Dodge Avenger Review

William C Montgomery
by William C Montgomery
dodge avenger review

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.

On the positive side, you get a Chillzone Beverage Cooler, heated and cooled cupholders and (for the hopelessly flatulent) “odor-resistant fabric upholstery.”

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.

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  • Silverkris Silverkris on Apr 01, 2008

    I've noticed that some posters have suggested a labor price/cost disadvantage experienced by the US-based automakers as a explanation for the cheapo interiors. That is proabably a bit overstated. Most of the cars sold by Toyota/Honda in North America are assembled locally. While most of transplant factories aren't UAW organized, they do pay comparable wages and benefits. The Fremont, CA NUMMI plant (which builds the Toyota Corolla, Matrix and other models) is a UAW shop. The other thing is that labor costs account for perhaps 8-9% of the total cost of a vehicle. Granted, the big difference is the legacy health care benefits and retiree benefits that GM, Chrysler and Ford have to pay given that they have an older workforce and have bought out a lot of early retirements over the years. That is a big issue. But I don't think this should be an obstacle in sourcing better plastics and designing a better interior. Heck, I think materials costs would at worst be a wash if Toyota or Honda have to source some key components from Japan, which is sensitive to the Yen/Dollar exchange rate. And petroleum based plastics affect all vehicle manufacturers.

  • Chanman Chanman on May 18, 2009

    I had the misfortune of being assigned one from the Alamo rental fleet. (Comparable model to the G6 they had on the brochure) Rubbery steering, anemic acceleration, shuddered under breaking, and non-existant rear vision. The entire rear windscreen from trunklid to roof easily fit into the rear mirror, even without the visibility-impairing aid of the trunklid spoiler. And the icing had to be the C-pillars and the SUV-hiding blind spots that they create. I nearly merged into some leadfoot on the 401 that squirted into the null visibility zone by the onramp.

  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.
  • Cardave5150 I've had 2 different 300's - an '08 300SRT and an '18 300C. Loved them both a LOT, although, by the time I had the second one, I wasn't altogether thrilled with the image of 300's out on the street, as projected by the 3rd or 4th buyers of the cars.I always thought that the car looked a little stubby behind the rear wheels - something that an extra 3-4" in the trunk area would have greatly helped.When the 300 was first launched, there were invitation-only meet-and-greets at the dealerships, reminding me of the old days when new model-year launches were HUGE. At my local dealer, they were all in formalwear (tuxes and elegant dresses) with a nice spread of food. They gave out crystal medallions of the 300 in a sweet little velvet box (I've got mine around the house somewhere). I talked to a sales guy for about 5 minutes before I asked if we could take one of the cars out (a 300C with the 5.7 Hemi). He acted like he'd been waiting all evening for someone to ask that - we jumped in the car and went out - that thing, for the time, seemed to fly.Corey - when it comes time for it, don't forget to mention the slightly-stretched wheelbase 300 (I think it was the 300L??). I've never found one for sale (not that I've looked THAT hard), as they only built them for a couple of years.
  • Jkross22 "I’m doing more for the planet by continuing to drive my vehicle than buying a new one for strictly frivolous reasons."It's not possible to repeat this too much.
  • Jeff S Got to give credit to Chrysler for putting the 300 as a rear wheel drive back on the market. This will be a future classic.