The fifth-generation Toyota Avalon for North America has received updates for the 2021 model year, and the full-size sedan gains all-wheel-drive for the first time, along with a lithium-ion battery pack for the Avalon Hybrid which replaces the outgoing nickel metal-hydride unit from before.

No shortage of Avalon variants, as there are 10 in total. Six trim specifications are of the internal combustion V6-engined versions – XLE, XSE Nightshade, Limited, Touring and TRD, of which the XLE and Limited can be had as AWD versions. The hybrid powertrain can be had in XLE, XSE and Limited trim levels.

The introduction of all-wheel-drive to the Avalon range sees the drivetrain paired to Toyota’s 2.5 litre Dynamic Force engine that produces 205 hp, mated to an eight-speed Direct-Shift automatic transmission.

The Dynamic Torque Control AWD system sends up to 50% of drive to the rear axle via an electromagnetically-controlled coupling when accelerating from a standstill, or when front wheel slip is detected, and the rear axle is disengaged in higher grip conditions to aid fuel economy. The inclusion of the AWD driveline does not affect the Avalon’s passenger space, luggage compartment capacity, ride comfort, cabin quietness or agility, says Toyota.

The Avalon Hybrid mates a 2.5 litre Dynamic Force engine with two electric motors for a total system output of 215 hp. Here, the lithium-ion battery pack is located beneath the rear seats, and therefore does not sacrifice luggage capacity compared to its internal-combustion rangemates.

For even better fuel efficiency, the Avalon Hybrid also has the Auto Glide Control (AGC) coasting feature, where the system limits loss of speed through engine braking. When activated, an AGC indicator is lit on the driver’s multi-function display to inform the driver of reduced engine braking.

The 2021 Avalon range adds the Nightshade Edition, which is based on the XSE trim level

On the chassis side, the XSE and Touring feature sport-tuned suspension, says Toyota, while the Touring adds electronically-controlled Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS). Damping force in the AVS system are variable in 650 steps, and solenoids in each damper react and change damping in 20 milliseconds, says Toyota.

New for the 2021 model year Avalon range is the XSE Nightshade Edition, which is based on the 2020 XSE trim level but with darkened trim elements. Here, the Nightshade gets black-painted 19-inch alloys, black window trim, black door handles and a black shark-fin antenna, which is in addition to the black grille, mirror caps, rear spoiler and name badges on the XSE kit.

The Avalon TRD, among selected other variants, packs the 3.5 litre naturally aspirated petrol V6 engine which produces 301 hp at 6,600 rpm and 362 Nm of torque at 4,700 rpm. The sportiest trim level additionally features a TRD-tuned cat-back exhaust system for ‘a more aggressive idle and acceleration sound’, says Toyota.

The TRD variant also gains a sport mode and paddle shifters (also on the XSE and Touring) for the eight-speed Direct-Shift automatic transmission that is paired to the V6 versions in the Avalon range, while chassis improvements have been added, too; the Avalon TRD gets thicker underbody bracing for increased torsional rigidity, while 15 mm-lower TRD-specific coil springs are stiffer by 44% in front and 67% at the back, and are paired with TRD dampers.

Rolling stock on the Avalon TRD is a set of 19-inch lightweight alloys in matte black, which Toyota says reduces unsprung mass by 8 kg compared to the wheels on the XSE variant that are of the same diameter. The Avalon TRD also gets larger front brake discs measuring 327 mm, compared to the 305 mm items on the Avalon XSE.

Exterior kit the distinguishes the Avalon TRD include the front splitter, side skirts, boot lid spoiler and rear diffuser. Inside, the Avalon TRD front seats are upholstered in Sport SofTex with Ultrasuede inserts, with red accents. Other TRD touches include red-stitched TRD-embroidered headrests, leather steering wheel trim with red stitching, red seatbelts shift knob with TRD logo and TRD boot and floor mats.

The SofTex and Ultrasuede trim also features in the XSE, while the TRD, Touring and XSE variants get aluminium trim items in the cabin. The Limited variant gets genuine Yamaha wood trim, while the XLE gets wood-look trim items.

Infotainment comes courtesy of a nine-inch Toyota Audio unit that also integrates climate controls, while the driver gets a seven-inch multi-information display (MID). The Touring and Limited variants get a 10-inch colour head-up display (HUD) as standard – the largest in the segment, says Toyota – and provides the driver with information such as vehicle and engine speed, turn-by-turn directions, audio settings, and drive mode.

Further conveniences in the 2021 Avalon include a slide-open compartment dubbed the eBin, which contains a 12-volt socket and a wireless Qi mobile device charger, the latter optional on the XLE and standard on all other variants. The latest model year also adds two USB-C power outlets that replace the older USB-A items in the front and rear console box.

Audio in the 2021 Avalon is provided by the Toyota Premium Audio with JBL system, which is standard in Limited and Touring variants and optional for the others; standard audio is the Toyota Audio Plus eight-speaker setup. The Premium Audio set packs 1,200 watts of output through a 14-speaker system, and both systems can be specified with Dynamic Navigation, says Toyota.

Safety kit in the 2021 Avalon as standard includes the Toyota Safety Sense-P suite, and this includes pre-collision with pedestrian detection, dynamic radar cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist and automatic high beam. Also available are the blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert, as well as Intelligent Clearance Sonar with rear cross traffic braking.

The Bird’s Eye View camera with Perimeter Scan can be specified, and this uses the front, side and rear cameras to show a composite view of the car’s surroundings from above. As standard, all 2021 Avalon variants get 10 airbags, as well as enhanced vehicle stability control, traction control, EBD, brake assist, ABS and Smart Stop.

The Toyota Avalon continues to be built at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing facility in Georgetown, Kentucky, where the full-size sedan has been built for over two decades, says Toyota. Available colours for the 2021 Avalon include Parisian Night Pearl, Opulent Amber, Harbor Gray Metallic, Celestial Silver Metallic, and Ruby Flare Pearl, while the TRD variant gets Midnight Black Metallic, Ice Edge and Windchill Pearl, the latter two available as a two-tone option with a black roof finish.