Chrysler, which was on the brink of total collapse a few short years ago is finally in good health, thanks to majority holder Fiat. Turning a car company around is no small task, and at the core of the turnaround are the cars available for you and me to buy. With the Dodge brand, all eyes have been focused on the new, Alfa Romeo-based Dart, a compact four door sedan. In the mid-size department, Dodge continues to offer the Avenger, which is no spring chicken, having been around since 2008. Vilified by the press for awful interior quality, and crude drivetrains, the Avenger was an easy target. Things changed in 2011 with some refreshed sheetmetal, a vastly improved interior, and a brand new V-6. And consumers responded, with 2012 being the best sales year for the Avenger since it debuted, with close to 100,000 cars sold in the US.
Still, the improvements made to the Avenger, good as they are, still leaves it as an ‘also ran’ in the hotly contested mid-size sedan market. So, with an aging car and limited funds, what do you do if you’re Dodge? You make your mid-size car look mean. From the start, Dodge styled the Avenger to look like a little brother to the Charger. It’s butch, blocky, and undeniably American. Two years after a minor refresh, the Avenger still looks old school. However, our test car was equipped with the $495 Blacktop Package, and the reaction on the street astounded me. For that, you get 18″ gloss black alloy wheels, grille, headlight bezels and a rear spoiler. Pretty simple, right? Yet during my week with the Avenger, people would come up to me saying how bad-ass it looked. I was incredulous when an owner of a Honda S2000 came up to me at a car wash asking me questions about the car. I’ve driven every mid-size car available, and none generated the interest our Avenger did. When your competition has limitless funds, Dodge did the right thing by offering an option to make their car stand out. No, it’s not for everyone, but when I had a Toyota Camry, no one noticed.
The Avenger’s greatest drawback was its interior, which rightfully drew immense criticism for dull as dirt design, poor quality and rock hard plastics. Dodge has gone to great lengths to improve the interior of the Avenger. I am happy to say they have succeeded, but still lag behind the competition. Our all-black interior made for a drab cabin, and the scant silver trim and white stitching on the seats and door panels did little to break up the monotony. That said, the Avenger’s cabin proved to be comfortable for four. Controls are clear and very simple to use-no need to consult the owner’s manual. Rear passengers did complain the Charger inspired kink at the rear fender severely reduced visibility, which is true, and the lack of a rearview camera or parking sensors compounds the problem. The absence of these and other features like a Stop/Start button are stark reminders that this is a car that has been on sale since 2008.
You can take your Avenger with one of two engines. The standard 2.4L four cylinder, rated at 173hp will get the job done. The base model is equipped with an archaic four-speed automatic, while higher trims get a six-speed automatic. For a mere $300 extra, I implore you to get the new 3.6L V-6, mated to a six-speed automatic. Rated at 283hp, the Avenger is one of the most powerful cars in its class. EPA fuel economy ratings are 19/29 MPG City/Highway. When pushed, the Avenger is very quick, and always composed. The steering was nicely weighted. Driver’s seeking an even more aggressively tuned Avenger should check out the R/T, which offers a sport tuned suspension and quicker steering. In the mid-size sedan world, the Avenger cuts a nice balance between the isolation chamber Camry and near-sport sedan Mazda6.
When the refreshed Avenger arrived in 2011, it was offered in a staggering five different trim levels with funny names like ‘Express’ and ‘Main Street’. No more. You have the base SE, the SXT like our test car, and the sportier R/T. Our Avenger SXT has a base price of just $22,195USD. For that, you get the standard four cylinder engine with the six-speed automatic, auto climate control, SiriusXM satellite radio, power driver’s seat, and LED interior lighting. Options on our test car included leather, heated seats, the aforementioned Blacktop Package, V-6 engine, and the Sun and Navigation Group (6.5″ touchscreen, voice command, Bluetooth, 40 Gig hard drive for your tunes, GPS navigation, power sunroof, and auto dimming rearview mirror. Including delivery charges, the total price rings in at $26,225, which is an incredible bargain.
The harshest critics will dismiss the Avenger as an ugly reminder of the neglect Daimler and Cerberus inflicted on Chrysler. I see it differently. Dodge engineers and designers were given an unpopular car with the directive to make it more competitive on a shoestring budget, and they delivered. It is not the most plush, refined and polished car in its class, but decked out as our test car was, it had an elusive quality called ‘character’, a trait almost never seen in a modern mid-size car. It isn’t like the rest of the herd. It stands out, and it got people talking. Isn’t that what we love about cars? Am I really saying this about an Avenger, a car our Founding Editor Gary Grant named the worst car of the year in 2009? Gary may have been right then, but since then, Dodge has cooked up a spicier Avenger with personality and a bargain price to boot.