The Dodge Avenger should come with an asterisk. That's because the clock is ticking on the poor-selling sedan and its Chrysler cousin, the Sebring. Both are to be replaced in 2012 with sedans engineered by Fiat. Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne has made the midsize segment a cornerstone of his ambitious business plan.
Reviewers' note: We drove the 2009 Avenger. Besides a new gauge cluster and a few safety features, there's not much of a difference with the 2010 model, according to Mike Mars, a Chrysler spokesman.
Appearance: The design is of the love-it-or-leave-it variety. The low roof line, pronounced wheel wells and high "shoulder" in the rear fender give the Avenger a stout, muscular stance, which fits in with the macho-looking design aesthetic of the Ram and Charger. A standard rear spoiler and optional 18-inch aluminum wheels complete the look.
Interior: It's fairly roomy with simple, easy-to-use controls. We drove the SXT model, which features attractive, white-faced gauges, chrome accents and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The car also had the premium convenience package that includes an auto-open sunroof and automatic headlights. We both liked the navigation screen and controls, finding them clear and easy to understand. There also is an auxiliary input for an MP3 player. Speaking of the sound system: Lyra didn't like the volume-control placement behind the steering wheel and found the large door speakers ugly. A nice touch: One of the cup holders can be heated or cooled. Still, the Avenger's interior materials, especially the center console, suffer from a common Chrysler complaint: cheap plastics. We both liked the innovative Chill Zone bin in the dash that lets you keep canned drinks cool. Peter took the car on a weekend trip and found it had enough rear-seat room for the family and was smooth on the interstate. The trunk seems a bit small for a car of its size, however.
Performance: The smooth ride of the front-wheel-drive sedan is helped by the optional Electronic Stability Program with Traction Control. We felt the 2.7-liter V-6 (flex fuel) was adequate and a bit noisy. Maybe that's why it's no longer available on the SXT model. For 2010, there's only a 4-cylinder, unless you go to the R/T model. The four-speed automatic transmission left us longing for a more refined five- or six-speed gear box.
Our 3 favorites
Chill Zone bin: Keep your canned drinks cool. It's another good storage idea from Dodge (see: Ram Box).
Simple controls: Ease of use is a big plus these days.
Safety: It's an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety top pick.
Remote engine start: Get the car cooled down (or warmed up) before you get in.
Warm coffee: Keep your drink warm (or cool) with the temperature-controlled cup holder.
Kid friendly: The seats are made of stain-, odor- and static-resistant fabric.
The Bottom Line: The Avenger is not going to change anyone's mind about Chrysler's competitiveness, but it gets high marks for safety and gets relatively good gas mileage. It's worth looking to the R/T model and its optional V-6.