The Toyota Avalon goes to automotive crossfit and gets shredded. LACar takes the wheel for a week to see how the TRD treatment suits Toyota’s biggest sedan.
Photos courtesy of Toyota
You’ve heard of the term “dadbod,” right? Soft from years of neglect, covered up in loose-fitting sweaters this is the type of body perfect for snuggling, comforting crying toddlers, and breaking the fall of any child who should lose their grip on the monkey bars.
First introduced Stateside in 2000, the Toyota Avalon had a serious case of dadbod for its first three generations. That’s about 12 years for those of you hardcore Let’s Go Places fanboys. The designers literally must have asked themselves “What if a Camry just stopped working out?” and wham! – the Supersized Camry was born. Don’t get me wrong, this was a smart play for a company looking to meet America’s growing waistlines. We always need more room (for proof, look at the explosive growth of Public Storage) and even if we don’t actually *need need* the room – we like open spaces.
The fourth-generation Avalon got on my radar, fittingly around the time I had my kids. Coupes, small sporty sedans, and trucks are all nice but after a while your kids and your lower back start to appreciate a roomy sedan with a plush ride. By the time the fifth and current generation rolled out, it was apparent that the shot callers at Toyota demanded that the designers and engineers add a serious dose of aggression to the Avalon’s proven recipe of roominess, comfort, and fuel efficiency.
The demand must have resonated because not only did the lesser trims of the Avalon get cut and buff, but Toyota’s performance division Toyota Racing Development (TRD) got involved. I never thought I’d live to see the day of a Avalon TRD or Camry TRD, and yet here we are. TRD teased the world with a tuned Camry and Avalon at SEMA in 2015 to gauge interest. When the new Camry and Avalon came out for the 2018 model year , fans wondered if they would also receive the TRD makeover. Prayers were answered at the 2018 LA Auto Show with proper TRD editions of both Camry and Avalon. The more dynamic duo looked incredibly aggressive compared to their plainclothes counterparts — and while certainly not M or AMG challengers, you could do a lot worse if you were looking to spice up your morning commute.
Exterior: The Jeff Bezos Effect
Far and away the biggest difference between the Avalon’s 2nd sportiest trim level (XSE or Hybrid XSE) and the TRD trim level is the exterior. The Avalon TRD gets an aerodynamic package consisting of piano-black front splitter, side aero skirts that cut the wind and unsuspecting ankles like steak knives, and a rear diffuser with red pinstriping.
Let’s just let that soak in a moment. Did you ever think you’d read “Avalon” and “rear diffuser” in the same piece? Me neither. Then again, I never thought Jeff Bezos’ biceps would resemble John Cena’s (that’s Amazon Prime Beefcake guys, admit it.) Cars can change just like billionaires can with the proper motivation.
In the case of the Avalon TRD, the motivation is two-fold. First, it fulfills the mission that Toyota company president Akio Toyoda set forth in bringing passion back to a car lineup commonly thought of as practical to the point of being boring, as he shared with USA Today in 2017. Secondly, at the consumer level – the Avalon TRD puts a little pep in the step of otherwise responsible salarymen who exercise the self-control not to blow a mortgage payment a month on an M5 but who wish they could show the world they still have the swagger of their youth.
One look at the Avalon TRD and it’s fair to say mission accomplished. In my week at the wheel, I received so many thumbs-up from onlookers that you’d think I was rolling in the Porsche’s latest GT3RSGTS3.0. From the side and the rear, the Avalon TRD looks every bit the part of the preferred ride of choice for former JDM racers turned PMPs (project management professionals). Sporty, but not overwrought. For example, I prefer the tasteful decklid spoiler of the Avalon vs. the wannabe Civic Type R wing on the Camry TRD.
While I’d pit the Avalon TRD against most Euro competitors in the looks department, the front is a weak point for me when viewed dead-on. I continue to abhor the gaping maw/catfish/angry Predator front that is en vogue with Toyota and Lexus’ design team (and Audi before it, and now BMW…). However when outfitted in darker colors or in Supersonic Red like our presser, you may get over that as the Avalon TRD looks otherwise upscale, clean, and mean from the other angles.
