DEL MAR, CA – Let’s get right down to it: The Toyota Avalon has a reputation as an old person’s car.

And for about the last four generations of the car, Toyota has been trying to quash that notion, because when your owner base is up there it won’t be long before they’re down there, if you know what I mean.

So Toyota probably is happy to hear we found the latest iteration of the Avalon, the all-new ’19 model going on sale in May, is the sportiest, most confident-handling Avalon yet.

And it has a daring new look, especially in its new XSE sport grade, that certainly shakes off any thoughts of it being the car most likely to be seen in a parking lot at a 4 p.m. buffet.

The fifth-generation Avalon rides on the K version of Toyota’s New Global Architecture (TNGA) flexible platform, also underpinning the new Camry, and which helped the automaker achieve that holy grail of redesigns: a longer, lower and wider vehicle than its predecessor. The changed dimensions improve aerodynamics and ride-and-handling while lending the car a sportier stance.

The U.S.-designed and -engineered vehicle wears sheet metal formed by new deep-draw stamping methods that give it an origami appearance similar to most new Lexus and Toyota models. It’s not easy to make a portly car look alluring, but the deep-draw stampings do carve out some bulk such as that on lower rocker panels and below door handles.

Toyota’s signature big-mouth grille is present, looking better on sport grades (XSE and Touring) with size-disguising black mesh than premium trim levels (XLE and Limited) that rely on showy horizontal dark-chrome bars.

The Touring and Limited grades also get Toyota’s slimmest LED daytime running lights yet for a menacing nighttime appearance.

In profile, the Avalon has a fastback appearance as designers pulled back the peak of the cabin.

In the rear, taillamps flow into a center-mounted reflector to create a slick unbroken horizontal red line.

The Avalon’s not our favorite Toyota redesign, but it’s not bad. As old as it is, the Chrysler 300 still is the most eye-catching mass-market large sedan in the U.S. due to its groundbreaking proportions and style.

The next-gen 4-door Toyota still uses a MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear suspensions, both with stabilizer bars.

Buyers still seeking a comfort cruiser should opt for XLE and Limited grades, while the XSE grade’s tighter suspension will provide more road feel.

Thanks to an adaptive variable suspension, a first for a Toyota-brand vehicle in the U.S., the Avalon Touring promises “the best of both worlds,” says a company official, meaning good ride comfort as well as athletic handling.

The AVS is standard on the Touring grade and has 650 levels of on-the-fly damping changeable within 20 milliseconds, Toyota boasts.

During a drive in the Touring over pock-marked suburban asphalt we are hard-pressed to notice that much difference with AVS on and off, but other reviewers who take the car on twisty backroads report a noticeable improvement in understeer during fast cornering.

AVS is activated when Sport S+ mode is on. It’s one of four driver-selectable modes in the Touring grade, with the other three (Normal, Eco and Sport) also on other grades of the car. Hybrid models have an EV mode to force the car, in certain circumstances, to operate on electricity only.

We test two Limited grades, a hybrid and a non-hybrid, mostly in Sport mode. Both exhibit minimal lean in fast switchbacks and effortless acceleration, not bad considering a Limited Hybrid has a curb weight of 3,715 lbs. (1,685 kg) and a non-hybrid 3,660 lbs. [1,660 kg].

The standard Avalon uses Toyota’s 3.5L Atkinson-cycle-capable V-6 with the automaker’s direct and indirect D-4S injection technology. This engine, designated 2GR-FKS, already is in use on the Camry, Tacoma and Highlander.

The mill makes 301 hp and 267 lb.-ft. (362 Nm) of torque in the ’19 Avalon, a big jump from the 268 hp and 248 lb.-ft. (336 Nm) from the outgoing ’18 Avalon’s 3.5L and just nipping the output of the 3.6L Pentastar V-6 in the Chrysler 300 (300 hp and 264 lb.-ft. [358 Nm]) and 3.5L VQ V-6 in the ’18 Nissan Maxima (300 hp and 261 lb.-ft. [354 Nm]).

The new Avalon’s V-6 has the same bore and stroke as the outgoing 3.5L but a higher compression ratio (see spec chart).

