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Toyota’s Avalon a luxury car in disguise

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2014 Toyota Avalon

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If you’re going out car shopping looking at the offerings in the entry-level luxury class, here’s a tip for you.

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Don’t be in such a rush to get to the Lexus showroom. Stop by the Toyota dealership and check out the new Avalon sedan. You might find exactly what you are looking for a save a few bucks in the process.

You see, the Toyota Avalon shares the same platform as the Lexus ES 350 sedan, has the same engine (a 3.5-liter V6), is about the same size (a half-inch shorter in length and width but nearly a half-inch taller), and has many of the same features you’ll find in the Japanese automaker’s luxury Lexus lineup. Gas-electric hybrid power trains are available in both the Avalon and the ES 350 as well.

The Avalon has the same length wheelbase (111.0 inches) as its Lexus equivalent, but offers a tad more legroom in front (42.1 inches to 41.9 in the ES 350) and a bit less (39.2 to 40.0 in the rear), and the trunk has a capacity of an even 16.0 cubic feet to the ES 350’s 15.2.

The engines of both cars pump out 268 horsepower and 248 pound-feet of torque at 4700 rpm, and both drink regular unleaded fuel at a rate of 21 miles-per-gallon city, 31 highway.

That power gets to the front wheels of both cars via six-speed automatic transmissions that feature normal, eco and sport modes and manual gear selection via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (in some trims).

When it comes to ride and handling, the Avalon has a fairly firm suspension, which is a good thing when it comes to cornering, but it also handles the vagaries of the road surface quite well. Its ride is quiet, which you expect of luxury models.

The Lexus does have some extra cosmetic touches, like a wood-trimmed steering wheel and a slightly more upscale dash, but the Avalon’s interior matches the ES350 in just about every way when it comes to use of quality materials.

One difference: The Avalon relies on a touchscreen operation for many functions. The ES 350 features a point-and-click system with choices made using a computer-like mouse to move the arrow on the touchscreen to the proper icon. It’s not that complicated, but it can be distracting to use

Oh, yes. Another difference.

The 2014 base Avalon XLE starts at $31,340, not including destination and delivery. Pricing goes from there to $33,195 for the XLE Premium trim, $35,000 for XLE Touring, and $39,650 for the top-of-the-line Limited, which counts a blind-spot warning system with cross-traffic alert, HID headlights, fog lights, and LED tail lamps, navigation system with a seven-inch screen and backup camera, and three-zone climate control among standard equipment.

The ES 350 starts at $36,430, but some of the really good stuff (like the blind spot and backup monitor and navigation system are extras that can run the final cost into the mid-$40,000 range.

Seems like a pretty steep premium for little more than the slant-L Lexus logo in the middle of the grille.

Check out the accompanying slide show for an overview and more specifications.

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