Emma Jayne Williams

Toyota redesigns its flagship Avalon sedan for 2019, with gasoline and hybrid versions


Special to the Star-Telegram

Toyota has redesigned the full-size Avalon sedan for 2019, including the gasoline-electric hybrid model shown here.
Toyota has redesigned the full-size Avalon sedan for 2019, including the gasoline-electric hybrid model shown here.

For 2018, the fifth-generation Toyota Avalon midsize premium sedan has lots of changes, including exterior styling bearing little resemblance to the outgoing model. Changes include an upgraded interior and new hybrid and gasoline powertrains, along with the fresh look.

The new exterior has lots of angles, especially the aggressive front grille. New lighting is edgy, and angles continue in the rear. Avalon Hybrid models blend into the lineup with a new sporty appearance package, aside from a few subtle badges and trim. The hybrid now has the same 16 cubic foot cargo capacity, since the sealed 244.8-volt Nickel-Metal Hydride battery has been moved from the trunk to under the rear seat.

Interior upgrades include more creature comforts, such as mild bolstering on front seats to keep passengers secure during turns without being too snug for larger occupants. The interior is quieter, and comfortable for five, with soft-touch materials all around, an acoustic noise-reducing windshield and front side windows, and High Solar Energy-Absorbing glass to reduce heat transfer through the windows.

Also new for 2019, Avalon is the first Toyota with standard Apple CarPlay (sorry, no Android Auto) and Dynamic Auxiliary Turn Signals. New lighting elements include signature daytime running lights and parking lights with Technical Laser Ablation, in which a thin layer of aluminum lining the lens is cut away to make a distinct pattern. Taillights on Limited and Touring models also feature laser ablation.

Avalon is offered in seven trims, all built on Toyota’s newest platform. Four gasoline models, priced from $35,500 to $42,800, have a 301-horsepower, 3.5-liter six-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Three hybrids have a 2.5-liter four-cylinder Dynamic Force Engine paired with two electric motors for a net 215 horsepower, up 15 from the previous version. The new engine is more powerful, runs cleaner, and is the most fuel-efficient Avalon ever. EPA estimates are 43 mpg city/44 highway/44 combined, a nearly 10 percent improvement over the previous model.

Hybrid models come with an electronically controlled Continuously Variable Transmission with Eco, Normal, Sport, and EV drive modes. Eco drive includes an intelligent-coasting feature to save power and maximize regenerative braking power. New Sport mode uses power from the hybrid system to improve acceleration, and can be used while EV mode is active.

The Touring Hybrid trim is dropped for 2019, leaving the base XLE for $36,300; XSE for $39,000; and Limited for $41,800 -- $1,000 more than gas counterparts, but several hundred dollars less than last year.

My Avalon XLE Hybrid was deep Brownstone, with plush top-stitched beige Softex interior featuring hydrographic wood-look trim on the doors and dash, riding on 17-inch silver-painted alloy wheels with five sculpted “V” spokes. Hydrographics is a process using water to apply a decal-like film on uneven or curved surfaces.

Six other standard exterior colors are available – new Harbor Gray Metallic (blue/gray), new Opulent Amber (dark yellow/brown), Celestial Silver Metallic, Midnight Black Metallic (blue/black), Ruby Flare Pearl (new to Avalon), and Parisian Night Pearl. Wind Chill Pearl (white, new to Avalon) adds $395. The Softex interior is also available in black and gray.

The new Avalon is longer, lower and wider than before, with distinct horizontal lines on the hood, a sleek grille (gray for the hybrid) with horizontal bars and chrome outline, large vertical tangential vents on the lower sides, and chisled doors with a deeper character line encompassing the door handles and hooking downward on the rear door. A distinct, carved lower rocker panel behind the front wheels is a catchy little detail.

The rear cabin is extended rearward by seven inches, and the side quarter glass and downward tapered C-pillar is extended by 2.2 inches. Horizontal lines divide the rear at the top, center and lower areas, highlighting the 72.8-inch width. Connected LED taillights are shaped into a new three-dimensional “aero fin” design.

A slim center stack featured a “floating” nine-inch multimedia system with audio and navigation, rear backup display, additional climate controls, and more. The capacitive touch screen allowed pinch and flick gestures with better gesture recognition, had a quick refresh rate, and more-perceptive voice recognition.

Entune 3.0 Audio Plus with App Suite included eight speakers, AM/FM/HD radio, hands-free phone capability and music streaming via Bluetooth, ScoutGPS Link compatibility (three-year trial), Siri Eyes Free, SiriusXM (three-month All Access trial). Entune 3.0 Toyota Connected Services included Safety Connect and Service Connect (three-year trial), Remote Connect (six-month trial), and Wi-Fi Connect Powered by Verizon with up to 2gb within a six-month trial. App Suite access is subscription free.

Avalon features Toyota’s first use of smartphone- or Amazon Alexa-enabled devices – part of Toyota Remote Connect – allowing drivers to remotely lock/unlock doors, start the engine, check fuel levels and more. Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging is available as part of an option package.

The dual-zone automatic climate control system had air filtration, humidity sensor, and rear seat vents. All physical controls were well placed and intuitive to use. The wood-look trim on the dash extended to the doors, and the angled design echoed the “aero fin” look of the rear fascia.

An open bin below the center stack had a 12-volt outlet. Three USB ports were inside the center console, along with an auxiliary port and a removable tray. One cupholder was thoughtfully designed with a flat side to hold a phone. Supple padding on each side of the console was a welcome comfort.

Behind the steering wheel, a seven-inch multi-information display with customizable settings showed current speed, current and average fuel economy, distance to empty, turn-by-turn navigation, vehicle settings including Toyota Safety Sense P contents – Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection -- and more. A new digital tachometer appeared when the shifter was in “S” mode. The Hybrid System Indicator showed regeneration status in CHG (charge), ECO (economy), or PWR (power) in real time.

In the rear, the craftsmanship and creature comforts were equal to the plush front. A center armrest with cupholders and a hidden device tray, accented in piano black and satin chrome, folded down between passengers. On the back of the console, along with air vents, two USB ports kept rear passengers’ devices powered up. Avalon’s segment-best measurements gave rear passengers 40.4 inches of legroom and 37.1 inches of headroom. Of course, the middle passenger had to share the footwells on both sides of the transmission tunnel. The rear seats folded 60/40 and had two adjustable and one fixed headrest.

Full-Speed Range Dynamic Cruise Control, now with controls on the steering wheel, as well as Toyota’s Star Safety System with Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control, four-wheel antilock brakes, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Brake Assist and Smart Stop Technology were just a few of the safety technologies on my Avalon XLE Hybrid.

Safety was also addressed with 10 air bags including seat-mounted side air bags, front knee air bags, and side curtain air bags; front Whiplash-Injury-Lessening seats; an energy-absorbing collapsible steering column; front and rear energy-absorbing crumple zones; and side-impact door beams. Safety Connect included Emergency Assistance, Stolen Vehicle Locator, Roadside Assistance and Automatic Collision Notification (three-year trial subscription).

Collision sensors will deactivate the high-voltage battery to protect passengers and first-responders. ToyotaCare features no-cost maintenance and roadside assistance.

My Avalon XLE Hybrid was a smooth, quiet, refined ride, aggressive out of the gate with plenty of power for merging and overtaking, and comfortable enough for long road trips, with lots of visibility for driver and passengers. The Avalon Hybrid is a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle. The hybrid falls right in line with what buyers want in a full-size sedan.

The total delivered price of my attractive Avalon Hybrid, with $920 destination charges, was $37,420.

The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at emmajayne1948@gmail.com.