2020 Toyota Avalon TRD: So Much Potential

Some people get excited about sports cars. Others get goosebumps when they see a high-performance SUV. For me, it’s all about the sporty large vehicles. It’s why the Mercedes-AMG E 63 S wagon is my favorite car and the answer to what’s the one car I would buy if money wasn’t an issue. So, when a Toyota Avalon TRD became available in the press fleet, I jumped at the opportunity to test one. I even managed to get it immediately after the Nissan Maxima – the true sporty option in the class. I was excited.

I’ve tested the Avalon Touring, which was the sportiest option in the Avalon lineup before the introduction of the TRD trim, and I loved it. It managed to be luxurious, attractive, and somewhat sporty. If I can be critical of the Avalon Touring for a sec, the main thing that it’s missing is more athleticism. That’s the one thing I was looking for more of in the TRD. Fix that, I thought, and Toyota’s got a real winner on its hands.

The Avalon TRD that Toyota let us borrow for a week was fitted with a Premium Audio package that raised its price to $45,410. Certainly not cheap, but the Avalon TRD lands in an interesting spot in the lineup. It’s $200 cheaper than the Touring trim, trading luxury features for an aggressive body kit and performance-oriented parts.

Performance

With TRD in the name, performance is expected to be king. Unfortunately, power hasn’t changed over the regular Avalon. Even the TRD comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that continues to produce 301 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. In case you were wondering, those are the exact same figures as any other Avalon. The eight-speed automatic transmission is the same, too.

I can’t lie, that’s a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping to see something. At least a cold air intake, an exhaust system, a chip, anything. Something to bring a little more power or to wake up the V6 a bit. But there’s nothing in that sense. That’s not a good thing, but the V6 in the Avalon TRD is still a good engine. It produces a good amount of power and manages to get the sedan to high speeds with little effort. For the majority of the time, the automatic transmission is unobtrusive and does its job well. Except for the fact that it’s geared so strangely, that you can hit 80 mph in third gear, making the other five useless. It’s a strange thing that really hinders its appeal as a sporty sedan when being pushed around corners, but shifts come quick enough and are smooth.

So, if you’re not getting extra power, where’s your money going? It’s primarily been diverted to the suspension where the TRD gets a host of changes over the rest of the lineup. The TRD gets unique springs and damper tuning, sits 0.6 inches lower than a regular Avalon, has three more underbody braces, and features 2-piston brakes with larger front brake rotors. Those are a decent amount of changes that are meant to make TRD stiffer and more agile.

Active Cornering Assist is also included. It’s a braked-based torque-vectoring system that slows the inside wheel around a corner to aid in rotating the vehicle and sharpening turn-in. No matter how hard we pushed around corners, we couldn’t feel this system working.

Compared to a Touring trim, the TRD doesn’t feel that much sharper. I credit it to the Touring’s excellent adaptive suspension. Around corners, there’s a similar amount of body roll between the two models, as the TRD’s suspension parts fail to quell body roll. There’s some good news when it comes to ride comfort, as the TRD doesn’t ditch the sedan’s supple, comfortable ride.

If you, like me, were hoping to see a razor-sharp TRD, you’ll be disappointed to hear that the Avalon TRD isn’t all that sharp. If anything, Toyota should’ve focused its efforts on boosting the engine’s power and stuck with the Touring’s excellent adaptive suspension setup. That would’ve made more sense than trying to come out with an all-new suspension setup.

Exterior

The TRD is one angry-looking sedan. The body kit takes an already aggressive vehicle and turns the heat up with a heavy dose of Sriracha. It’s a little Fast & the Furious, but for consumers that are interested in that kind of thing, it works. Since Toyota received a lot of slack for its ostentatious design on the regular Avalon, this may come off as overboard for the majority of consumers. I’m one of the few members in the camp that likes it. Go big, go bold.

The impressive front splitter, large rear diffuser, sizable exhaust outlets, prominent side sills, and special 19-inch wheels ensure you won’t lose this sedan in a parking lot. In fact, hiding this sedan will be nearly impossible. Park this thing behind an 18-wheeler and it will still find a way to stand out.

Interior

Beyond red stitching, a few TRD logos, and red seatbelts, you’d be hard-pressed to see that this is the sportiest trim available. It’s certainly not as loud or as in your face as the exterior, which means the cabin is comfortable, quiet, and useable. The driver’s seat is relatively high, but the seat itself is comfortable for long drives. There’s not much bolstering, but will you notice that? Probably not.

The tech found in the TRD is just like any other Avalon. So, you’re getting a 9-inch touchscreen, a wireless charging pad, a decent JBL audio system, a great list of standard safety features, and physical buttons for a lot of controls. Some of the materials don’t feel all that great, but for the most part, these are easy to overlook because of how stylish the overall design is. The only thing that’s really missing is Android Auto, but as an Apple user, I didn’t miss its absence.

Conclusion

If it sounds like I’m rating the 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD harshly it’s because I am. Putting it nicely, I was disappointed by the sedan. After a week of driving it, which included a mix of long jaunts on the highway and numerous runs on windy roads, I came away thinking that Toyota really missed the ball with the Avalon TRD. Here was a great opportunity to show the world what TRD could do with a large, luxury sedan that didn’t really have any sporty DNA. What they brought to the market, is a large, luxury sedan that looks sporty. Nothing more, nothing less.

While the Avalon TRD clearly isn’t for me, or any enthusiast really wanting a sports car soul in a large sedan, it might very well appeal to a niche group of people. The majority of large sedans these days have moved away from being sporty in any sense of the word. Instead, they’re all about pampering passengers in luxury. While the Avalon TRD doesn’t do it for me, it’s nice to see Toyota show that sporty, large sedans have a future. Even if it’s one where sportiness and performance take a backseat to exterior design.

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