Toyota introduced the Avalon at the Chicago International Auto Show in February 1994. And the first model rolled off the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky assembly line later that year. Nearly three decades and five generations later, the Avalon is still manufactured there.
And for seemingly as many decades, Toyota’s full-size sedan has carried a reputation that’s perhaps stymied its success. What’s that reputation, you ask? We’ll get to that in a minute.
The 2021 Toyota Avalon at a glance
The Avalon is the Japanese carmaker’s largest and priciest sedan, sitting above the midsize Camry and compact Corolla. Direct competitors include the Hyundai Sonata, Chrysler 300, Kia Cadenza, Nissan Maxima, and Dodge Charger. Toyota introduced the fifth-generation Avalon in 2018 for the 2019 model year, and the 2021 model adds a few upgrades. One of the most significant additions is a special trim, the XSE Nightshade.
The five-seat, four-door Avalon is a super-relaxed highway cruiser ready for a long-distance drive. This holds especially true for the 2.5-liter, four-cylinder hybrid model. Paired with two electric motors, a continuously variable transmission, and a lithium-ion battery, it gets an EPA-estimated 43 mpg in the city, 43 mpg on the highway, and 46 mpg combined. Though its 0-to-60 split can’t compete with a Tesla, 7.4 seconds isn’t bad.
Toyota added its Nightshade theme to the already high-end, sporty XSE trim. You’ll also find Nightshade editions on several models across the brand’s lineup, including the Tacoma, Corolla, Camry, and 4Runner. Likewise, the 2021 Avalon XSE Nightshade comes in three unique colors (Celestial Silver Metallic, Midnight Black Metallic, and Wind Chill Pearl). It also sports a rear spoiler, black grille, mirror caps, glossy black 19-inch wheels, and Nightshade badging.
As the name suggests, the Avalon XSE Nightshade boasts a cooler, darker look. Nevertheless, it’s still an Avalon, so don’t expect crazy drifts or sleeping on Porsche 911s. The fancy name gets you only a 3.5-Liter V6 DOHC engine producing 301 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. You’d have to invest thousands of dollars to even compete with rivals pushing 600 to 700 hp. But, hey — it sure looks mean.
According to Toyota, the entry-level Avalon starts at $35,975, and the XSE Nightshade starts at $39,210.
Is the Avalon a ‘grandpa’ car?
Now let’s get to the Toyota Avalon’s reputation. A Reddit user posed this question in the /r/whatcarshouldIbuy subreddit last year: “Is the Toyota Avalon a ‘grandpa’ car?” Overall, the responses were positive.
One user replied, “It is and it isn’t, and that’s what is so great about it. The first car I ever bought off a dealer lot was a 1992 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight, and I had a 1994 Buick LeSabre after that. I loved those cars because they looked (and handled) like comfy boats, but under the hood was an indestructible monster. Those cars would smoke tuners and other performance cars like crazy.”
The commenter continued: “The Avalon is the best kind of those cars: almost 100 more horsepower, still fuel efficient if you don’t drive with a lead foot (30+mpg highway), great luxury, cheap on the used market, and a true (fast) sleeper. It can’t turn like a Civic Si (I traded my Si in for the Avalon), but the torque makes up for it. The Civic was a cop-magnet while the Avalon just blends right in with everything else, and that’s why I love it.”
‘The Avalon is the best Buick that Toyota ever made’
In 2016, the Washington Post published “Toyota Avalon: A Forgiving Choice for Senior Motorists.” Apparently, stereotyping drivers based on their age was still acceptable five years ago. The author wrote, “The Avalon is the best Buick that Toyota ever made. In certain respects — ergonomic common sense, total ease of use — it is a better Buick than any Buick.” To understand why the Avalon is likened to a Buick, you must first know why seniors have long preferred Buicks over other makes and models (except for the Buick-esque Avalon, of course).
In 2014, HuffPost published “I’m Old and This Is Why I Drive a Buick” from a Quora contributor. The original question posted on Quora was, “Why do so many old people drive Buicks?” The answer was simple: “As an old person who drives a Buick, I can tell you that it’s all about comfort.” Hence, sharing the same platform with the Camry V6 and Lexus ES, the Avalon was known for its extra legroom.
“Age is accompanied by ancillary stuff such as back braces and various other ambulatory aides, all of which consume space and encumber movement even as they help it,” the Washington Post added. “A car has to make those devices easy and comfortable to use. Car seats have to accept the back braces, meaning they have to make them feel an integral part of the seats that support them.”
Basically, just because seniors like a specific vehicle doesn’t mean it drives or handles like an electric mobility scooter.