It must have been fate that brought us the '98 Buick Regal and '98 Toyota Avalon at about the time Ma Nature brought us snowstorm No. 5, or was it No. 6?Regal and Avalon are somewhat similar, yet very different. Both are midsize front-wheel-drive sedans that cater to buyers with a little dough. Regal is the stop between Century and LeSabre. Avalon is a move up from the Camry without having to move over to Lexus for an ES300. Both are designed to hold four adults in room and comfort in fairly spacious cabins and their golf clubs or luggage in rather abundant trunks. Both offer dual air bags and four-wheel anti-lock brakes, but Avalon goes one better by offering dual side-impact bags as well. Avalon features an energetic 3-liter, 200-horsepower, 24-valve V-6 that's no slouch moving you from the light. Regal offers a much more potent 3.8-liter, 240-h.p. V-6 that benefits from supercharging. It moves much more quickly. Avalon, of course, gets the edge in fuel economy with a 21 m.p.g. city/30 m.p.g. highway rating versus 17/27 for Regal. Regal, however, is much roomier, thanks, in large part, to the fact that it is two inches wider. Those two inches feel like a foot in terms of arm room and mobility in the cabin. Avalon looks a tad narrow and feels a bit cramped and would deliver far more comfort if the walls were stretched out. Regal and Avalon are midsize sedans with different personalities based not just on engines, but also on suspension systems. Avalon is soft and cushy. It's the car you hop in when you want to sit back and relax after a tough day at the office or when you are designated chauffeur. Regal has a split personality. It, too, provides a comfortable ride, but its grand-touring suspension also offers more sure-footed handling from firmer road feel and the ability to maneuver with more agility on twisting roads. Avalon is more of a straight-line hauler. Avalon comes with 15-inch all-season radial tires; Regal with larger, more road-friendly 16-inch radials that allow you to perform more aggressively. Both offer traction control, but it's standard on Regal and a $300 option on Avalon. Both cars performed very well on snowy pavement thanks to the traction assist. While you can feel it working beneath you, the system in Avalon also provides visual evidence with a swerving symbol lighting up in the dash whenever traction assist is called on to work. Both also offer four-wheel ABS, which we needed in Avalon at a snowy intersection when the motorist approaching from the left seemed to consider a red light part of the scenery. ABS worked well. Both cars had a few faults. Regal features a leather-wrapped boot for the gearshift lever that hides the lighted orange line pointing to "D." With "D" hidden, the light casts a ref lection that makes it appear you are in a lower gear. Spotting what appeared to be a mistake, we slipped the lever out of "3" and into "D," only to find that it was in "D" and we had just slipped the lever into "N." That's not what you want to do in evening rush hour with hundreds of hungry and thirsty Cheeseheads on your tail on the tollway racing to the border before anyone notices they tossed blanks into the cash box. And for all its goodies, the power-seat control on the Regal was disappointing in that it controlled forward and backward movement, but made you then reach for a lever to manually adjust the seat back. A power button to serve the back would have been welcome. Avalon, meanwhile, had a few annoyances, besides the narrow cabin. The button to turn the heated seats on/off is below the armrest and is not readily visible. In its out-of-the-way location, you can accidentally turn the heat on and not see the light until your seat rea hes par boil. It would be nice to have the button in the console or dash--in view. Also ,Avalon steering has far too much play. Turn the wheel and the front end pauses before making the turn. With Regal, the steering is more precise. Turn the wheel and it responds crisply. And it would be nice if Avalon offered 16-inch treads for better road-holding. Regal's 16-inchers gave it noticeably better road manners. When it comes to price, Avalon starts at $28,128, Regal at $23,690, making Avalon about $4,000 more than Regal. For that extra $4,000, you get side-impact air bags and better mileage, though for $4,000 less, Regal gives you a roomier cabin, traction control, a more roadworthy suspension with larger tires and a considerably more potent engine, though less mileage. After accounting for the options on each test car, Regal came to about $26,000, Avalon about $31,000. Regal and Avalon have power four-wheel disc brakes, power steering, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, cruise control and heated mirrors as standard. Regal puts front-seat safety belts in the side of the seats, so the belts move with you whenever you move the seats. Avalon's belts, on the pillar, don't automatically adjust when the seat is moved. >> 1998 Toyota Avalon XLS Wheelbase: 107.1 inches Length: 191.9 inches Engine: 3-liter, 200-h.p., 24-valve V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic EPA mileage: 21 m.p.g. city/30 m.p.g. highway Base price: $28,128 Price as tested: $31,508. Includes $1,555 for heated/memory leather seats;$980for power moonroof; $300 for traction control; $210 for white pearl paint; $155 for carpeted mats; and $180 for AM/FM stereo with cassette. Add $420 for freight. Pluses: Soft, cushy suspension for relaxed cruising. Energetic V-6, yet very good mileage. Four-wheel ABS standard, traction control an option that handled snowy roads very well. Dual front/side air bags. Huge trunk. Minuses: Staid styling. Narrow cabin. Heated-seat control hidden. Traction control an option. Too much steering play. >>
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||February 1, 1998|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||November 19, 1997|
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