parking alerts.

The back seat is comfortable with 40.4 inches of legroom. (Mark Maynard)

Paint colors, with red pinstriping, include Supersonic Red (exclusive to TRD), Wind Chill Pearl, Celestial Silver Metallic and Midnight Black Metallic.

Why Avalon TRD?

This is a well-executed performance package with legendary engineering at a modest price premium. Avalon might not be on the short list for drivers seeking a sport sedan, but the TRD customization creates long-term pride of ownership.

Drop the kids at school and take the long way home.

The TRD aero kit includes lower side skirts, trunk lid spoiler and rear diffuser. (Toyota)

2020 Toyota Avalon TRD

Body style: large midsize, 5-passenger, front-drive sedan
Engine: 301-hp, direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6; 267 lb.-ft. torque at 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with four drive modes of Eco, Normal, Sport and Sport-Plus and Custom
Fuel economy: 22/31/25 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane

SPECIFICATIONS
Fuel tank: 15.8 gal.
Trunk space: 16 cu. ft.
Front head/leg room: 37.4*42.1/ in. *38.5 w/o moonroof
Rear head/leg room: 37.1*/40.4 in. *37.9 w/o moonroof
Length/wheelbase: 195.9/113 in.
Curb weight: 3,638 lbs.
Turning circle: 38.7 ft.

FEATURES
Standard equipment includes: smart key entry with push-button ignition, moonroof with sliding sunshade, electric parking brake, wireless phone charging, 9-inch infotainment touch screen, 8-speaker audio system, 4 USB charging ports, rearview camera with guidance lines, 8-way power front seats with 4-way lumbar, heated leather and wood steering wheel
TRD package equipment: cat-back dual exhaust with chrome tips; 19-inch matte-black alloy wheels with 235/40 tires, piano black grille with mesh insert, black rear spoiler, intake engine sound generator, LED headlights-taillights-running lights, dynamic turn signals
TRD package interior features: black sport SofTex-trimmed heated front seats with Ultrasuede inserts and red accents; red-stitched TRD embroidered headrests, leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching, red seatbelts, a shift knob with an embossed TRD logo and TRD floor and trunk mats;
• Safety features include: 10 air bags, stability and traction controls, blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert, hill-start assist, brake assist and Toyota Safety Sense P (precollision system with pedestrian detection, lane-departure alert with steering assist, automatic high beams, full speed range dynamic radar cruise control, rear cross-traffic braking, intelligent clearance sonar)

PRICING
Base price: $43,330, including $955 freight charge; price as tested $46,712
Options on test vehicle: Supersonic red paint $425; 14-speaker JBL audio system with 3.0 Entune infotainment with navigation and app suite $1,760; door edge guard $140; protection package $657 (bodyside moldings); paint protection film $395; wheel locks $80; Preferred Owner’s (manual) Portfolio $80
Where assembled: Georgetown, Ky.
Warranty: 3-years/36,000-miles bumper to bumper with 2 years free scheduled maintenance; 5-years/60,000-miles powertrain

markmaynard@cox.net

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