Toyota Avalon

The 2018 Toyota Avalon is available in XLE, XLE Plus, XLE Premium, Touring and Limited models, with Avalon Hybrid versions available for all but the base XLE.

Standard versions of the Toyota Avalon are powered by a 268-horsepower, 3.5L V6 that has variable valve timing for smooth response across the entire rev range. It's hooked up to a 6-speed automatic transmission that has Eco, Normal and Sport modes as well as steering-wheel paddle shifters for manual control.

Avalon Hybrid models get a 2.5L 4-cylinder engine and a 105-kW electric motor system as part of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive-- the same as used in the Camry Hybrid. The electric motor system adds to the powertrain's output when needed and recovers energy when decelerating or braking. The powertrain makes 200 horsepower altogether. Fuel efficiency for the Hybrid is estimated at 40 mpg city, 39 highway.

The Avalon has ride and handling characteristics help bridge some of the difference between a plush luxury car and a sporty premium sedan. With MacPherson struts in front and dual-path dampers, plus a dual-link rear suspension, anti-roll bars front and rear and pillow ball joints in back, the Avalon has been tuned to be agile yet refined. Electric power steering provides less boost at higher speeds and is weighted to for good centering in tight corners.

While the Avalon is more enjoyable to drive than the previous models, it's still one of the quietest sedans without a full-fledged luxury badge. Thanks to measures such as an acoustic windshield and special sound-absorbing materials throughout, road and wind noise are especially well-masked.

All models are neatly finished on the outside with LED tail lamps and a chrome-tipped exhaust; but it's inside that the new Avalon is most noteworthy. The Avalon's instrument panel uses special IntelliTouch capacitive switches under a grained surface; they're designed to be used with gloves, and by those with long fingernails.

Equipment is comparable between normal V6 and Hybrid versions of the Avalon. The base XLE includes heated exterior mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, a backup camera, cruise control, leather upholstery, woodgrain interior trim, heated power front seats, a Smart Key system, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming and a Display Audio sound system with a 7-inch touch screen, eight speakers and auxiliary and iPod/USB inputs.

XLE Premium models add push-button start, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a compass and a blind-spot monitor/warning, while the Touring model adds 18-inch painted alloy wheels, LED headlamps/fog lamps and premium leather upholstery. It also gets an upgraded sound system with nine speakers, a navigation system and Entune services and Bing search, iHeartRadio, Pandora and OpenTable apps.

The Limited and Hybrid Limited models are at the top of the model line and include HID headlamps, heated exterior mirrors, 3-zone automatic climate control, premium heated/ventilated leather upholstery, a 10-way adjustable driver's seat (8-way for passenger), heated rear seats and LED daytime running lamps, A Premium Navigation system is included, as well as that steps up to an 11-speaker JBL setup plus subwoofer and separate amplifier, as well as HD Radio with iTunes tagging. The system also allows access to customizable vehicle settings.

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Editors' First Take

Toyota Racing Development came to the US in 1979 and is best known for dominating off-road motorsports in the 1980s and early 1990s. The company began offering performance parts and off-road packages for its production vehicles in 1997, and since then, TRD badges have adorned a number of Toyota products -- most recently, the 2020 Tacoma and 4Runner.

But this year, Toyota has been expanding TRD offerings to cars, as well. The company recently launched a TRD Edition of its zippy little 86 coupe, and for the 2020 model year, a similar performance upgrade is being given to the Camry and Avalon. Yes, two of the most family- and comfort-oriented sedans on the market are getting a TRD upgrade.

Maybe this isn't such a surprise, though. Consider this: The first TRD-spec car to ever compete in motorsports was a Toyota Crown sedan in the 1957 Mobilgas Rally Around Australia. More recently, TRD-tuned Camry race cars have seen podium finishes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

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