Riding in a golf cart to the nether regions of a dealership lot, an aging salesman explained his selling strategy. “Chryslers appeal to either male or female buyers,” he declared through nicotine-stained teeth. “Take the Compass. That’s for the ladies. The Wrangler? Boys’ toy.” As our EV reaches the 2008 Avenger, it's clear that the latest entry in The Dodge Boys' lineup is no purple Barbie Sport Convertible. But does The Avenger deliver the goods, or is “he” an impotent superhero look alike?
First, let’s be clear about from whence cometh this car: the Dodge Avenger is a reskinned Chrysler Sebring, just as the Dodge Charger is a reskinned Chrysler 300. It’s a cheap and cheerful way to give Dodge dealers something to sell that isn’t the late, unlamented Stratus, or the slow-selling Dakota, or Ye Olde Durango. Something that’ll keep the UAW’s factories humming– at least until someone else takes over.
Compared to the Sebring’s disjointed styling– afflicted as it is by a clash of Art Deco motif and Analytic Cubism — the Avenger is, um, handsome. Dodge’s crosshair grille looks far more rugged than the Sebring’s muzzle, and more elegant than the stubby, pug-faced Dodge Caliber. The Avenger’s chin spoiler and front bumper form a Charlie Sheen-like square jaw. Quad LDH optics offer the intensity and sensitivity of Leonardo DiCaprio’s eyes, while the angular windshield and clean roofline project the nobility of Johnny Depp’s brow.
While we’re beating the celebrity metaphor to a bloody pulp, the Avenger’s rear quarter panels broaden around the wheels like Fabio’s muscular shoulders and five-spoke “Ultra Bright” aluminum wheels flash like Matthew McConaughey’s pearly whites.
Two flaws mar this otherwise stunning example of automotive manhood: cheap looking triangular black inserts that fill the aft corners of the rear windows and a useless wing adorning the rear deck, an aesthetic faux pas that suits The Avenger like an ill fitted toupee on a fifty-something athlete.
Actually, I’m just being picky. The Avenger offers a distinctive design– especially compared to the boring (e.g. Honda Accord) and outright ugly (e.g. Toyota Camry) sedans that dominate the class.
A quick survey of the interior confirms the Avenger’s true identity: an automotive Himbo. It’s attractive on the outside, vacuous on the inside. The Avenger’s interior designers attempted tasteful sophistication, refraining from button overload and utilizing classic shapes. But, once again, the quality of The Chrysler’s Group’s rock hard plastics is both inexplicable and inexcusable. Even Kia uses finer materials.
The “chrome” piece that frames the gear selector is easily removed from its track. It’s a brittle piece of plastic with a chrome finish laminated to the top. This is the exact same kind of short-lived chromed plastic that GM used for the door locks in my mother’s 1969 Buick Skylark. I’d expect similar longevity from this and the rest of the dreadful Mopar parts blighting the Avenger.
My SXT tester sheltered a 2.7-liter 24-valve V6 mated to a four-speed automatic cogswapper. This so-called “powerplant” slots between the rental grade 2.4-liter 4-cylinder World Engine and the RT’s torque steer special: a 235hp 3.5-liter V6. Dodge (and my new chain smoking best friend) expects this drivetrain will be US customers’ mill of choice. The 2.7 produces 189hp and delivers 19/27 mpg (as per updated EPA standards). How great is that?
Not very. The V6 Avenger delivers neither driving excitement nor outstanding fuel economy. At pedestrian speeds, the Avenger's ride is market compliant. At anything above a parking lot pace, the Avenger lacks the chassis poise and steering feel to reward anything remotely resembling a spirited maneuver. As indicated above, the Avenger channels all its meager power through the front wheels. (Optional AWD sends some torque to the rear wheels when needed.)
Push this dreary driving street rod towards the extremes and the 17” wheels (an upgrade from the SE’s 16’s) and chassis loses its composure like a paranoid schizophrenic at a UFO convention. If you love tire-squealing understeer slides– and what ignorant enthusiast doesn’t– the Avenger is a dream come true. Unfortunately, the drum and disk binders are a bit of a nightmare. They’re initially resistant to the idea of serious stopping, and lack feel once they get with the program.
At the 2007 Dallas Auto Show, Dodge’s PR shills stood by an Avenger painted in Inferno Red Crystal Pearl and extolled the model’s many virtues. They compared it to all its rivals– except the Camry and Accord. At the risk of seeming sexist, the Avenger’s inability to compete with the class leaders must leave Chrysler hoping (against hope) there are some male buyers who believe beauty is only skin deep. Pigs.