We had planned to buy the Avalon, and had been researching it long before it ever reached the dealership. The same day we drove the Avalon we also drove the ES 330, and our minds were made up. The Avalon is an excellent car with a better engine, but when fit, finish, materials quality, etc. are taken into account, the decision for us was easy -- the Lexus won, hands down. In addition to the car itself, you inherit a vastly different sales and service experience. We were worried about the reported transmission issues, but we learned from the Edmunds discussion boards that using a variable driving style during the learning phase was the key to good performance. It worked for us.
Top quality interior, quiet ride.
I agree with another reviewer that the standard audio system could be better.