Imagine that you were born in 1961. Just like George Clooney, Dennis Rodman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Dan Marino, Barack Obama, and John Pearley Huffman, you lived through the Cold War, the Gulf War, the invasion of Grenada, the Disco Invasion, the War on Drugs, and Battle of the Network Stars. You’re older than the internet but too young to have comfortably joined AARP seven years ago. Facebook? Yeah, get it. Snapchat? A mystery. When Toyota introduced the Avalon back in 1994 you were 33, still a junior office drone, and that was a car aimed at old farts. Irrelevant. Now here comes the 2019-model-year, fifth-generation Avalon, and at 56 going on 57, you are the old fart. Ralph Macchio, born November 4, 1961, this is your Toyota.
Conceptually, the Avalon sedan is the same as it ever was. It’s a riff on the Camry, a slightly stretched and conservatively redecorated machine with most of the primo gadgets standard. And it’s built on the same assembly line as the Camry at Toyota’s massive plant in Georgetown, Kentucky. While it’s optimized for North American duty, a few Avalons will be exported to the Middle East, but otherwise it sticks around the NAFTA neighborhood.
Like the all-new 2018 Camry, the 2019 Avalon is built around the TNGA component set that also underpins the current Prius and will be the base upon which Toyota will erect most of its new cars and crossovers. As ever, it’s a front-wheel-drive four-door with a V-6; there’s also a hybridized version available that uses a four-cylinder engine, but all-wheel drive isn’t on the table. In an era when traditional, near-luxury sedans from a non luxury brand are out of fashion, this is a traditional, near-luxury sedan from a non luxury brand.
But it’s fighting against some overly aggressive detailing, most particularly at the grille which is, well, ridiculous. It seems to spread for acres and essentially obliterates any suggestion of a front bumper. There’s so much grille that most of it isn’t actually open to airflow but is blocked off for aerodynamic efficiency. Toyota says the “upper and lower grilles have been unified to express performance” and that “the front grille has been constructed from intersecting 3-D surfaces for a premium image.” Okay, that’s fine. But some form-follows-function restraint would have added dignity and confidence to those attributes.
Still, even with that grille there’s some good in the nose. All grades of Avalon feature slim, elegant LED lighting, with the XLE and XSE trim levels employing three lamp elements while the Limited and Touring models add LED daytime-running-light accents that define the car’s eyes. The lofty Limited and Touring also get adaptive cornering lights that point into turns. That’s important for those of us aware that our peripheral vision is getting fuzzy as we age
The best thing about how the new Avalon looks is how it bucks against the prevailing crossover-SUV orthodoxy. There is nothing about this four-door that even slightly hints at a fifth door or off-road pretension. And after driving a couple dozen stultifying five-door things, it’s great to look at a real car again.