SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Among the first things you’ll notice about the all-new 2019 Toyota Avalon is the grille.
Depending on whether you opt for sport or luxury trims, you’re looking at a wide expanse of twisted black lacquer or shiny metallic horizontal lines.
Some people on my social media feeds have likened it to a dead fish with a gaping mouth. Others have added heart-eyed emojis in reaction.
But everyone seems to have an opinion on the love or hate side of the scale. There isn’t much middle ground.
Personally, I’m not a fan of the front-facing styling, but I do like that Toyota took a chance and created something different. You will not mistake this for anything bland or boring – a reputation the automaker has tried very hard to shake.
In fact, the exterior styling overall is bold and aggressive; a huge departure for a vehicle that currently boasts drivers with an average age of 66.
During the press preview, Lisa Materazzo, vice president of vehicle marketing and communications at Toyota, said that they are actively targeting a younger demographic, though she didn’t specify an age.
But with additions such as five standard USB ports, Apple CarPlay, smartwatch connectivity, WiFi hotspot, Qi wireless charging and an available JBL premium audio system – in addition to the bold styling – you can see that the brand is looking to attract families and younger professionals – not just the Baby Boomer set, which has been its core.
The trim strategy also reflects this attempt with the XSE and Touring trims heading toward the sport side of the spectrum with quad-tipped exhaust and a sound generator that pipes the engine sound into the vehicle.
The XLE and Limited trims will appeal more to the traditional Avalon buyer with more premium – and conservative—interior materials and active noise cancelling, which will remove that engine sound.
Avalon will also retain a hybrid model in XLE, XSE and Limited trims.
During a daylong test, we were able to cycle through the various trims and powertrains. We noticed, yes, the XSE and Touring gasoline models sound a bit sportier, and yes, the XLE and Limited models look a little more elegant on the inside. But the overall ride and handling is pretty similar unless you’re cycling through the drive modes. Normal adds more comfort to the suspension and Sport adds some quicker throttle response and throatier engine noise.
All in all, the new Avalon is a comfortable cruiser.
And I really like the cushy seat bottoms.
The gasoline models will come equipped with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that delivers 301 horsepower and 267 pound feet of torque. This is enough power to help you merge with fast-moving traffic or have a nice off-the-line start, but it’s nothing super fast or completely effortless.
The hybrid model, which has a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor is the surprise of the two. It has a total output of 215 horsepower, and yet it feels peppier than the V-6. Plus you can’t beat the fuel economy. It will get either 43 or 44 mpg in combined driving depending on your trim. We averaged around 40 mpg during our test and considered that a win since neither my partner nor I were sedate drivers.
Base price for Avalon will be $36,395, which is just $250 more than the outgoing model. Yet it adds more than $1,700 in additional content, including 33 additional horsepower, an 8-speed automatic transmission, Apple CarPlay, a 9-inch touch screen display, Amazon Alexa, full-speed adaptive cruise control and an additional 4 USB ports.
What’s more, the hybrid model only adds $1,000 over its gasoline counterpart at each trim.
Pricing for the gasoline/hybrid models per trim is as follows:
Avalon will go on sale in May.
The Bottom Line
You will either love or hate the exterior design of the all-new 2019 Toyota Avalon. But the interior is more neutral with nicely appointed finishings, well-placed controls and incredibly comfortable seats.
The power is neither sluggish nor super fast, but hits the sweet spot of just right. And while the midsize sedan has traditionally trended older, this new model offers a lot of high-tech amenities meant to target a younger buyer.
If you can get beyond the polarizing design, Avalon has a good story to tell.
Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Toyota covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.