When it comes to the super-packed mid-sized sedan segment, Dodge has never had a product that stacked up favorably to the Japanese (and more recently the Korean) competition. Slow, creaky, poorly assembled, unreliable and destined for rental-car lots, the Avenger has not grabbed hold of the buying public positively. And why would it? With a laundry list of competitors who are priced better, perform better and look better, there are few reasons – besides loyalty to the brand, huge discounts or a slick-talking salesperson – why anyone would pay real money for one.
1. The 2.4L 4-Cyl continues to be the base engine with 173-hp. A 4-spd automatic is standard on the base model with an optional 6-spd.
2. A new 3.6L V6 delivers a best-in-class 283-hp.
3. Priced from $19,245 a well-equipped 4-cyl model lists for 21,245.
4. While the new Avenger represents an about-face for the brand, reliability is still an issue with both Chrysler and Doge brand products finishing near the bottom in the latest Consumer Reports reliability study.
With development money freed up that wasn’t available during previous corporate ownerships, engineers went to work on the whole brand. Virtually every Dodge model received serious upgrades for 2011, and the poor, sorry Avenger got its share too. It helps that its corporate sister, the Chrysler 200 (nee Sebring) was getting plenty of attention too.
While the ’11 Avenger might look similar to the previous model, most everything important has been replaced, improved or tweaked.
NEW V6 DELIVERS BEST-IN-CLASS POWER
The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 173-hp and 166 lb-ft of torque, but is now more responsive. While the price-leading entry-level Express uses the old four-speed automatic transmission, a new six-speed automatic will take the bulk of sales in all other levels. Never the most refined mill, but perfectly adequate for its job.
Optionally, Dodge’s brand-new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 replaces the old 3.5-liter, and produces a class-leading 283-hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, up 48 hp and 28 lb-ft for ’11. It retains the six-speed automatic as the sole transmission, and provides the Avenger a much-needed trump card. It’s smooth, refined and powerful. All things the previous version was not.
SIGNIFICANTLY REVISED SUSPENSION
To cope with the extra power, the Avenger received some major suspension tuning. With an increase in both front- and rear track, wider tires, and lower springs (12 mm front, 6 mm rear), the car handles itself with aplomb. The steering is direct, body lean kept in check, and the whole package works very well. The standard 17-inch wheels aren’t bad, but 18-inchers are available on mid- and high-end models.
For those looking for a real corner carver, the V6-powered R/T will provide firmer shocks and springs, and tighter sway bars than even the performance-minded Heat model. It will also get unique 18-inch wheels, special paint colors, a body-colored grille and special interior treatment.
INTERIOR GETS AN OVERHAUL
Otherwise, trying to play ‘spot the difference’ between a 2010 and ’11 from afar will be difficult as the overall silhouette hasn’t changed. Dodge designers made the crosshair grill larger and more prominent, and the front fascia has been redesigned to be more aggressive. At the back, the lower fascia is new, as are the ‘ring of fire’ LED taillights.
Thankfully, the interior has received most of the development dollars. Gone are the hard plastics and large gaps that long characterized Dodge interiors. In their place are soft, plush plastics and leather, real metal trim, and comfortable and supportive front seats. The changes are amazing, and leave no doubt as to the company’s intentions to – finally! – build truly competitive products.
Safety is boosted by six airbags, active head restraints, and standard ABS, ESC and traction control.
Standard equipment is reasonably generous in the $19,245 Express value-leader, with air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a four-speaker radio and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. The $21,245 Mainstreet should be the sweet spot for Avenger sales by adding the six-speed automatic, an eight-way power seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, climate control, heated mirrors, a six-speaker stereo, and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
Heat models start at $23,545 but come with the excellent V6, 18-inch wheels, dual exhaust, a rear spoiler, and fog lights. In addition, it adds a hard-disc-based music system and red accent stitching on the seats.
The $23,545 four-cylinder Lux should be easy to pigeon-hole, with heated leather seats, Uconnect hands-free, plusher materials, chromed 18-inch wheels and more, while the V6 is available for a price. Available options include a navigation system, sunroof and not much more.
The Avenger is a more complete package now than ever before, and has the interior, handling and refinement that are the equal of virtually any mid-sizer out there. Convincing those potential customers to even step foot into a Dodge dealer will be the company’s biggest problem, but at least those dealers will finally have some competitive products to show off.
What does Dodge have to lose at this point?