I had fifteen minutes of uninterrupted bliss with the Avalon TRD, and I’ll never be able to repeat it.
GRIDLIFE attracts purpose built cars. Often in the form of Miatas, or Hondas S2000s, or Evos, or STi and other cars of this ilk. It’s a track event, competition weekend, and car show all in one. So you get track cars, race cars, and show cars. An Avalon, in this instance, is more out of place than wearing a baseball hat at a Michelin Star restaurant. And yet, this was the stage at which the Avalon TRD played its best act.
Saturday’s event started off wet, and only proceeded to get wetter. My initial plan was to use my Honda Fit in GRIDLIFE’s Sundae Cup. There was one big problem though; I only have dry tires for the Honda. My next option was this car here. Toyota had graciously dropped off an Avalon TRD for me to drive just a few days prior, I thought it might be worthwhile to venture out on track in the wet stuff during a non-competition session. And that’s when the Avalon TRD became a hoot.
Autobahn Country Club‘s South circuit is a tricky course, with a handful of initial turns that all lead into each other. It makes for a lateral-G loaded good time when its dry. But when it’s wet, you have to know where the grip is. Wearing all-season tires put the Avalon at a unique advantage in the wet stuff, as the other cars in the same intermediate class had arrived at the track on serious dry weather tires. My own experience coaching at Autobahn perhaps gave me an advantage, too.
Odds still stacked against the Avalon, I eventually found the car to be extremely sure footed despite the puddling rain. It would push at the limit unless prompted to rotate, but that only helped the car stay consistent. Sure enough, I was starting to get point-bys. Not long after that, blue flags began waving for cars I was closing in on. And close in on them I did. Or at least that’s how it felt with wipers moving frantically to clear the rain.
And this is when that magic happened. Toyota’s 301 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 carries speed out of the corners. Power is sent to the front wheels through an 8-speed traditional automatic. But you can control it with paddle shifters. The combination felt good enough putting power down out of corners, but occasionally it would deny a downshift you’d really enjoy having. It would also make up its own mind and downshift when you didn’t ask it to. That’s alright. This car isn’t meant for this kind of use.
Still, using the rain line allowed the Avalon to get around Civic Si’s, S2000’s, Mitsubishi Evo’s, Subaru STi’s and other cars of the same ethos. The whole situation made me giggle out loud on more than one occasion. I kept the excitement to myself though. No one was really able to witness the tremendous feat this Avalon pulled off because only competition based classes of GRIDLIFE are broadcast on YouTube.
It’s likely this is one of extremely few times an Avalon has been on track, so it’s worth focusing on the car’s road manners. Toyota was gracious enough to let me test the Avalon TRD for a full week. And during that time the car felt like it was at a crossroads.
TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development. Which is great, except this car really has no motorsports DNA in it whatsoever. It doesn’t have any actual racing components either. But the changes are more than surface deep. The 19 inch wheels are light-weight units, and half inch wider than standard. But it ries on the same all-season tires from the Avalon Touring. So it simply feels more sporty, rather than being a living embodiment of a Porsche Boxster. It does have Active Cornering Assist, which is Toyota’s version of torque vectoring. But in this instance it feels more like a safety feature than a performance addition.
Pop the hood and you’ll discover the same engine and transmission combination that you’ll find in every other Avalon. This V6 is breathes through a TRD exhaust and produces a delicious howl when you’re really pedaling. It’s the most powerful engine in the Avalon lineup, but as we noted, that’s shared with the other V6 models. At $43,255 it just undercuts the Avalon Touring as the highest price model.
Inside, the interior has been redone with leather and suede mixed surfaces, with red piping and stitching throughout. It’s the usual good place to be like all other Avalons, but with some added visual pizzaz. When not on a racing circuit, it’s quiet, and comfortable. The TRD exhaust barely makes itself noticeable when putting around at regular speeds.
Who’s it for? Well, that’s one question we’re still trying to answer. TRD in the past has had some seriously effective offerings in their lineup. But from the outside it seems that trucks and SUV’s get the good equipment, and the cars just get some minor suspension fettling and an appearance package. Strangely, on the Avalon, this seems to work out just right. TRD needed to inject some excitement into the car, while not taking away the big Toyota’s best redeeming qualities. And they did just that. It still seems strange to call it a TRD, but perhaps it would be an additional dross on the brand to call it a GR Avalon.