Despite significant improvement over the years, the 2014 Dodge Avenger midsize sedan remains an imperfect car that hasn't been able to catch the competition.
Many automakers add features and refine their cars to give them an edge in the market, but Dodge has had to update the Avenger just to keep pace in the fast-changing family sedan segment. For 2011, the car got a new interior and V-6 engine, as well as a retuned suspension. The only significant changes for 2014 — the Avenger's final model year — are that the Blacktop and Rallye appearance packages are now offered on more trim levels. To see the 2013 and 2014 Avenger compared, click here.
See how it stacks up against the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion and Honda Accord here.
The 2014 Avenger's base price is $21,590, including a $995 destination charge. We tested a midlevel SXT trim that included options like the Blacktop Package, a 3.6-liter V-6 engine and the Uconnect navigation system, which brought the as-tested price to $26,480 (see the window sticker here).
How It Drives
The best thing about the V-6 Avenger is its smooth off-the-line power. The sedan accelerates easily up to highway speeds; it doesn't feel like the 283-horsepower engine is working that hard. The V-6 loses some of its appeal, though, once you've reached highway speeds, where acceleration is more modest and accompanied by torque steer that tugs the car to the right.
A lazy six-speed automatic transmission that hesitates to kick down when you need more power contributes to the disappointing highway acceleration. When you floor the gas pedal, there's a brief delay before the transmission downshifts — and then it takes its time getting to the lower gear. Downshifts are smooth, but the lack of urgency is a problem; when you floor it, you want to go right now.
The EPA rates the Avenger's V-6 drivetrain at 19/29/22 mpg city/highway/combined. That's lower than the Accord V-6 (21/32/25 mpg) and the most powerful versions of the Malibu and Fusion, which are powered by turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinders and get 21/30/24 mpg and 22/33/26 mpg, respectively.
The base four-cylinder Avenger gets 21/30/24 mpg with a four-speed automatic and 20/31/24 mpg with an optional six-speed automatic. Both estimates are well below the most efficient versions of the Malibu (25/36/29 mpg), Fusion (25/37/29 mpg) and Accord (27/36/30 mpg).
Most midsize family sedans ride firmly. The Avenger does, too, but its suspension is refined and free of any harsh reactions on rutted pavement. It feels premium. The ride can get busy at times, but it isn't annoying, and cornering composure is admirable.
The Avenger's cabin degrades the overall experience. The restyled interior that arrived with 2011 models created a more attractive space, but it didn't address the cabin's general sense of creakiness and the front seating area's confining feel.
Many of the controls you regularly come in contact with feel particularly crude. The console gear selector is rickety when moving from Park to Drive. The adjustable map lights — a great idea in theory — feel cheap and flimsy. Our test car had only 754 miles on the odometer, and already the driver's seat was creaking. The seat's hard, flat backrest wasn't comfortable, either. Family sedans, like the Mazda6 and Fusion, increasingly exude a premium feel that's just not present in the Avenger.
There's good legroom for taller adults in the backseat, but with a low roofline, tapered side windows and our test car's all-black interior, I felt claustrophobic.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Dodge deserves credit for keeping the Avenger's controls simple. The air conditioning system's three-knob layout isn't as modern as the touch-sensitive pads in the Ford Fusion Hybrid, but it's easier to adjust cabin temperature without having to take your eyes off the road. The controls are a little low on the dashboard, but they work well and don't require a lot of attention.
Our test car had the optional 6.5-inch touch-screen navigation system. It's marketed under the same Uconnect name as the larger, 8.4-inch touch-screen that's optional in the Dodge Charger full-size sedan and other Chrysler models, but the Avenger's system has a different interface as well as physical buttons bordering the touch-screen.
The touch-screen menus are intuitive and the system responds quickly to selections. We're in an era of larger and larger dashboard screens, however, and the Avenger's looks small in comparison. The graphics — especially when using the Garmin-based navigation function — aren't the sharpest, either.
Cargo & Storage
The Avenger is roughly the same size as the Malibu, Fusion and Accord, but its 13.5-cubic-foot trunk is more than 2 cubic feet smaller than those competitors' trunks. It looks small, too — especially its height. A 60/40-split folding backseat is standard. There's a ledge that's a few inches tall where the cargo floor and folded backrest meet.
Cabin storage areas include a console bin with upper and lower compartments, an open area in front of the gear selector, and door pockets. All are average in size. The Avenger doesn't have any of the nifty storage amenities we've seen in other Dodge models, like the Journey crossover with its storage bin under the front passenger-seat cushion and second-row in-floor storage bins.
The Avenger received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's 2014 Top Safety Pick designation and four out of five stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for its crash performance.
The Avenger comes standard with basic safety features, but it doesn't offer increasingly common advanced safety features like forward-collision warning, lane departure warning or even a backup camera.
Value in Its Class
With about a dozen midsize family sedans available today, new-car shoppers have a lot of choices. The Avenger is a better car now than when it launched as a 2008 model, but it fails to distinguish itself from competitors in a number of important areas, including fuel efficiency and interior quality.
The Avenger's main advantage is a sticker price that's lower than nearly all its competition, along with cash-back incentives as high as $3,500 in some parts of the country. The Avenger isn't the best car in its class, but it's one of the most affordable.