Stick Shift: 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD

The Toyota Avalon is many things. Before a big redesign in 2013, it was considered by most to be a soft, spacious, reliable option. With almost Lexus levels of luxury, pillowy suspension and the obvious aim at being comfortable and plain over anything that would remotely resemble exciting. 2013 saw some serious strides in style, performance and tech. That quantum leap still pales in comparison to the Avalon that sits before me now. The 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD. 

The Avalon seems like the very last pick to wear the TRD badge. TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development. A performance treatment that would be perfectly expected on the Supra, Tacoma and Tundra, even the Camry or Celica of yesteryear. So how does the TRD treatment look on a vehicle that for so many generations had such a clear aversion to higher performance, responsive handling, firm suspension and styling with edge and attitude? I applaud the finished product. But opinions will be split.

First impressions speak the loudest, and the 2020 Avalon TRD makes a big one. Starting with a gaping front grille, larger than most in the Toyota line-up. This is saying something as Toyota has becoming the undisputed champion of the oversized spindle grille. Perched above this gaping maw are mean-looking headlights. Narrow slits packed with LED’s. Air vents are located to the side and a front spoiler sits below. This front, rear and side aero kit stands out in piano black. Visually lowering the ride height of the Avalon to a level that will have you sweating over every dangerous curb you pull up too. 

The same piano black magic is applied to the enormous front grille and tasteful rear spoiler. This gloss finish offers a great contrast to the 19” matte black alloy wheels. At the center of each wheel is a red TRD badge, color matched to the red brake calipers. Finish the whole thing off with a TRD cat-back exhaust with polished chrome tips and the completed package is hardly recognizable as a Toyota Avalon at all. Almost aftermarket in effect, with an obvious polish that we’ve come to expect from the TRD branch of Toyota.

Photo via: Toyota

On the inside, Softex seats are adorned with red accent elements and a variety of materials that make them anything but visually boring. Red seatbelt straps and plenty of red stitching push the envelope even further. The same red stitching can be found around the rest of the cabin as well. Tying together a general theme of sportiness over soft, supple comfort. TRD badges on the headrests and special TRD floor-mattes get the same red trim.

Photo via: Toyota

 All these visual upgrades are nice, but anyone spending extra money for the TRD package, expects more than just sportier aesthetics. Lucky for us, the Avalon TRD brings extra power and a much more dynamic driving experience to the table. The 3.5L V6 has been massaged to produce 301hp. Acceleration is smooth and steady, and the engine winds with a pleasant growl that’s always polite and never intrusive. 

The Direct Shift 8-speed automatic transmission feels smart and capable. It never fumbled to find the right gear and always delivered quick shifts. It was also good about holding high rpm’s in Sport mode when driving with the paddle shifters. The brakes have been upgraded beyond just painted calipers as well. Big 12.9” front rotors, squeezed by a dual piston set-up create braking that’s firm and consistently strong with great pedal feel. 

Thicker under-body braces combine with the TRD-tuned suspension to deliver a Toyota Avalon that’s never been so responsive and eager to attack the corners. In Sport mode especially the improvements in handling are immediately evident. A Normal and Eco mode exist to soften things up and improve fuel efficiency if you need a brake from the firmer ride. Even in Eco mode though, a combined rating of 25 mpg is just ok for this segment. 

Throw in all the best safety and convenience options Toyota has to offer and you end up with an Avalon that’s on a mission to set itself apart from its one-flavored past. Far from predictable, it’s multi-dimensional now. Layered and complex. Angry and on a mission. Its wild new looks won’t appeal to the traditional Avalon owners of the past. For a younger generation though, in search of something exciting and performance-oriented, while still providing all the tech, safety, reliability and space of a larger four-door sedan, the 2020 Avalon TRD might be just the ticket. A high price-point will create some challenges as so many wonderful luxury options from the likes of Lexus, Acura, BMW and Audi can be snatched up for a similar amount. Time will tell if the new Toyota Avalon TRD balances both worlds well enough to pull some of those sales and appeal to an entirely new kind of demographic.

Price as tested: $46,147.00

By: Brandon Randall

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