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2021 Toyota Avalon AWD First Drive Review: Four Is Enough?

Is this four-cylinder suitable for an AWD luxury sedan?

© Motor Trend Staff

From Motor Trend

This year, Toyota's big Avalon sedan is celebrating its 25th birthday by announcing two firsts: all-wheel drive and four-cylinder propulsion without any hybrid electric assistance. The new drivetrain is basically shared with the latest RAV4 and the 2020 Toyota Camry AWD, which will precede the 2021 Toyota Avalon AWD to market by about six months. We delved into the workings of the system in our AWD first look, so let's focus here on answering the question: Is this unassisted 2.5-liter four-cylinder sufficiently powerful and refined to suit an AWD luxury sedan?

© Motor Trend Staff

The good news is that the Avalon comes standard with the lower-restriction dual rear exhaust system that endows the Camry XSE with 3 additional horsepower and lb-ft of torque, for a total of 205 hp at 6,600 rpm and 185 lb-ft at 4,600 rpm. The less good news is that this is down 10 hp from the total system output produced by the Avalon Hybrid's higher-compression version of this same 2.5-liter engine. And although Toyota doesn't disclose total system torque for hybrids, without the two electric motors spinning through an e-CVT, the sensation of instant torque at launch is considerably less in this Avalon AWD, which makes do with a conventional eight-speed transmission. At least it's fitted with comparatively short 3.18:1 axle gearing—that pencils out to 15 percent shorter overall in the first three gears, relative to the front-drive V-6 Avalon.

© Motor Trend Staff

Does it feel slower than either front-drive Avalon? Yes. Will the difference trouble or dissuade the typical Avalon buyer? Probably not—these are not bracket racers, by and large. And shod in the exact same all-season tires that front-drive Avalons get, it will certainly out-accelerate the front-drivers on a snowy autocross course.

© Motor Trend Staff

Toyota invited us to try out the Avalon's Dynamic Torque Control AWD on just such a course set up at the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center in Utah, where many events of the 2002 Winter Olympics were staged. As you may recall from previous descriptions of this system, the torque dynamics the name references are strictly front to rear, not side to side. A clutch decouples the rear axle when torque isn't needed (though the prop shaft always spins), and when engaged it can variably send up to 50 percent of engine torque to the rear as needed. Torque is sent aft whenever front wheelslip is detected, and the rear is also engaged proactively, during launch, when accelerating in corners, etc.

© Motor Trend Staff

The suspension hardware and most system tuning is shared with the 1.8-inch shorter-wheelbase Camry AWD—including new springs that raise the body 0.2 inch to preserve ground clearance to the slightly lower exhaust system and a 22.2mm rear anti-roll bar—down from 25.4mm on front-drive Avalons. A Camry AWD was also on hand for our snowy auto-crossing pleasure. In both cars, the stability control (which cannot be switched off) is programmed to permit savvy drivers to induce nicely controllable drifts while dutifully catching and correcting the slightest misstep by anyone less skilled in the slick stuff. Traction control can be switched off, which is useful in cases where a bit of wheelspin can burn through a snowy layer to expose a grippier surface beneath. That wheelbase stretch and another hundred pounds or so of luxury gear conspire to make the Avalon AWD feel less tossable and driftable than the Camry AWD—not that anybody cares.

© Motor Trend Staff

Only two Avalon trim levels will be offered with AWD: XLE and Limited. Pricing won't be finalized until closer to their fall 2020 launch, but we're told to expect this to be a no-cost option priced in line with the V-6-powered XLE and Limited front-drivers, so figure about $37,000 and $43,000. We compared the relative feature content of a loaded Camry XLE AWD and a similarly priced base Avalon XLE AWD and determined that the loaded Camry suited us better. We also feel that this drivetrain suits a Camry buyer better, and we're certain that accounts for its limited availability in the Avalon and the fact that it's not being offered on the Lexus ES 350 built in the same plant on the same architecture sharing the Avalon's wheelbase. It's just not refined enough for Lexus duty, and it strikes us as somewhat marginal in the Avalon.

© Motor Trend Staff


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Autos Magazine: 2021 Toyota Avalon AWD First Drive Review: Four Is Enough?
2021 Toyota Avalon AWD First Drive Review: Four Is Enough?
Is this four-cylinder suitable for an AWD luxury sedan?
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