The 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD is keep one of my favorite American automotive traditions alive — large cars with big engines, heavy duty suspensions and less restrictive exhausts.
I'm not talking about muscle cars, which were and are based on midsize cars. I'm talking about full-size cars that could be ordered with the most powerful engines available and outfitted with suspensions and exhausts suited for police cars. But the large interiors and long wheel bases meant they were comfortable both around town and on long trips.
Detroit started offering cars like this in the 1950s, frequently without advertising them. Savvy buyers knew to check the right option boxes when ordering. Since they looked stock, they were considered "sleepers." A number of high-performance fullsize cars were advertised, however, including the Buick Wildcat, the Plymouth Fury GT, the Pontiac Catalina 2+2 and the original versions of the Chevy Impala SS and the Chrysler 300. Most were coupes and carried distinctive badging and trim to stand out.
Among the last of these were the later versions of the rear-wheel-drive Buick Roadmaster, Chevy Impala SS, and Mercury Marauder, none of which are produced any more. Cadillac is continuing to offer performance versions of its largest cars. And joint Italian-American FCA is still selling V8 versions of its two four-door cars, the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Charger, the latter of which is available with multiple performance packages, including the over-the-top 707 horsepower Hellcat model.
So I was pleased to receive a Toyota Racing Development version of the full-size Avalon sedan for a test. Although it is not nearly as large as early full-size cars, it is still one of the bigger affordable family sedans still being prodiced. And although the 3.5-liter V6 is small by older standards, it is huge compared to the many smaller turbocharged engines offered today. Mated to a responsive eight-speed automatic, the 301 horsepower it pumps out provides good acceleration, especially in the Sport mode. Though not as strong as the FCA cars, the Avalon still has enough power to break the front wheels if you give it too much gas off the line.
But the real appeal are the Toyota Racing Division upgrades to the suspension and exhaust. They include include springs that are 10% firmer in front and 15% firmer in the rear, lightweight 19-inch wheels that are a half-inch wider, a 0.6-inch-lower ride height, stiffer anti-roll bars, revised nonadaptive dampers with internal return springs, beefed-up underbody braces, 0.9-inch-larger front brake rotors with two-piston calipers instead of the single piston calipers on other models, and an exhaust system that produces a satisfying growl that grows into a snarl during heavy accelerations.
Because the engine is unchanged from other models, the TRD might not be any faster than them, but it handles much better, allowing for harder driving on winding roads and flatter turns in the corners. At the same time, the suspension is not too stiff, so drivers and passengers are not punished on rough roads.
Whatever else it might be, the 2020 Avalon is not a sleeper. It features black wheels with red calipers, a black body kit with an extended spoiler and side moldings, and a black rear spoiler. Because the Avalon was redesigned in 2019 with bold exterior lines and a huge front grill, the look is very aggressive — a family car for people who don't want to be seen driving a family car. Our Supersonic Red car with black trim looked great.
Instead, the Avalon offers a lot of room and a huge vertical display screen on in the center of a fluid dash. Interior upgrades include red seatbelts, additional red accents and stitching, and "TRD" logos on each front headrest.
Even the entry-level Avalon comes with a lot of standard tech these days, and my test TRD version came with Toyota's Entune 3.0 infotainment system, and the company's TSS-P (Toyota Safety Sense P) technology with pre-collision braking, pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. It also included an options package that featured a premium 14-speaker JBL stereo that sounded great.
If you like the idea but don't need this large of a car, check out the midsize 2020 Toyota Camry TRD, which features the same engine and similar suspension, brake and exhaust upgrades.
And when I say Toyota is keeping an American car tradition alive, I mean it. All Avalons sold in this country are manufactured in Georgetown, Kentucky, including the enjoyable TRD version.
Go here for a review of the redesigned 2019 Toyota Avalon.
2020 Toyota Avalon TRD
Base price: $42,300
Price as tested: $45,892
Type: Full-size sedan
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (301 hp, 267 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 22/31
Overall length: 196 inches
Curb weight: 3,638 to 3,715 pounds
Final assembly: Georgetown, Kentucky
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