The Avenger is one of the few distinctive designs in the saturated midsize sedan market. Beyond the styling, a choice of all-wheel drive and a few slick convenience features, though, there is little that sets the Avenger apart from the herd. Further, I question whether its interior quality and equipment can keep the model relevant until its next redesign.
The Avenger comes in SE, SXT and R/T trim levels.
Exterior & Styling
The Avenger's design is its greatest appeal. While its characteristically aggressive Dodge styling isn't for everyone, it definitely stands apart from many midsize competitors in what is arguably the most homogeneous vehicle class.
All three trim levels have body-colored bumpers. The industry has been moving away from black door handles to the classier body-colored style, and the Avenger sports this look. However, some competitors have gone to all body-colored side mirrors, too, and the SE and SXT have black ones. You can decide for yourself if the color is an issue, but there's a clear disadvantage to the black mirrors in this case: They don't fold. Even if you never fold your side mirrors as a precautionary measure, the hinged variety will give way if you swipe an obstacle — or some other driver bangs mirrors with you. It may mean the difference between a scratch or broken glass and an expensive replacement.
Otherwise, the trim levels are almost identical cosmetically. Front fog lamps and a trunklid spoiler are standard on the R/T, and both come on the SXT as an option package. The R/T also has dual stainless-steel tailpipes. The SE has 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers, and the SXT and R/T have 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels, respectively. The SXT can upgrade to the 18-inchers.
The SE and SXT come standard with a 173-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder but can be upgraded to a 189-hp, 2.7-liter V-6. The Avenger R/T comes standard with a 235-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. The SE and SXT drive the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission. The R/T has a six-speed with AutoStick clutchless-manual mode and comes in front- or all-wheel-drive versions. I drove all three engines with front-wheel drive.
The four-cylinder has to work to move this car, and it's partly because the transmission is only a four-speed, one of a dying breed. The Avenger's four-speed practically ensures kickdown when you give it more gas, and the wide ratios make those shifts seem abrupt and dramatic. To seal out noise, Dodge used the firewall (the partition between the engine compartment and cabin) from the diesel version of the car sold in Europe. The four-cylinder's high-revving sound could be worse, but some are sure to complain about it.
Ultimately, the four-cylinder gets by, but it wouldn't be my choice for hilly regions or if I planned to drive with a full cabin or trunk. Even for lone drivers, many of them — perhaps most — would deem this car underpowered. It's unfortunate, because if Americans are serious about reducing fuel consumption and carbon dioxide, it's going to come not through hybrid technology but by driving smaller vehicles and redefining our notion of how much power is enough.
Though it also uses a four-speed, the 2.7-liter V-6 is a more capable engine. Sixteen horsepower isn't that much more, but the difference here is in torque: The V-6 jumps to 191 pounds-feet from the four-cylinder's 166, giving a noticeably more robust launch from a standing start and better passing power without as much downshifting and engine noise. This engine should do the job for most buyers. It can run on E85 ethanol as well as gasoline, making the Avenger one of few small flex-fuel cars.
The Avenger R/T's 3.5-liter V-6 makes for spirited, effortless acceleration. We have no official numbers, but it hit 60 mph in about 7 seconds. I'm not a fan of clutchless manual modes, but I at least like the way AutoStick works: It locks in whatever gear you choose, so it's more than the "4321" positions that used to appear after the "PRND" on a gear selector; those locked out gears above the setting but didn't prevent downshifting.
|2008 Avenger EPA-Estimated Gas Mileage|
by 2008 method
by 2007 method
|3.5-liter V-6 FWD||16/26||19/28|
|3.5-liter V-6 AWD||TBA*||17/26|
|*Avenger R/T AWD fuel economy by 2008 method not yet available.|
The Avenger is one of the first cars introduced as a 2008 model, which means it has the EPA's new, lower and more realistic gas-mileage estimates. Dodge wisely accompanies them with ratings calculated the old way for comparison to 2007 models.
I liked the way the brakes felt and performed in both the SXT and R/T, both of which come with ABS, which is an affordable stand-alone option for the SE. Unfortunately, the SE and SXT have rear drum rather than disc brakes, an arrangement that's also on its way to extinction. Even bargain-priced models like the Hyundai Sonata are all-disc, and the leading holdout — the Honda Accord — is being redesigned for 2008 and may join the all-disc crowd then. Whether you could tell the difference between drum and disc brakes on the Avenger isn't the only issue. If a shopper compares its feature list to a competing model's, it just doesn't look as good.
Ride & Handling
The SXT had a nice ride quality on many surfaces, and it flattened out and felt very much at home in highway driving. The R/T trim level rides firmer, but it's pretty comfortable in its own right. Even with this tauter suspension, additional stabilizer bar in the rear and lower-series tires (and of course the Road/Track moniker), the Avenger R/T doesn't have the reflexes of a Mazda6 S or a Nissan Altima SE. The structure is solid, but the steering doesn't have a performance feel, and the expected understeer isn't as easy to overcome as it is in the new Altima SE.
