Weekend Wheels: Toyota's Avalon TRD takes a swig from the fountain of youth
Imagine Grandpa strapping a turbocharger to his walker. Or your great-aunt Mildred taking her Buzzaround EX mobility scooter into the shop and it comes back with 19-inch rims and a racy bodykit.
Not gonna happen? Think again, because I’ve just been driving a version of Toyota’s normally somnambulant, Prozac-infused Avalon luxury liner with tuning by Toyota Racing Development, aka TRD. I kid you not.
Welcome to the 2020 Avalon TRD, a $43,255 big-wheeled, body-kitted, red seat-belted, Hot Wheels for The Villages’ bad-boys supper club.
Normally TRD focuses its considerable tuning acumen on developing killer off-road pickup trucks, like the mud-plugging, river-fording Tundra and 4Runner TRD Pro models.
But no doubt after a few too many shots of Suntory Yamazaki single malt, someone at Toyota HQ decided the Avalon was in desperate need of “youthifying.” And TRD were just the folks to dunk it in the automotive fountain of youth.
Whether it’s my newly acquired Medicare membership, or graying temples, or love of AARP discounts, I hate to admit that I actually loved driving this hot mess of pseudo, go-faster sportiness.
So what mayhem has TRD created? Starting out with a perfectly lovely Avalon Touring, they designed a head-spinning piano-black body kit with track-inspired front spoiler, wide side aero skirts, a rear under-bumper diffuser and piano black rear spoiler.
Then, at each corner, on went TRD-designed matte-black 19-inch alloys with blacktop-gripping, all-season low-profile rubber.
Visually it’s like Frank Costanza ditching his comfy velour track suit for a black leather biker jacket with the collar turned up.
More significant mods include stiffer steel springs, firmer shocks and a half-inch lower ride height. Plus beefed-up, dual-piston front brake calipers and bigger rotors. Racy red paint for those calipers, too.
Perhaps to not go too-crazy with things, TRD resisted the temptation of bolting on a turbo or supercharger to the Avalon’s stock 3.5-liter V6. Its output stays the same at 301-horsepower and max torque of 267 lb-ft.
But to add some audible pizzazz, they crafted a TRD dual exhaust with polished stainless steel tips, no doubt to satisfy any geezers missing their ’65 Chevelle.
Inside there are such visual bonbons as snazzy red seat belts, and perforated faux-leather and Ultrasuede seats with red stitching and a TRD logo embroidered into the headrest. There’s red stitching, too, for the steering wheel and shift knob and technical-looking aluminum trim.
I must say it all looks pretty convincing in giving the impression it’s just come from a workout at the gym. But not even red stitching can detract from one of the Avalon’s finest features — its cavernous interior.
This thing still has more rear-seat space than a Town Car, along with a huge trunk that Tony Soprano would love.
So what’s it like to drive? Climb aboard and let’s take this puppy for a burnout outside the Krispy Kreme.
Press that big start button and the V6 fires up with a nice, sporty though far from obnoxious burble. Select the Sport drive mode — why would you use Eco or even Normal? — and punch it. Hmmm, you forget what a sweet engine this is.
No, it doesn’t deliver neck-snapping acceleration, but it feels plenty zippy to justify its athletic attire. And there’s no shortage of ooomph when you need to pass, or merge with freeway traffic.
Those suspension changes do a nice job of reducing body roll and giving the car a tighter, tauter feel through the curves, yet without overly stiffening the ride.
And while the stock eight-speed automatic always seems a little too eager to ease up into a higher gear, the paddle shifters are there to give manual control.
No, the Avalon TRD won’t be for everyone. But it’s guaranteed to make trips to the Golden Corral early-bird special a lot more fun.
Take one for a spin at Toyota of Tampa Bay, Stadium Toyota of Tampa, Courtesy Toyota of Brandon, Clearwater Toyota, or AutoNation in Pinellas Park.