The ’19 Avalon Touring is rated at 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) combined, up 1 mpg (0.4 km/L) from the ’18 Touring grade. Our test returns only 20 mpg (11.8 L/100 km), perhaps due to aggressive acceleration and strong AC use on an unusually warm April day in greater San Diego.

Like the 2GR in the Highlander, Toyota is using a variable valve timing system with intelligence on the Avalon’s intake and exhaust. On the intake side, fuel efficiency is said to be improved with fewer pumping losses on the closing of intake valves.

Also improving fuel economy with the V-6 is an 8-speed automatic transmission, replacing a 6-speed auto in the ’18 Avalon.

Our Avalon Limited Hybrid exceeds its 43 mpg (5.5 L/100 km) combined rating (up 3 mpg [1.3 km/L from the same ’18 grade), ending at 45.5 mpg (5.2 L/100 km) after gentle stops and measured acceleration around downtown Del Mar. Like most Toyota hybrids with an EV mode, you need to be below 25 mph (40 km/h), have a sufficiently charged battery and a gentle touch for it to work. We struggle to keep the car on electric only, as what most would consider pokey acceleration results in a dashboard warning that we are heavy-footed.

The Avalon Hybrid, available in XLE, Limited and XSE grades, mates Toyota’s new Dynamic Force 2.5L 4-cyl., also with D-4S, to a CVT and a 650V electric motor that drives the front wheels and regenerates power during braking. As usual with Toyota hybrids, a second motor, also 650V, is used as a generator and engine starter.

Total system output rises to 215 hp from 200 hp in the outgoing Avalon Hybrid.

In a change from that car, the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack shifts to below the rear seat from the trunk, freeing up cargo space and lowering the center of gravity.

Much like the outside of the vehicle, the inside of the Avalon has a showier appearance. Wearing the best interior in a Toyota yet, it has quilted door material and a “random” perforation pattern on ventilated seats (and head restraints!) that is unique to this reviewer’s eyes. The center stack is clean with generously sized hard buttons.

Our Limited Hybrid tester has an attractive new cognac-colored leather on seats and door panels. The quilted door inserts are a first for Toyota.

The Limited uses real wood trim as decoration, while sport grades XSE and Touring have a holographic trim. The wood is the only interior letdown, looking inauthentic in the way the veneer is formed and finished.

The Avalon Touring tested here mixes faux leather and black microsuede with orange stitching for shoppers wanting more visual excitement.

As one would expect from a large sedan, both front and rear seats have generous leg, head and shoulder room.

Toyota continues to make improvements with its infotainment system. The Avalon is infamous as the first Toyota with Apple CarPlay. This reviewer is an Android phone owner so we don’t test it, but we do play around in the touchscreen, which now has a better layout thanks to shifting preset radio-station virtual buttons away from the physical volume knob where they accidentally could be hit with a knuckle.

Still, the map screen leaves us a bit perplexed due to its onscreen buttons with hard-to-decipher icons. Some time spent with an owner’s manual will be required for successful operation.

The ’19 Avalon starts at $35,500 for a non-hybrid XLE and reaches $42,800 for a Limited Hybrid. Destination and handling is an additional $895.

It is good to see Toyota pare down the price of hybrids, with the electrified powertrain adding $1,000 instead of $2,000 as in ’18 to the price of the sedan.

Overall Avalon pricing is on the high end compared to an ’18 Maxima (roughly $33,000-$41,000) and the ’18 300 ($29,000-$41,000), but considering declining car sales incentives likely aren’t far in the future.

With the shift to light trucks, large sedans are some of the most negatively impacted vehicle types in the U.S. Avalon sales fell 16.4% to 18,104 units in the first quarter and were down 32.2% last year, Wards Intelligence data shows.

Toyota is mum on the next-gen Avalon’s sales potential. Brand officials believe there still is a group of buyers who want a sedan bigger than a Camry and don’t care to own a luxury vehicle (the Avalon overlaps Toyota’s Lexus IS and ES midsize sedans in price).

With its aggressive new exterior, athletic driving character, roomy cabin and supple interior materials, the Avalon has a fighting chance to lure buyers who might be considering a CUV.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com