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Enamored with consumers’ love for trucks and crossovers, some major automakers can’t get rid of their cars fast enough. But Toyota is sticking with its sedan models and has just introduced a new version of its flagship model, the Avalon.

This latest, fifth-generation Avalon was designed, engineered and is built in America, which is admirable and a poke in the eye to the current White House occupant, who says Japanese automakers aren’t doing enough for the U.S. economy.

But what were the normally credible designers at Toyota’s CALTY studio in California thinking when they created such a huge and awkwardly shaped grille, much of which is not even functional?

Perhaps they were trying to outdo their colleagues at Lexus, whose oversized spindle corporate grille is also widely panned.

However, once you move past the Avalon’s nose job, the rest of the car is actually quite easy on the eye and dare we say it, a tad sporty.

On one level, the concept of a “sporty” Avalon is ridiculous, like the idea of a 60-something guy trying to fit in at a college bar. But Toyota, probably the most conservative car company on the planet, has decided sporty is good, so even its most buttoned down models are getting the treatment.

What matters is that the new Avalon is based on Toyota’s impressive TGNA platform, which underpins the excellent new Camry and other company models. Longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, the 2019 Avalon steps it up in the vehicle dynamics department with a much better suspension design, including an optional adaptive damper that reacts in 20 milliseconds.

The result is a car that produces a more satisfactory balance between ride and handling; better in the curves than its predecessor but not so harsh on the bumps.

With a 3.5-liter V-6 delivering 301 horsepower (that’s a boost of 30 horsepower) and an eight-speed automatic, the Avalon is fast enough to suit its intended buyers (read intrepid professionals in Toyota speak), yet refined enough not to upset traditional consumers who are cross-shopping the Nissan Maxima, Buick LaCrosse and Chrysler 300.

As fine as the Avalon driving experience is, the icing on the cake is the interior. Happily, the designers have restrained themselves and produced an elegant, functional and clean cabin design. Distinguishing features include an optional cognac toned leather trim, quilted ‘random perforated’ seat surfaces, real wood accents and with soft touch surfaces in most areas.

These are the touches you normally find in a Lexus, which leaves you wondering whether the Avalon will steal sales from its new Lexus ES350 sibling.

Conscious of this potential conflict, Toyota has built in some pricing differential between its brands, so the Avalon stretches from $35,500 to $42,200, beneath the threshold of Lexus.

As such, the Avalon is an attractive proposition (grille aside). It’s roomy, comfortable, well-equipped and handles competently. If a conventional large sedan is still on your agenda (in this age of crossovers), the Avalon makes a compelling argument for itself.

John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at jmccor@aol.com.

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