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Avalon: Toyota’s Premium Flagship Sedan

Once it was Toyota’s large flagship cruiser; the 2019 Avalon now presents itself as more of a sleek and agile combat ship. Introduced in 1994, it was for many years a large car, sometimes described as Toyota’s Buick. It had the distinction of being the only modern sedan that could seat three passengers comfortably in the back seat, with a flat floor and proper cushions.

In 2013, it was downsized to its current state as a midsize car. It continues in that configuration for 2019, now barely larger than its popular – and lower-priced – sibling, the Toyota Camry.

A perennial best-seller, the Camry nests neatly in the midsize class with 114 cubic feet of interior volume, divided at 99 for passengers and 15 in the trunk. The 2019 Avalon has but 5 cubic feet more: 103 for passengers and 16 in the trunk. It also is 4 inches longer than the Camry.

Distinctions come in appointments and equipment. The Camry can be outfitted like a near-luxury premium sedan; while the Avalon has higher, Lexus-like aspirations, it has joined the crowd with a center-rear seat that is little more than an uncomfortable perch. Outboard back seats, however, offer plenty of head and knee room.

For 2019, its fifth-generation iteration, the Avalon, in the words of group vice-president Ed Laukes, “was re-created from the ground up.” It is longer, lower, and wider than its predecessor and sports new exterior and interior styling. It sports LED lighting all around, an adaptive suspension system, distinctively different grilles for sport and luxury-oriented models, and seven trim levels.

They are the XLE (the focus here), and the Limited, whose grilles are filled with horizontal bars; the sport-oriented XSE and Touring, with gleaming, piano-black mesh grilles; and three hybrid models in XLE, XSE, and Limited trim. Prices range from $35,500 to $38,000. In a move that should win more economy-oriented customers, hybrid models cost just $1,000 more than their gasoline counterparts in all trim levels. EPA city/highway/combined XLE hybrid fuel economy is rated at 43/44/44 miles to the gallon. XSE and Limited get 43/43/43. Moreover, the hybrid now has the same trunk size as the non-hybrids.

Though all versions were available, the lowest-price XLE gasoline model was chosen for this review because it comes with all basic Avalon goodness. The test car does not offer a navigation system, so drivers must use their smart phone’s service. But, four powered USB ports will allow most passengers to constantly navigate as they wish.

The XLE also lacks frosting that comes on other trim levels. Among the missing are leather upholstery, genuine wood interior trim, paddle shifters, acoustic windshield and side glass up front, head-up display, rear cross-traffic braking, and a birds-eye-view rear camera.

But the XLE does have Toyota’s manufactured Softex upholstery; Entune infotainment system with Apple Car Play, Bluetooth and SXM satellite radio; three-mode drive system (Eco, Normal, Sport); and Toyota’s Safety Sense system, which includes pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptable radar cruise control, lane departure mitigation, and blind-spot detection.

All non-hybrid versions share a new 301-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine that delivers 267 lb.-ft. of torque. It is connected to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The combination provides a smooth, quiet surge of power that never feels out of breath.

On the road, the XLE test car cruised serenely with no intrusion of mechanical or wind noise, and only minimal sounds from the tires on rough pavement. The front seats were comfortable on the artificial Softex surface, with good seatback bolstering for cornering. A touch of a button selects Eco, Normal, and Sport settings, which adjust shift points, ride comfort, steering, and suspension settings.

The tested XLE came with a suggested delivered price of $36,395. It had two options: a $1,000 motorized sunroof and a $680 upgraded JBL audio system for a total sticker price of $38,075, which is only about $3,500 more than the average transaction price of a new car in this era.

For that, you can buy premium surroundings, modern styling, strong performance, and comfort in a flagship car that competes handily against the likes of the Buick LaCrosse and Nissan Maxima — and, if you’re on a tight budget, maybe even a Lexus ES.