All-new for 2005, the Toyota Avalon takes a car that was very good and makes it even better. It’s oddly placed, an expensive Toyota that’s priced higher than several Lexus models, and will probably make a dent in that higher-end marque’s sales. Still, with a base price of $39,900, it starts at some $6,000 less than the 2004 Avalon.

Two trim lines are offered, both powered by a new 3.5-litre V6 that’s the most powerful available in Toyota’s North American line. The Avalon is distinctly North American in other ways, as well: it was designed and developed in California, and is built in Kentucky.

The Touring model features automatic climate control, six-CD system with nine speakers and wheel-mounted controls, heated leather seats, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support, four-way power passenger seat, power locks with shifter activation, power windows with auto up/down in front, Optitron electronic gauges, leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic wheel, cruise control, driver’s knee airbag, 17-inch alloy wheels, power sunroof, power mirrors, fog lamps and high-energy discharge headlamps with auto-levelling system.

The XLS model adds auto-dimming rearview mirror, woodgrain trim, integrated garage door opener, heated mirrors and halogen headlamps. In an unusual marketing move, Toyota tags the XLS with a starting price under that of the Touring model, but offers two optional, high-end packages that can only be added to the XLS. One adds stability and traction control, brake assist, a full-size spare on an alloy wheel, premium stereo and wood-and-leather wrapped wheel, while the other includes all of those features plus a DVD-based navigation system. The packages bring the XLS to $43,475 and $46,825, respectively.

The Avalon is luxury with Toyota quality: doors are bank-vault solid, operation is whisper-quiet, and the new model is roomier than the old, save for a trunk that’s a bit smaller. For creature comforts, the Buick Allure CXS offers similar refinement and a smaller price tag, but with 40 fewer horses. The Lexus ES 330’s 2005 price has dropped to that of the Avalon Touring model; it has 225 hp to the Avalon’s 280, but the badge on the hood may make all the difference to status-conscious buyers.

The Avalon is built in Georgetown, Kentucky.

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