The 2016 Toyota Avalon is a luxury sedan with an MSRP starting around $32,000 and topping out just north of $40,000 for its kitted out version. It’s the biggest and most expansive vehicle Toyota builds outside of its SUVs and crossovers.
The 2016 Lexus IS is a luxury sedan with three trim levels below or right around the $40,000 mark (with a fourth version maxing out at $43,000). As Toyota’s sister company, Lexus builds the IS along many of the same lines as the Avalon.
As Toyota’s luxury car specialists, Lexus and its badge carry more prestige and exclusivity than the cars built by the world’s #1 automaker in total sales. So, why should anyone in the Japanese luxury sedan market buy the Avalon over the IS?
It’s not a matter of one car being better than the other as they aren’t directly comparable. Instead, it’s all a matter of size, features and the proverbial bang for the buck.
It’s important to understand at the outset that — no matter what arguments are made here for or against the Avalon – none of that detracts from the IS. Considering that the IS is Lexus’ consumer entry point for its sedan class, few automakers build a better “basic car” than this one. We have a review of this very IS coming up soon, and I can preview it by saying it passed all of the required tests.
The Avalon is distinctly intended and designed to be a luxury sedan. While it did undergo a recent restyling to make it a little more sleek and aggressive, there’s no effort here to make it into a sporty, performance-themed car. It’s built for comfort and confidence.
That said, Toyota did give the 16-foot vehicle a 3.5 liter V6 engine capable of 268 horsepower. The designers opted to go away from the charged four cylinder power plants that work hard to produce kick and build in a decent sized engine that produces smooth, reliable power in all instances — all while earning 31 mpg highway.
Other manufacturer features include 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-speed shiftable automatic transmission, four-wheel ABS, emergency braking assist, front and rear disc brakes, dusk sensing headlamps, traction control, stability control and tire pressure monitoring. Those all come standard, and you can add more flourishes if you pay your way up the trim packages through Touring, XLE, XLE Plus, Limited and XLE Premium.
All of those performance enhancers and safety features are essential for that secure, reliable luxury ride I mentioned. But, it’s inside the car where the Avalon creates its value. In the cockpit, the buyer enjoys leather seats and trim, power windows, dual power mirrors, a power adjustable and multi-level heating passenger seat, electric power steering, cruise control, multi-control steering wheel, dual zone climate control, rear backup camera and an in-dash, eight-speaker infotainment system with satellite radio and navigation.
Which all brings us back to the question: Why would a buyer pick the Toyota Avalon over a similarly priced Lexus IS? While the IS is a tight car and would outstrip the Avalon in the pure performance department, the Avalon is roomier inside and would transport its five potential passengers with more comfort. If a buyer gives up the more prestigious badge, Avalon also packs more features into trim levels that each run around $3,000 cheaper than the comparable IS.
It all comes down to whether the buyer opts for more driving performance over more comfort. In the end, I can’t imagine Toyota cares. They end up with the money one way or another.