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Suburban Dad: 2008 Dodge Avenger

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As a Suburban Dad, sometimes the reality is we get a second car that’s only kinda sorta a family car. We often get sedans as that second ride, because they’re mainly used as a commuter yet can still fill in during a pinch when the minivan or SUV is in the shop, being borrowed by the in-laws, whatever. It was with that in mind that I test drove the new Dodge Avenger.

My wife was succinct when she sat in the new Avenger: “It’s like sitting in a 1980s car.” And she didn’t mean that as a compliment.

I’ve been a pretty big fan of the look of the most recent Dodge sedans and coupes, especially the Challenger concept and the Charger. I like the way the Avenger looks too — I like it a lot — but the driving experience left me a little cold.

From a family perspective, it had some good qualities: Plenty of space in the backseat for all three kids, a big trunk for my son’s football pads, helmet and a lot more, and comfortable seating front and back. In fact, my 10-year-old raved about the Avenger.

It was the details that he doesn’t notice, however, that soured me on it. The suspension was very clunky; driving into my driveway was a jarring experience. Gas mileage in mixed driving was about 19 mpg, but there wasn’t the high-power payoff that usually comes with giving up decent gas mileage. The four-cylinder Avenger just barely got going, and trying to pass or get on the freeway meant putting the gas pedal down to the floor and keeping it there. For a car that looks like a throwback to muscle cars of the ’70s, its performance was pretty anemic.

The interior that my wife disliked suffered from being too plain, too plasticky and too old-fashioned. For a company that has produced a really nice interior on the new Dodge Grand Caravan, it’s almost shocking how poor the interior of the Avenger feels by contrast. Dodge will definitely get some buyers based on how good the outside of the car looks, but very few will buy it for the ride, the interior or the performance.

If Dodge is looking to recapture some of that ’70s glory, it needs to update the Avenger, and soon, before it becomes a reminder of some bad 1980s cars.

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