Smooth Cruiser: 2021 Toyota Avalon AWD

When playing a game of word association regarding the nameplate “Toyota Avalon,” certain words like “retirement” and acronyms like “AARP” may come to mind. Granted, the Avalon has earned its reputation as a boulevard cruiser from generations past, known for prioritizing ride comfort and cushy softness over sportiness or handling prowess. Toyota has seemingly tried to move beyond this reputation with the newest generation of Avalon, with its edgy styling and even a TRD variant. For 2021, Toyota adds another facet to the Avalon with the addition of AWD to the XLE and Limited trim levels, and we at Limited Slip Blog were keen to sample. Though we did not test during wintry conditions that are familiar to anyone living in NY, the Avalon AWD is intended for buyers dealing with yearly inclement weather.

The new Toyota Avalon certainly looks more aggressive than older models have. Despite the visual flair, the Avalon Limited AWD is far from the range’s sportiest model; check out the Avalon TRD if large sporty FWD sedans float your boat. Regardless, the exterior of the Avalon certainly makes a statement with its enormous grille, 19″ wheels and body creases. Unlike Avalons of old that were ultra-conservative and lacked any form of visual flair, the new generation of Avalon wants to be seen and appreciated. From my perspective, every angle of the Avalon is nice and contemporary looking, especially the rear three-quarter view. However, if you dare to look the massive front grille head-on, prepare to find yourself questioning the decision to not incorporate a smaller grille. Stepping up to the Limited trim brings adaptive, full-LED headlights that bring a distinctive running-light signature to the front of the Avalon, as well as excellent illumination of the road ahead, particularly with the high-beams on.

Interior-wise, the Avalon AWD is typical Avalon Limited, which is to say that everything fit well and most surfaces exuded typical Toyota quality. Like the exterior, the interior of the new Avalon is no longer the snooze-fest it once was. Instead, creative styling gives the eye much to take in, and I found myself absorbing new details about the interior even towards the end of my week-long test. The wood trim you see on the door panels and dashboard is REAL wood, sourced from Yamaha, and looks high-end to the eye. Most surfaces are padded, but several areas of the Avalon’s interior were hard, scratchy plastic that I felt were out of place in an interior that also includes wood sourced from Yamaha. Regardless, I found the Avalon to be an exceptionally comfortable place from which to conduct driving duties. The seats were perplexingly comfortable; at first, I was underwhelmed by their seeming lack of “cushyness” as the padding was thinner than I was expecting. Once I spent some time in the seats, I was amazed at how well they fit my back and the curvature of my spine; they weren’t overly foamy, but they were essentially perfect for my tastes. At 5’10”, I’m about the size of the average adult male, so your experience may differ, but the Avalon is a large car with plenty of space for just about anyone. The back seats were exceptionally comfortable and I was able to stretch my legs a bit, even sitting behind the driver’s seat in my seating position. The trunk was appropriately commodious for a car of the Avalon’s size, measuring 16 cubic feet.

The infotainment is relatively intuitive, but is not the quickest to respond. Still, I found that it was surprisingly configurable in that there were many different ways you could not only have information displayed, but also many choices of what type of information you wanted to display. One particular disappointment was the unbelievably low-resolution backup camera. The screen for the camera itself was small, and the edges of the screen distorted like a fun-house mirror when backing up. I found it disorienting at first and I never fully warmed up to it. One particularly engaging feature of the Avalon Limited is the standard 14 speaker JBL sound system with subwoofer. Although not the ultimate in factory sound systems, it was a pleasure to listen to all genres through this system, with plenty of volume to please those that like it loud, and enough detail retrieval to captivate audiophiles. The bass was deep and paid ample justice to Hip-Hop and R&B, but was not overwhelming on tracks that didn’t call for it. Overall, the sound system was one of the major highlights of the Avalon for me.

Driving the Avalon Limited AWD proved to be a bit of a conundrum. When opting for AWD, you also have to change from the 3.5 V6 standard in other FWD Avalon’s to the 2.5 liter 4cyl borrowed from the Camry. With only 202hp and 185lbft on tap, you’d assume that the AWD Avalon is a bit sluggish in terms of acceleration, but you’d only somewhat be correct. Toyota programmed the initial throttle response to be smooth yet aggressive; perhaps the gearing of 1st gear is short to overcome the paucity of torque. Regardless, I found the Avalon to feel quite peppy off the line, with thrust petering out around 50 mph. Above 60 mph, the Avalon AWD feels like a big sedan with a 4cyl, but if you bought the Avalon AWD to drag race, you’re missing the point with this car. The Avalon Limited AWD simply glides down the road. Now, unlike Avalons of yore that had ultra-soft and cushy suspension tuning at the expense of handling sharpness, this newer generation of Avalon strikes a balance more in the middle. The ride is firmer than what I was initially expecting, and handling is less sloppy than it might otherwise be. Be that as it may, the Avalon glides down most road surfaces as though every bearing, ball-joint and suspension component had been lubricated with many gallons of WD40. Although the Avalon is a bit more fun to throw into a corner than older Avalon’s have been, the Avalon AWD truly shines when cruising along, eating up miles on the interstate, gliding along blissfully as you bask in the 14 speaker JBL sound system and admire the Yamaha-sourced wood-trim.

The 2021 Toyta Avalon Limited AWD is a solid addition the Avalon lineup. Though we did not test in adverse weather conditions, the added peace of mind and all-weather prowess AWD brings may be just the ticket for buyers who live in areas where the winter brings fluffy white snow. If you are willing to live with the 4-cylinder engine and the compromise in performance it brings, the Avalon Limited AWD would make an excellent all-weather cruising companion.

-Ken Wilson

2021 Toyota Avalon Limited AWD$42,175
Advanced Safety Package$1,150
Appearance Package$900
All Weather Package$259
Destination Charges$995
As-Tested MSRP$45,479

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.