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We keep hearing about the decline in Canadian sales of sedans against SUVs and crossovers, but the premium sedan is still holding steady. Toyota’s Avalon and Lincoln’s MKZ are both spacious, very well-equipped mid-sized cars, and any buyer interested in one should definitely consider the other, despite their price difference.

Both offer trim choices, of course. The front-wheel-drive Avalon is sold either as the sportier XLE, which is the base model, or as the more opulent Limited for $5,000 more. The XLE has paddle-shifters, bigger wheels, a rear spoiler and even an electronic “noise generator” for a throatier sound, though it’s not actually any quicker. The Limited has a better sound system, more comfortable seats, a 10-inch head-up display and some additional driver assists.

Officially, the Lexus ES (only $2,200 more) is a closer match to the Lincoln, since Lexus is Toyota’s premium brand and the Avalon and ES share the same platform. The Avalon, however, is considered a luxurious Toyota, so it’s probably the more sensible choice. And “sensible” is the name of the game here.

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The MKZ has much greater choice, but also gets expensive more quickly. There are three possible engines – a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre with a hybrid motor and a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V-6. The conventional engines are only available with all-wheel drive, but the hybrid is matched to front-wheel drive. The hybrid is actually the least costly, since the regular 2.0-litre is only sold in Canada in the upscale “Reserve” trim.

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Toyota Avalon

The 2019 Toyota Avalon Limited.

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  • Base price: $42,790; as tested, $47,790
  • Engine: 3.5-litre V6
  • Transmission/drive: 8-speed automatic / FWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.9 city, 7.6 hwy., 9.4 comb.

Lincoln MKZ

The 2019 Lincoln MKZ.

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  • Base price: $44,750; as tested, $66,700
  • Engine: 2.0-litre i4, or 2.0-litre hybrid, or 3.0-litre V6
  • Transmission/drive: 6-speed automatic / AWD (FWD with hybrid)
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.1 city, 8.4 hwy., 10.4 comb. (2.0-litre); 14.0 city, 9.2 hwy., 11.8 comb. (3.0-litre); 5.7 city, 6.2 hwy., 5.9 comb. (hybrid)

Looks

Toyota: If it’s possible to call a Toyota sedan “edgy,” then the Avalon almost fits. It has a couple of sharp creases along its profile and a gaping maw for a radiator grille. Don’t expect any compliments on your hip new whip from the grandkids, though. They won’t even notice the car until they’re in the back seat.

Lincoln: The MKZ is the safe version of the mid-size-to-large sedan. It has smoother metal and a well-integrated grille and hood, rising in almost the same silhouette as the Avalon but without anything to jar the eye along the way. Again, however, your grandchildren won’t notice. Neither will your children. They’ll just be pleased that you settled for the nice, refined and comfortable look that doesn’t suggest any threat to their inheritance.

Interior

Toyota: This is where it counts, and the Avalon is a very comfortable car, whether you’re driving or a passenger, with standard leather all around. There’s even reasonable space for three adults in the rear seat without feeling like a limo. In the Limited trim, the rear seats are heated, as is the chunky steering wheel, while the front seats are ventilated.

The Limited trim of the Avalon comes with ventilated front seats.

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Instrumentation is clear and directed toward the driver, but it’s not so intuitive as it might be. I never did figure out how to adjust the angle of the head-up display (standard in the Limited edition), and that was after looking it up in the thick owner’s manual.

The MKZ's interior feels slightly more refined than the Avalon's.

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Lincoln: Lincoln makes a big deal of its “Bridge of Weir” leather, but I had no idea what that is. In any case, it’s very comfortable and the interior feels a little more sumptuous and refined than the Avalon. The cabin seems quieter, perhaps thanks to its active noise-cancelling. But unless you’re in the basic hybrid, it’s more expensive, too.

Performance

Toyota: The Toyota is never short of power, but it metes out its 301 hp judiciously, and there are no surprises, even with the drive mode set to Sport. It’s best at maintaining speed on curving roads, staying flat and true even when the tires start to think about squealing a little. The XSE trim has a sport-tuned suspension that is presumably a little better, but I had no complaints with the Limited. It’s built on Toyota’s Next Generation platform, designed for less wallowing on the corners.

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Lincoln: My tester was powered by the 400-hp V-6, which really wasn’t a fair comparison with the Avalon. For a start, it’s at least $9,000 more costly with this engine, which is only available with AWD. It also has a Sport drive mode, which helps it punch away from the lights and out of corners; the dynamic torque-vectoring of my tester kept everything under control on curving roads. However, it never did feel at home with being a sporty car. I’m sure that if you drove it and then floored the throttle on a country road, your grandkids would stare wide-eyed at the back of your hat in astonishment, without respect, and your spouse would punch you in the shoulder to slow down. The 2.0-litre turbocharged engine creates 245 hp, also with AWD, and that’s probably just fine.

Technology

The Avalon offers Apple CarPlay support, but not Android Auto.

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Toyota: There’s no shortage of technology in the Avalon, as you’d expect from a company that includes features like active cruise-control in even its sub-$20,000 Corolla. There’s even support for Apple CarPlay, though not yet Android Auto. Lane-departure alert with steering-assist – check. Blind-spot monitor – check. Rear cross-traffic braking and a bird’s-eye view monitor – check, as long as it’s the Limited trim. The XLE settles for rear cross-traffic beeping and a regular rear-view camera.

Buttons on the left side of the MKZ's centre console control the six-speed transmission.

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Lincoln: The MKZ is similarly loaded, though it also has parking assistance; the car will park itself both parallel and perpendicular. This used to be impressive, but these days, it’s almost standard. Even the Ford Fusion, with which the MKZ shares a platform, can do it. It also has an electronic six-speed transmission that’s controlled with buttons on the centre dash, beside the large display screen. This frees up space within the cabin and makes it easier for your spouse to punch you in the shoulder.

Cargo

Toyota: There’s 456 litres of space in the trunk, which is enough for at least three sets of golf clubs and probably four. Anything else you need to know?

Lincoln: Slightly smaller at 436 litres of space in the trunk, but still spacious enough for all those clubs. You may have to carry the Callaway Big Bertha in the cabin, though. And if you’re serious about your golf, don’t consider the hybrid version, which stores some of the battery in the trunk and strips space down to only 314 litres.

The verdict

Toyota – 8: Don’t get me wrong – the Avalon is a lovely car. I drove it in poor weather and felt totally safe and protected. In my notes, however, I wrote “zzzzz” and “where’s the fun?” Buyers in this segment probably aren’t looking for fun, however; they want reliability and comfort, and these are the Avalon’s greatest strengths.

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Lincoln – 8: A point gained because the MKZ offers more choice, notably in its powertrain and drivetrain, but then lost through its extra cost and thirstier fuel consumption. It probably won’t hold its value like the Toyota, either. It fits the bill a little better though: comfortable, quiet to drive, refined in appearance. Just don’t forget to remove your hat while driving.

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