The Avenger is meant to be sportier, not the sportiest, for people who want more than the familiar vanilla midsize sedan. Even the R/T's high-performance tires are an all-season variety, so owners needn't worry about swapping them out for cold weather as they would have to do with summer performance tires. The car makes compromises, but they're practical ones.
The Avenger's interior is long on creature features but short on quality. There are some soft surfaces, but also some hard and glossy plastics and copious amounts of faux metal. The center storage console feels and sounds a bit cheap when you open and close it.
For years, Toyota has led the modest-car market in interior material and build quality; only recently has the rest of the market started to catch up. Compared to its competitors, the Avenger's interior skates by. However, just like the transmission speed count, with each passing year, the interior will seem further and further behind the times.
The stripped-down SE comes with basic cloth upholstery and manual seat adjustments. The SXT adds a power driver's seat and liquid- and stain-resistant fabric. The fabric can be added to the SE. Leather is optional on higher trims for the seats, steering wheel and shift knob. The leather front seats are heated, and Dodge kindly offers front-seat heaters as an option on the cloth seats.
The Avenger's headroom is pretty good, front and back, and front-seat legroom measurements are identical to those of the Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima, and greater than the Camry's. By the numbers, backseat legroom is a bit tight — 1/2 inch less than the Fusion and 2 to 3 inches less than the other two — but at 6 feet tall, I was reasonably comfortable anyway. The main problem is the center floor hump, which is quite high. It's designed to accommodate AWD, even if you don't choose that option.
The interior quality may run the risk of falling behind the times, but the optional features are definitely forward-thinking. Also seen in the Dodge Caliber, the Chill Zone is a secondary glove compartment of sorts that can chill up to four 12-ounce cans or water bottles, depending on their size and shape. To that end, no one's stopping you from putting a sandwich or two in there ... though the Chill Zone can easily turn into the Bake Zone when the car's turned off.
Because you might be one of the rare Americans who can nurse a soft drink long enough that it gets warm, Dodge offers a pair of cooled/heated front cupholders in the optional Premium Convenience Group. They do work, in that they get cold or hot, depending on the setting you choose. I question their effectiveness in the real world, though. Herewith, another episode of Cars.com Investigates! An aluminum beverage can is your best bet because it conducts. Styrofoam cups are used to keep the cold or hot inside, so unfortunately they do a pretty good job of keeping it out, too. Same goes for an insulated coffee mug. To that end, I can't think of any common decanter that would allow its contents to be heated in here — unless you like warm soda or canned coffee. Canned soup, perhaps? (Cars.com Investigates did not investigate this.)
The optional navigation system has a touch-screen, which is better than an "advanced" multifunction controller — I don't care what anyone says. Nav is part of the MyGIG system, which includes Sirius Satellite Radio that can provide the system with real-time traffic information and even choose a route based on current conditions. MyGIG also includes a Harman Kardon stereo, Bluetooth-enabled hands-free cellular connectivity and a 20 GB hard disk drive for storing music, photos and voice messages. Storing stuff on a hard drive in a car just isn't ... my gig. My prediction is that people will be satisfied to just play, and in some cars control, their portable MP3 player through their car stereos ... but I'm a simple man.
Still an uncommon feature in sedans, the optional backseat video system keeps the kids busy without the added hassle and expense of buying an SUV or minivan. The 7-inch screen is nicely integrated into the center storage console, which also stores a wireless remote. Two wireless headsets are included.
Warning: The optional moonroof required the dome light to be relocated well behind the front seats, leaving the front in darkness and shadows. The spotlight-style reading lights between the sun visors were no help.
Along with the required frontal airbags, the Avenger has standard side-impact torso-protection bags for the front occupants and side curtain airbags for head protection, front and rear. An electronic stability system is standard on the R/T AWD and optional on the front-drive R/T and the SXT for $425. There is no traction control in Avengers without the stability system.
Cargo & Towing
The Avenger's trunk is relatively small in the midsize car segment, at 13.4 cubic feet. The Fusion has 15.8 cubic feet and the Altima and Camry have 17.9 and 15.0 cubic feet, respectively. A 60/40-split folding backseat is standard for expanding the cargo area forward into the cabin.
The Avenger's standard towing capacity is 1,000 pounds. The maximum doubles to 2,000 pounds with either V-6 engine.
Avenger in the Market
I see no reason to doubt that the Avenger will satisfy its buyers. It's troubling, though, that it's not ahead of the curve. Cars — as opposed to trucks and SUVs — are what the Detroit-based automakers need to improve in this time of volatile and often high fuel prices. The Avenger has come to market marginally competitive, and that state could quickly drop to uncompetitive as other automakers make better use of the clean slate of a new model or complete redesign.
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Cars.com Expert Reviews
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|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||February 8, 2007|
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