Review: 2008 Dodge Avenger
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Just because Daimler, the German company that makes Mercedes-Benz vehicles, said in May 2007 it didn't want to own the Chrysler Corp. anymore and was selling the company doesn't mean that Chrysler vehicles are passé.
In fact, a new Chrysler model—the 2008 Dodge Avenger—is a surprisingly good handling sedan with a starting price that's considerably less than many prominent midsize competitors.
Plus, the Avenger has styling that's more sporty and more masculine than the usually bland family cars in the segment.
And, all safety equipment is standard, including six airbags—frontal, side-mounted and curtain—as well as traction control, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes.
This compares with a starting price of more than $19,000 for a 2007 Toyota Camry with a lower-power, 158-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and automatic.
An Avenger with V6 also can undercut the price of the major competition. It starts at less than $21,000, which compares with the more than $23,000 starting retail price for a Camry with V6.
Ho-hum fuel mileage
The test car with 189-horsepower V6 had a 2008 government rating of only 19 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway.
Note these figures are calculated using a new, more stringent government fuel economy formula than has been applied before. All passenger vehicles will get revised fuel economy ratings as they switch from 2007 models to 2008s, so consumers can expect competitors' fuel economy numbers to decline, too.
Distinctive looks in front
While not as striking as the larger Chrysler 300 sedan, the front styling of the Dodge Avenger is a judicious exercise in Dodge sporty looks that aren't overdone.
I just wish the Avenger's rear, which comes off as a bit boring, was as well done.
Surprisingly pleasing handling
The test Avenger with V6 had exemplary road poise for a car in its price range, and I was surprised at how well-managed the body motions and suspension workings were.
It all made the test Avenger, which topped at less than $23,000 with options, seem more expensive than it was.
Basically, the car—with touring suspension that's standard in the SXT trim level—felt well-balanced in the back-and-forth motions on twisty mountain roads.
And the Avenger behaved stably and predictably, with no weird reactions in abrupt emergency maneuvers.
The speed-proportional, power rack-and-pinion steering was especially confidence-inspiring with good, on-center feel and no loosey-goosey moments.
Yet, despite the touring suspension, the ride on mid-level, 17-inch tires wasn't rough.
Road bumps came through only mildly for the most part. Passengers were jostled just a bit when the car went over large potholes. But none of it was upsetting or harsh.
Note that the Avenger is built on the front-wheel-drive platform that's also used in the Chrysler Sebring sedan that debuted as a new-generation model for the 2007 model year.
Dodge Stratus is gone
But the Avenger is so much smarter than the now-forgettable Stratus in virtually every way.
For example, the Avenger is wider and taller than the Stratus, and the extra 4 inches in height helped Dodge engineers position seats up higher from the pavement for better views and more comfortable positioning for passengers.
I prefer the V6s—Dodge offers two of them—to the Avenger's base four cylinder. Besides the reasonable price and better torque, these V6s have pleasing engine sounds.
Even the base, 2.7-liter V6 in the test Avenger had good get up and go, thanks to a peak of 191 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
The only transmission with this engine is a 4-speed automatic, though.
Buyers get a more modern, fine-working, 6-speed automatic when they move up to the Avenger's larger, 235-horsepower 3.5-liter high-output V6 in the R/T model. It starts around $23,000, which is another decent price.
Odds and ends
The Avenger has 1.8 fewer inches of rear-seat legroom than the Camry.
And trunk space is 13.35 cubic feet vs. the 15 cubic feet in the Camry. Most of the Avenger's cargo room is under the rear window and parcel shelf.
Supportive front bucket seats in the test car were finished with perforated leather that was so soft to the touch, it was obviously leather. At introduction of the Avenger, it was a $925 option.
Note, though, that back-seat passengers have head restraints that are molded into the seatbacks and cannot be adjusted.
While the Avenger ceiling material was textured and looked good in the test car, there were some plastic pieces on the dashboard and door trim inside that weren't aligned properly.
(Note that Dodge hasn't done well in recent J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Studies. In fact, Dodge has been consistently below average in the rankings since at least 2002. Dodge also has been consistently below average since at least 2002 in J.D. Power's Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures owner problems over the first few years.)
Additionally, the Avenger's blinkers had the loud, old-style, clickity sound that most new vehicles have abandoned.
And I spent considerable time before finding that the dome light in the ceiling was operated by a control integrated into the Avenger's blinker stalk.
Something the Camry doesn't offer
It's available on the top, R/T model and can be had for a starting retail price around $25,000.