Toyota’s midsize sedans recall the old German automaker mantra of “one sausage – three lengths” – in that the platform that underpins the Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES350 makes them all essentially the same underneath, but they wear vastly different sheetmetal and appeal to different buyers. You might think I’m stretching the metaphor a bit, but hear me out: all of these cars are remarkably similar under the skin, and yet they drive, feel and look completely different. So maybe it’s not a take on the German mantra, but a Japanese one – one sushi roll, three lengths.
I’ve spent a good amount of time in the Lexus ES, and for better or worse, it represents perhaps the Avalon’s biggest competition. Whether you go for a loaded Avalon or a base ES, they’re playing in essentially the same price range, and in most measurements are within an inch or two of one another. You won’t notice any space difference in the front seat, and barely more in the back – both back seats boast vast legroom, and their trunks are roomy as well. In over-the-road comfort, neither will rustle any feathers. Handling hews more closely toward isolation than involvement, and wind and tire noise are noticeable only by their absence. The Avalon’s ride in particular is smooth and composed, and that V6 driving the front wheels creates no torque steer and exhibits no annoying habits. It also managed a 26 mile per gallon average in my hands, which is borderline amazing for a V6 sedan this large.
With its Audi A7-aping roof profile, Toyota appears to have deliberately styled this current-generation Avalon to go after a younger buyer demographic than it has traditionally attracted. The research department will need to speak to whether that approach is working for them, but I can say with a straight face that despite just falling into the Millennial camp, at no point did I feel like an old man behind the wheel. And dare I say it, I believe the Avalon is wearing the more aesthetically pleasing styling.
Toyota’s navigation and music interface feels lifted straight from Lexus (for good reason), although here it’s operated by a prod of the finger rather than a twirl of the “mouse”. Drivers will have their personal preferences, but I find the Lexus system with its haptic feedback through the joystick controller a little bit easier to operate with my eyes on the road than a traditional touchscreen, though both systems are intuitive to navigate.
The fit and finish is also Lexus-like in its detail, and feature content is strong: HID headlights, heated and ventilated seats, three-zone climate control, smart key, radar cruise control and even a wireless phone charging pad were all included for the $42,735 sticker price. That may seem steep for a Camry, but for a loaded ES350, it’s downright cheap. Three sushi roll lengths indeed.
2014 Toyota Avalon Limited
Base price: $40,410
Price as tested: $42,735
Options on test car: Technology package ($1,750), Qi wireless charging storage tray ($200), Floor mats/trunk mat ($225), Wheel locks ($81), Rear bumper applique ($69)
Powertrain: 3.5-liter V6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive – 268 horsepower, 248 lb-ft torque
S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 26.3 mpg
Toyota provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas. Photos by the manufacturer.