Review: 2013 Dodge Avenger SE

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

How much car can you get in this country for sixteen thousand bucks? Well, you could try a base-model Elantra, or with a bit of sharp dealing you might come up with a Sentra. TrueCar thinks you might be able to sneak into a Cruze LS. Certainly you could get a Ford Focus, which might be the best choice if you can shift for yourself or you trust the PowerShift double-clutcher.

How about something a little bigger and more powerful? Would you be interested? What if I told you it wasn’t all that bad on a racetrack? What if you’re a subprime buyer?

With the current group of incentives, it’s possible to get a 2013 Avenger SE like the nearly-new one I rented last week for about sixteen grand. The bad news is that you don’t really want an Avenger SE. You want an Avenger SE V6 For an extra $2100 or so, you get alloy wheels and a six-speed transmission with AutoStick manumatic control to replace the prehistoric four-cogger. Oh, and there’s the minor matter of a Pentastar V-6, which enables the Avenger to crank out fourteen-second quarter-mile times at will.

Unfortunately for me, nobody wanted to rent me an Avenger SE V6 for a little trip I had to take to GingerMan Raceway last week. (If you’re curious as to what I was driving at GingerMan, you’ll need to click here.) In fact, they didn’t even want to rent me an Avenger SE. They wanted to rent me a Corolla. I had to beg and plead and cajole to get the Avenger. I did this because the Corolla is about my least favorite rental car ever. Compared to the Corolla, the Avenger is a Viper.

Well, maybe it’s not a Viper. But neither is it a Fleetwood Talisman. In fact, the Avenger is closer size-wise to the Corolla than it is to the Camry. Mitsubishi and Chrysler failed to correctly predict the Cretaceous explosion in mid-sized cars — or maybe they did but figured the LX cars would cover the high end. Either way, the Avenger is positively tidy in the modern context. Visibility’s decent all the way around despite the face-down-ass-up proportions stolen from the last-generation Charger. There’s a noticeable amount of extra space both front and rear compared to the compact cars but it’s not even Altima-sized inside.

I’m repeatedly told all over the Internet that the Avenger and 200 have a horrifyingly cheap interior despite the recent round of revisions. I’m not sure about that. The plastic’s about the same as what you get everywhere else (with the possible exception of the Cruze) and there’s a fair amount of actual metal trim which has to be a unique selling point at this price. If you can compare this to, say, a Mazda3 Grand Touring, which costs three grand more before incentives, and say there’s any real difference in materials quality or assembly, I congratulate you on your ability to perceive a difference that is nonexistent to me.

The seats, on the other hand, immediately impressed me as being positively medieval and after fifty miles I had a sore back. I’m used to knocking out five or six hundred miles before back pain sets in so this was an unpleasant surprise. I never got comfortable in the Avenger’s seats and no amount of adjustment helped. I recall quite enjoying the seats in the Chrysler 200, so make sure you try both cars if you’re thinking about buying either. There’s a difference there.

Luckily for me this was one of my shorter rental trips, with barely 315 miles between my front door and the registration tower at GingerMan. With temperatures swinging between 22 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, every moment I spent driving an open-cockpit car was pretty miserable. I wanted to take a few friends out on the racetrack and thought about taking the Avenger. Naturally, my rental contract prevented doing something irresponsible like that. But as I was looking through the glovebox to find my rental contract just to make sure it prevented something irresponsible like that, a handwritten note fell out. This is what it said,

Dear Avenger Driver,

To save you the trouble of violating your rental contract to take this Avenger around the track, I’ve done it for you and taken some basic notes on how the car behaved.

First, the power. It’s not bad, really, and with just 3400 pounds to move it’s no trouble to hit 90mph on Gingerman’s back straight. What a shame there’s no AutoStick in this model! But the transmission won’t catch you out. Just hit the throttle a half-second before you know you’ll need it, because the four-speed will shift up a gear under hard braking and kind of loaf in the mid-corner.

Handling is remarkably neutral and the rear end can be manipulated with light trail braking. With the traction control turned off, the nose doesn’t push too badly. With better brake pads it would be suited to 20-lap runs. As it is, the pedal gets a little hard after five laps or so.

Steering isn’t terribly responsive but it’s honest and you’d be able to place the Avenger within a few inches of your desired apex. Body roll’s pretty good! A lot of so-called sporty German sedans roll more than the Avenger does.

The Avenger’s easily capable of catching mid-pack LeMons racers. They don’t like it when you do this. In fact, you’ll be able to pull the 944 that’s out there in the straights and hang with it in the corners. It’s far from an utterly hopeless track car. With decent tires it might surprise you. I bet the V-6 AutoStick is a corker. Thanks for reading.

Well, that was convenient. My drive home reaffirmed my hatred of the seats but after a long day in an unmuffled open car I appreciated the relatively quiet Avenger interior. It would be nice to have a little more clarity and power in the stereo; really, I think Ford still has the edge, no pun intended, in base sound systems. Not that you could even touch a Fusion for this kind of cash.

I wouldn’t buy this Avenger for the simple reason that a V-6 Chrysler 200 is far, far more satisfying and it doesn’t cost much more. As a way to carry four full-sized adults with reasonable pace and economy for a rock-bottom price, however, this humble Dodge is tough to beat. The buyers for the 2013 Avenger may be subprime, but the Avenger itself is pretty okay.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Threeer Threeer on May 01, 2013

    A manager at one of the local stores here in town has a burnt metallic orange (or whatever they call that color) R/T variant of the Avenger...and dammit...I sheepishly have to admit to liking it. Too bad they didn't see fit to drop a manual tranny in with the Pentastar. I know...I know, enthusiast drivers don't pay the bills! And like others have said, I wound up with a new 200 as a rental about a year ago and cursed the Great Rental Car Gods when I was handed the keys. But after a week driving it, I was impressed that I didn't feel the need to yiff cookies every time I got in. It was reasonably quick (4 pot, not 6), comfortable and quiet. Not sure much else would be needed for a daily commuter sled, and that'd be more than acceptable for the 90th percentile owner...

  • Reicher Reicher on Nov 13, 2013

    I have a 2011 with the V6 and I wouldn't even look at another car (except maybe the new charger). After riding in, civics, corrollas, focus, forte, elantra, and cruze, the only other one i'd consider would be the cruze (but it would need to have the turbo). I have the lumbar support and I find the seats pretty good for long 4-6 hour drives. I've seen a few vids where people have gotten their Avengers to go 0-60 MPH in 5.5 to 6 secs. And Its fun to smoke those that think they can take on the 'Venge. Yes there is torque steer but it makes it feel like your in a racing car haha. And you gotta love the "Touring" suspension when you got in. My indian buddy (east indian for clarification) loved the car so much he bought the 4 banger version. His dad just came here to live, and the first time he drove it, his utter hatred for american cars magically disappeared. And thats from a guy who drove a huge Toyota SUV. I've been very happy with the car. I've done mods to it so i've dismantled the front end and other parts and its built beefy like the charger with an ACTUAL steel bumper. The quality is awesome and after comparing it to those at the autoshow, its just as good as the best. Besides, having almost no plastic in the interior makes other cars on the low end feel really cheap with the plastic everywhere.