Mountain Wheels: Tricked-out TRD version of Toyota’s Avalon flagship is a unique machine
It’s kind of hard to tell if the very aggressively restyled and buffed-out TRD version of the Toyota Avalon (which debuted last year — hang around for some news about the 2021 models) is a totally cool idea, or completely insane.
At its core, it seems to accomplish what did not seem like a really big request on the part of those familiar with Toyota’s full-size sedan: What if we made an Avalon look like a really large, actually five-passenger-friendly version of a Subaru WRX STI, with red seatbelts, throaty exhaust and a truckload of aerodynamic tweaks?
Avalon and Camry were chosen last year as the first Toyota automobiles to get what is more typically a performance and appearance upgrade for trucks and SUVs from the Toyota Racing Development team, and the results are indeed polarizing — mostly because extra power wasn’t part of the deal.
2020 was the 25th year for Avalon, with a fifth-generation vehicle introduced a year earlier, and the new, lightweight platform and vastly improved looks definitely made it a good candidate for a largely aesthetic but still pretty cool upgrade.
The chassis has indeed been tuned aggressively and lowered slightly for a stiffer and more responsive ride and larger front brakes added. Compared to the old days, a 3.5-liter, 301-horsepower V-6 sounds like a big deal, but that’s also the same engine you get in Avalon’s more standard versions, so … yeah. Hmmm.
The looks, with that glossy, gigantic hyper-black nose, certainly do seem more Lexus style, and the vehicle’s substantial size (195.9 inches overall) puts it into the territory you’d have to spend double or triple to get in similarly-sized Audi A7 or an S- or E-Class Mercedes and their biggest, fastest renditions. Even better, this sorta bad boy was just $42,300, with a 1,200-watt JBL premium audio system costing $1,760 added as an option.
But, for folks who dig the flash, the Avalon TRD I drove, splashed out in last year’s Supersonic Red color, did indeed get nothing but folks desperate to drag race. Which I politely refused on most occasions, as it’s fast, but not drag racing fast.
That will definitely be the aura you cultivate in this vehicle; the rear seat is so gigantic your kids can certainly have fun watching as every motorhead from here to Portland, Maine, vastly overestimates the vehicle’s output.
I guess you could go all “Roadkill Garage” and swap in a V-8 from a wrecked Tundra or maybe a 2016 Lexus GS F (yeah, 467 horsepower would definitely put your fellow road warriors on notice).
In real life, I did enjoy the largesse, the largely ambitious available power and especially the handling. Cruising along, it felt 1,000 times more solid than a Chrysler 300 or a Dodge Charger — this is a big, well-sorted Toyota, after all. I headed out on twisty roads and was quite impressed with the stickiness and the overall balance Avalon delivered, with pretty accomplished cornering.
It’s roomy, with a really substantial trunk, a comfortable cabin layout and none of the tall-doored gangster claustrophobia to be found in the aforementioned vehicles.
You may also be a fan of the more raw-sounding cat-back exhaust here; throw it in sport mode and it does make some fun noises. Or, you might like the slightly ridiculous red-pinstriped aero wings on the body, the blacked-out TRD performance wheels and even the red stitching inside the very black cabin — yes, all a bit surreal for an Avalon, but kind of awesome, too.
The cockpit really got the full Lexus treatment in the 2019 makeover and features a huge central arch and a single glossy faceplate containing infotainment, vents and air conditioning controls.
For 2021, Avalon debuts some fun new stuff for mountain folks, including Avalon’s first (optionally available) all-wheel drive system, plus another flashy, blacked-out version, the XSE Nightshade. AWD models will be teamed with a smaller 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine making 205 horsepower and 28 combined mpg, plus a half inch of extra clearance.
Android Auto compatibility has also been added across the line. The AWD option and the high-mileage hybrid renditions mean Avalon is now available in 10 grade variations, including a 2021 TRD model.
Andy Stonehouse’s column Mountain Wheels publishes Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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