PARK CITY, UT – A few inches of snow won’t stop Toyota’s latest all-wheel-drive additions, the 2020 Camry and 2021 Avalon sedans, but you’ll need a tow truck if you venture too far afield.
Based on our laps around a snow-covered course on the grounds of a former 2002 Winter Olympics venue here, it’s safe to say that three or four inches of the white stuff won’t bother you as long as you keep the minimal sedan ground clearance in mind. Put a wheel in anything deeper, you’ll need AAA on speed dial. (We did not need to make that call.)
That said, all-wheel drive isn’t just for battling bad roads. We also appreciate an extra bit of confidence on dry and damp pavement as the AWD systems bring grip in corners, especially in models equipped with higher-level torque-vectoring units capable of shifting power across the rear axle depending on traction.
And though it may seem like faint praise, possibly the best attribute of every AWD system we tested was its invisibility. Nothing out of ordinary occurs – no sudden jerks or odd clunking sounds to indicate engagement or disengagement. It all just works, without flipping any switches or throwing any levers.
In addition to the AWD newbies Camry and Avalon, we tested all manner of car-based AWD Toyota models already on the market, demonstrating the capabilities of five distinctly different all-wheel-drive systems:
- Dynamic Torque Control AWD, a single-speed mechanical system available on Camry, Avalon and RAV4 LE, XLE and XLE Premium trims;
- Dynamic Torque Vectoring AWD, a disconnecting AWD system with the ability to deliver torque from side to side on the rear axle, available on Highlander Limited and Platinum and RAV4 TRD Off-Road, Adventure and Limited models;
- Standard AWD with fuel-saving driveline disconnect on Highlander L, LE and XLE.
- Electronic On-Demand AWD with a rear-axle, permanent-magnet motor-generator on RAV4 and Highlander Hybrids; and
- AWDe, using an induction motor on the rear axle in the Prius hybrid.
While the e-axles on the Prius and RAV4 and Highlander hybrids offer the same AWD benefits when slogging along over snowy surfaces, Toyota product technology educator Tom Kretschmann notes key differences in the systems.
In the Prius, the e-axle operates up to 6 mph (10 km/h) to assist the hybrid off the line, and will re-engage up to 43 mph (69 km/h) if slip is detected. On the RAV4 and Highlander hybrids, the more robust e-axle powers the vehicle up to 15.5 mph (25 km/h) and will engage at any speed depending on slip or dynamic demands, such as when the vehicle detects a need for AWD to assist in cornering.
The Camry, marking 18 years as America’s best-selling sedan, was last offered with AWD when George Bush – H.W., not W. – was president, back when vehicles with four driven wheels typically were body-on-frame trucks and SUVs.
2021 Toyota Avalon AWD
Toyota expects 15%-17% of Camry buyers and 20% of Avalon customers will opt for the $1,500 AWD upgrade, creating a bit of conundrum for the automaker considering half of its 12 U.S. regions are asking for a 30%-60% mix of AWD sedans, says Heather Updegraff, general manager-vehicle marketing and communications for Toyota Motor North America.
If the Camry AWD mix hits anywhere near 60% it will be close to matching the take rate for AWD-equipped RAV4s of 64.5%, or 287,845 units, in 2019.
Give the Japanese automaker credit for seeing a need to bring out AWD versions of its sedans at a time when adding the capability should keep buyers in those models rather than jump to a RAV4 or Highlander CUV – or worse, to a competitor (AWD Nissan Altima and Subaru Legacy, specifically) – to get the option of a powered rear axle.
AWD may help Camry and Avalon slow the inevitable slide of sedan sales – in the past five years, Wards Intelligence data shows Camry sales are down 21% while Avalon has seen a nearly 60% swoon. In the same period, Highlander and RAV4 deliveries are up 64% and 67%, respectively.
Camry AWD goes on sale in March, followed by the Avalon AWD in August.