2021 Toyota Avalon AWD Review: All-Wheel Conundrum

AWD or V6 power? You choose. 

“Sorry buddy, you can’t have both, now choose.” Sound familiar? A statement mostly made in the aisles of our favorite toy stores, or the ice cream shop. If the kid wants both Megatron and Optimus Prime, or to have two scoops of different ice creams, let him. But alas, such conundrums have dogged us since we were kids, and it seems not much has changed well into adulthood. Only the choices have now even trickled down to the cars we buy, especially if you’re in the market for a Toyota Avalon. 

If you want your full-size sedan with all-wheel drive, you must forego the 300 hp V6 and settle for the 205 hp 2.5-liter four-pot from the Camry. It makes little sense but there has to be a logic behind this madness and we figured it’s worth giving the 2021 Toyota Avalon a shot before jumping to conclusions. 

A bigger Camry?

The Avalon shares the same platform with the Camry after all, so mistaking it for its smaller sibling is understandable. Out on the road, even trained eyes are susceptible to mistake that rear end for the Camry’s. Only in profile will you notice the 1.8-inch (45 mm) and realize it’s a different car. But when you get inside, all doubt dissipates like joy on a cold and grey winter Canadian morning. The cabin is nice. It feels a lot more premium than the car you had been confusing it for just 10 minutes ago. 

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The Ruby Flair Pearl or red exterior paint contrasts with the walnut brown interior, though Toyota insists on calling the trim Cognac. A Lexus-esque stitched leather diamond pattern that adorns the door panels gives the cabin a rich and upmarket feel. Adding to the richness is more stitched leather upholstery on the dash and the center console. The open-pore wood inlays further add to the luxury quotient of the Avalon.

A contrasting color scheme of black and brown looks appealing and tastefully done. Admittedly, there is no fancy gadgetry here. The instrument cluster seems a bit dated, but considering that Avalon’s target audience isn’t millennials, its potential buyers will probably appreciate its old-world-ish charm. The infotainment system though needs an upgrade. It is distinct when compared to the Camry’s but it’s still the Entune system that is two years too old. But Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, so you don’t need to have much interaction 

SEE ALSO: Toyota Camry AWD vs Kia K5 AWD Comparison

Front seats are quite comfortable and since the one we have here is the Limited trim, the front seats are leather-trimmed and come with eight-way power adjustment with memory function. The rear seats are as comfortable if not more. The well-contoured seat squab and seat back hold you in place rather well. Plus, the extra 1.8 inches of wheelbase translates well into cabin space and makes the rear bench feel quite stately. The 16.09 cu-ft trunk is adequate enough for golf clubs, fold-away lounge chairs—and if you’re particularly adept at space management, you could get a couple of weekend bags in there too. 

The power dynamic 

205 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque wouldn’t seem enough for a 3,705 lb car and it’s not. Though the weight difference between the Camry and the Avalon is only a little over 120 lb, the 2.5-liter four-pot feels a lot more bogged down than it does in the Camry, in which frankly it feels quite lively. Instead, the Avalon had similar driving characteristics as the Kia K5 we drove a couple of weeks ago. You need to be quite deliberate with the throttle and unlike most modern-day cars where you need to pay special attention to not overshoot the speed limit, in the Avalon you need to be conscious to match it. 

SEE ALSO: 2019 Nissan Maxima Review

The transmission is smooth and though not slow, could have been a little more prompt. In the corners too, the Avalon feels heavier than it is. It’s probably the extra two inches between the wheels that catch it out. But on city roads, it feels completely at home. The suspension rebound is just right and while clearly setup on the softer side, it never gets bent out of shape.

A light steering ensures better city maneuverability. At highway speeds too, it remains surefooted and solid for the most part. Though the steering weighs up nicely, abrupt changes in direction do tend to catch it unawares. Also, overtakes seem strenuous, and pushing it hard yields little more than agitation. The AWD system does aid grip though, which really came in handy during the inclement Canadian winter weather. But plan your moves in advance or just leave it on cruise, don’t bother with the world and you will find its drive almost relaxing. 

Verdict: 2021 Toyota Avalon Review

The Toyota Avalon is a peculiar sedan as it doesn’t really fit into any particular segment. Starting at $36,970 (including destination) it isn’t exactly in the affordable bracket, either. Our tester here is the AWD Limited trim, which retails for $45,745 ($50,905 CAD) and for that you do get a premium and upmarket interior. but the powertrain, at that price, is underwhelming at best. Then there is the design which, apart from being far from edgy or striking, tends to stand out for all the wrong reasons. 

The interior quality, comfort, and space are impeccable. Only a few will appreciate Avalon’s no-nonsense approach to motoring. Hence, the low sales figures. In addition, despite the almost 100 hp deficit, the front-drive Limited V6 and all-wheel drive I4 trims cost exactly the same. And this results in a strange conundrum between power and grip. If you are seriously considering the Avalon, the only reason you would want the AWD would be that you don’t like going fast. We really think Toyota should consider offering the Avalon and the Camry with a V6 AWD powertrain. The additional grip will certainly benefit the more powerful engine.

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