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Swanky sedans face off with creature comfort

Andy Stonehouse
summit daily auto writer
Lexus ES350
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While the larger sedan may not be a particularly native species to Summit County – save for those kids from Ohio who drive their parents’ second-hand Buicks out with them at the start of the season – it’s a class that does offer a litany of choices.

Two of the nicest from hard-hit Japan, where the recent triple-whammy disaster has seriously disrupted the supply chain and delayed production at many different manufacturers, do offer a positive glimpse for those sedan lovers.

Today’s compare and contrast pits two genetically linked products, the revamped Toyota Avalon and the fifth-generation Lexus ES350 – though the Lexus is technically a little more closely related to the Toyota Camry.

They’re both substantial machines, well-versed in the art of smooth and comfortable travel with extra attention to the happiness of their rear-seat passengers.

They share a virtually identical powertrain, the 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 common to several Toyota/Lexus products, matched to an equally smooth six-speed automatic transmission.

And the looks are similar, though the 6-inch-longer Avalon seems to express that stretched feel in a silhouette that’s just a bit on the ponderous side, unfortunately (as you will notice when trying to park the vehicle, as well).

Finally, they’re almost identically priced at the MSRP level (about $35,500), though loading on the ubiquitous Lexus luxury packages boosted the ES closer to $45K when finished.

The decision to purchase either, I guess, comes down to a mix of perceived prestige and the sheer mechanics of loading Old Mrs. Gurkle into the back seat, as you may be wont to do in the Avalon.

Toyota’s ad campaign for the Avalon was a strange, retro-futuristic affair in league with “Mad Men,” though the impression I got from driving the automobile was more “hey, you damned kids, slow down.” Much as I might get driving a Mercury Grand Marquis. It was a little unnerving.

As mentioned, the exceptionally well-padded rear seats in the Avalon offer up almost 41 inches of legroom (the ES’s 36 inches are no slouch, either), with rear doors that open almost 90 degrees.

That creates a cavernous and comfortable space; the offset is a nearly truck-sized overall length that I found just a little tough to maneuver in parking situations.

Ride and feel of both is buttery smooth, with virtually no motor sounds except when punching the throttle – you can get both going when needed, with that not-insubstantial 268 HP available – though standard mode is super-smooth cruising.

Lexus’ iteration does add extra sound deadening, and it’s entirely possible to completely forget that you’re actually moving when the Lexus is on the road, though its handling is considerably more light and lithesome.

This of course makes the optional 14-speaker Mark Levinson stereo even more impressive; when I drove with the music off, The ES 350’s cottony cocoon of comfortable numbness further reinforced the overall sedate nature of the beast.

Avalon’s most recent update did a nice job of erasing the older model’s rapidly aging interior looks and substituted a robust and futuristic dash, grayish electro-luminescent gauges and a full touchscreen setup.

Upgrade to the Ultra Luxury Package in the Lexus and you get the full-meal deal, including loads of wood highlights, superb perforated leather (with heated and cooled front seats), alloy wheels and a power rear sunshade. The dual overhead sunroofs feature manual screens.

It’s not quite as gadget-heavy as the heavier hitters in the Lexus family, many of which feature more than a dozen control buttons above your left knee, though the navigation’s new Enform system allows you to receive full turn-by-turn driving instructions, stock tips, weather and even sports updates.

Fan controls for the AC and heater system are still contained within the navigation touchscreen system, though I learned to bounce back and forth between the screens to take care of business.

I did notice the lack of the Power/Snow Mode switch found on many other family members; newcomers to the Lexus line will still find themselves bedazzled by the luxe and the looks.


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