Toyota created the Lexus brand name back in 1989, to create a new luxury image. Since then, top-of-the-line Toyota models have been getting much closer to their Lexus counterparts in terms of finishes and features. It’s no secret that they already share platforms and powertrains, but as Toyota gets better the gap gets smaller. Back in 1994, Toyota released the Avalon – the first large sedan to fill the gap between the Camry and some of the larger Lexus offerings. Now in its fourth generation, the big sedan is showing its age. No surprise then that Toyota is releasing the fifth generation for 2019, making this the last time we’ll see the current generation.
If the newest Camry is any indication, there’s probably lots to look forward to in the fifth-generation Avalon, but for now let’s focus on the current one. Our test vehicle came pretty loaded, and pushes over $40k, but you’re getting a lot for your money. And when we say a lot, it’s a big car. You definitely get amazing legroom, shoulder room and rear-seat legroom. The trunk is cavernous, and it’s a real reminder of why big sedans are popular – they are much more comfortable and practical.
In terms of feel, this generation Avalon doesn’t feel that much different than the last one. That version was phased out in 2012, but dated all the way back to 2004, leaving this one with a pretty dated feel for a car that claims to only be on its sixth year.
The technology all seems like add-ons, and the ergonomics aren’t great. Switch positioning and gauges are a bit out of place, and the infotainment system doesn’t have the best feature set. There is an odd combination of touch-buttons, knobs and touch-screen interfaces. It just falls flat given some of the more modern systems.
At least the audio is quite good, with a JBL premium audio system using 11 speakers to deliver clear, crisp audio. There is no Apple Car Play or Android Auto, limiting your smartphone capability to just Bluetooth. For a car in this price range, that seems like a pretty large omission, especially given how important our devices are these days. The 3-zone heating and air conditioning controls
are easy to use, but the seat heat buttons are again oddly placed in the center console almost under the armrest. It is a consistent complaint, and I wonder when Toyota will put them with the rest of the climate controls like 90 percent of other vehicles do.
There’s available Toyota active-safety sense, which includes forward-collision alert and emergency braking, lane assist, blind-spot monitors and radar-cruise control. It’s a comprehensive-safety suite, but the functionality is pretty rudimentary – another example of this Avalon feeling a bit dated. We expect the 2019 model to have better systems and technology, but at least the features are available here.
The 268hp V6 engine powering the front wheels does an admirable job of pulling the big sedan around, but it’s quite a lot of power and heavy car for front-wheel drive. You definitely feel the limited traction, especially in slippery conditions. That being said, the transmission in this Avalon actually feels a little bit crisper than in the Lexus counterpart we drove, making this one a bit more fun to drive. It returns a claimed 31 mpg, but we never quite saw that high of a number. A hybrid version capable of 40 mpg in the city is available as well.
Overall, the main reason to get one of these fourth generation Avalons is the inevitable deals that Toyota dealers are going to be running to get rid of them to make way for the 2019 model. This is still a very well appointed, handsome and capable large sedan. And who doesn’t like a good bargain? We are excited to see the fifth generation, however, and expect it to blow the doors off its older sibling.