Interior: TRD Me
Inside the Avalon TRD comes with most of the key creature comforts I got used to in my time with the Avalon Hybrid Limited. My loaner came with the optional Premium Audio with JBL with Clari-Fi, a $1,760 upgrade that features 14 speakers, an amplifier with a whopping 1200W on tap, and 9-inch touchscreen. My friends at JBL are particularly proud of the sound quality they achieved in the Avalon, and I would have to agree it sounds almost Mark Levinson-like in the new Avalon. There are plenty of storage bins including a key one for your phone, which if compatible charges seamlessly with the Qi-Comp wireless charging system.
Like its outer skin, what sets the Avalon TRD’s interior apart from its stablemates is the aesthetics. The design team’s weapons of choice: the TRD logo and Pantone color 186C (red.) The black Softex seats are adorned with red contrast stitching, the seatbelts are red, and lest you forget you opted for the sporty Avalon at the dealership, TRD logos adorn the headrest, floor mats, and shift knob.
When your clients jump in your ride, they will not take you for some mild-mannered TPS Report generator. You’re corner suite material gosh darn it, and that suite better come with a Recaro office chair.
Performance: The Sound and the Fury
I’ll just get right to it. The Avalon TRD doesn’t come with the goods in the horsepower department to back up its Lamboesque looks. Part of that is the high expectations that the exterior styling imparts — why all the aero and Pantone 186C everywhere if not to go warp speed? Well, just because we got ripped doesn’t mean we want to jump in the MMA octagon right. We have responsibilities like softball and tax time after all. When it comes down to it, if you want a really fast luxo-barge you had better either save up for a B7 or AMG S-class (to name a couple) or if you’re in love with the Avalon a GReddy turbocharger and some serious shop time.
The bright side: this Avalon does sound fast, thanks to its TRD cat-back exhaust with stainless steel tips. The exhaust note is actually more satisfying than my aftermarket R35 exhaust — which is pretty impressive. Mash on the throttle and you’re rewarded with a bark that can get pretty addictive. If you’re being honest with yourself you know that from Monday through Friday, sounding fast equates to the most fun you’re going to get between freeway onramps in perennially congested SoCal anyway.
The handling is a bit sharper thanks to a TRD-tuned front and rear suspension consisting of thicker under body bracing, firmer springs, and stiffer anti roll bars. The TRD Avalon is equipped with lightweight 19-inch matte black wheels and two-piston brake calipers vs. the standard one-piston calipers.
Power is unchanged from the other gasoline-powered Avalon trims, with a V6 pumping out 301 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft of torque. If Toyota really wanted to blow some minds they would have slapped on a TRD supercharger, but that may have culled the pool of consumers with the income and mindset to consider a Avalon TRD. I don’t fault Toyota for taking the safer route in the powertrain department since Avalon owners of all types are probably ranking MPG as a key buying point, no matter how aggressive they want to look.
Conclusion: Upwardly Mobile
Growing up doesn’t have to mean growing old, and the Avalon TRD is automotive proof. The penultimate Avalon comes with all the comfort, tech, and practicality you’ve come to expect — but it’s still ready for a boy’s night out once the kids are tucked in. Coming in at just over $46k fully loaded, there should be more than enough coin left over for a few rounds at the local craft brewery and a trip to the retro arcade. I’d like to see some more power to back up the good looks, but the Avalon is on the right trajectory in my book.
For more information on the 2020 Avalon TRD, visit Toyota’s website.
2020 Toyota Avalon TRD
Starting Price: $42, 375
Price as tested: $46,287
Mechanical and Performance
3.5L 301 horsepower V6
Direct shift 8-speed transmission
TRD tuned front and rear suspension
12.9 front rotors with dual piston calipers
Safety and Convenience
Toyota Safety Sense TSS-P with Pedestrian Detection
Lane Departure Alert
Blind spot monitoring (BSM)
19″ TRD matte-black wheels
TRD cat-back dual exhaust
TRD piano black rear spoiler, front, side, and rear aerodynamic kit
TRD embroidered headrests, floor mats, shift knob
Softex red contrast stitched seats
8-way poor driver and passenger seats with 2-way driver lumbar support
4 USB charge ports
Qi-Comp wireless charging system
Premium Audio with JBL with Clari-Fi Dynamic Navigation and App Suite
14 speakers including subwoofer, 1200W amplifier, 9-inch touchscreen
Paint Protection Film