Was the Avalon right for a TRD badge?
Toyota's TRD division is responsible for building the company's coolest models. TRD stands for 'Toyota Racing Development' and can focus on either on-road or off-road performance. In the case of the two latest models - the 2020 Camry TRD and Avalon TRD - the focus has been squarely placed on the former. We've been begging Toyota to release new TRD models for years now, but the company's mid-size and large sedans were not exactly what we had in mind.
The Avalon has moved far away from its previous reputation as a grandparent's car but a TRD version positions it even further away from the retirement community crown. Toyota flew us out to the Texas Motor Speedway, where we had the chance to drive both new sedans alongside their non-TRD counterparts to sample how TRD changes have improved the driving experience. As the cheapest V6 model in the range, we ended up loving the Camry TRD but we have a few more reservations with the Avalon TRD.
As with the Camry, the Avalon TRD is based on the V6 model with some additional sporty flavor. You can spot a TRD model via its black 19-inch wheels, black body kit, red pinstriping, TRD badges, chrome exhaust tips, and black spoiler. The spoiler isn't quite as extreme as the one you'll get with the Camry but it still feels bold for an Avalon.
We believe the Avalon is the more attractive of the two sedans and the TRD versions are no exception, though some people may not be fond of the Avalon's larger grille design. Just like the Camry, the Avalon TRD will be offered in four colors: Wind Chill Pearl (white), Midnight Black Metallic, Celestial Silver Metallic, and a TRD-exclusive Supersonic Red. Red certainly looks the most aggressive and we always prefer opting for a model-exclusive color since Toyota offers so many good ones right now.
There are no changes to the 3.5-liter V6 engine, which produces an identical 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque in both the Camry and Avalon. Power goes to the front wheels only through an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters, but as with most current Toyota models, there is no true manual mode. Toyota rates fuel economy at 22/31/25 mpg city/highway/combined, which is identical to the Camry TRD and just one-mpg shy of the most efficient V6 Avalon. We do like how the TRD cat-back exhaust makes the engine sound outside the car, but the 0-60 mph performance should be around the same at six seconds.
The biggest performance changes come underneath the car, where the Avalon is now gifted with stiffer coil springs, stiffer front and rear swaybars, and a unique set of shock absorbers. Those 19-inch TRD wheels are also wrapped in wider Michelin 235/40R19 all-season tires.
Toyota has chosen red to be the accent color for the Avalon TRD but has used it tastefully. The Avalon TRD's interior feels slightly more mature than its Camry counterpart, though it still has plenty of sporty red accents on the seats, dashboard, steering wheel, headrests, carpets, and seatbelts.
We prefer the Avalon's roomier interior compared to the Camry and the materials feel softer and more premium. Unfortunately, the TRD trim misses out on some of the luxury found on the Avalon Touring trim, namely, ventilated leather seats. The TRD's black and red leather/suede seats are fine but we still prefer the beautifully-stiched leather found on the Touring. Unlike the Camry, the Avalon misses out on Android Auto integration for the 2020 model year, which is a major oversight.
The Avalon's trunk offers 16.09 cubic feet of storage, which is more than the Camry's 15.1 cubic feet. To keep it practical, Avalon's engineers chose to exclude the additional chassis strengthening used on the Camry, so the rear seats can still be folded down on the TRD model. You also get more space in the back, with 40.3 inches of legroom compared to 38 inches in the Camry.
Toyota set up an autocross course where we were able to sample the Avalon TRD back-to-back with another V6 model, the Touring. It became instantly apparent that the Avalon is a pretty large vehicle to use in an autocross but the chassis and suspension changes on the TRD do a lot to ease body roll through the tight corners. The TRD was easily the more composed of the two for sporty driving but we still came away with the Touring trim as our favorite - and here's why.
Unlike the TRD, the Touring trim comes with adaptive dampers, which can become softer or firmer at the press of a button. It may lean more than the TRD but out on the road, the Touring is far more comfortable. Touring trims also gain access to a Sport + mode, which triggers the firmest suspension setting. As a side effect of Sport + mode, the transmission holds gears longer, which was necessary on the autocross. Whenever we reached a corner in the TRD, it would prematurely shift to third gear whereas the Touring would hold second, allowing us to fully utilize the V6's grunt. Toyota either needs to add a full manual option or give the Avalon TRD a Sport + mode.
Of the gas-powered Avalon trims, the TRD is neither the cheapest nor the most expensive. It costs $42,300, placing it above the XSE ($38,300) but just below the Limited ($42,500). For just $200 more, we prefer the more comfortable adaptive suspension and ventilated seats of the Limited trim compared to the sporty flavor and rarity of the TRD.
Toyota made a smart move placing the Camry TRD as the cheapest V6 model in the range, ensuring its success as a phenomenal budget option in the range. But with the Avalon, it costs nearly as much as our favorite trim while missing out on a few of the creature comforts we've come to expect from the company's softer sedan. The biggest advantages of the Avalon over the Camry are a larger back seat, more spacious trunk, and a quieter, more refined ride with a more upmarket interior. Since the TRD trim sacrifices some of the Avalon's comfort, we recommend opting for the more well-rounded Touring trim and getting the much cheaper Camry if you desire a TRD model.