2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger SXT. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Chris Chase
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The Avenger name has a lot of history within Chrysler. Many will remember the first Dodge Avenger, the Mitsubishi-based coupe sold from 1995 to 2000. Go back to the 1970s, and you’ll find out that the Avenger name was originally used by Chrysler of Europe on a pair of Chrysler and Talbot cars, and a predecessor to this car was called the Hillman Avenger. That Hillman, by the way, was imported to Canada as the Plymouth Cricket in the early 1970s.

But enough about the past: the Avenger is back for 2008, once again being sold under Dodge banners across North America, and this time, it’s a sedan based on the redesigned Chrysler Sebring that went on sale for 2007.

Like the Sebring, the Avenger can be had with a pair of V6 engines (editor in chief Greg Wilson reviewed the 3.5-litre V6-equipped Avenger R/T a few weeks ago) but my tester was a mid-level SXT model with the entry-level 2.4-cylinder engine and a four-speed automatic.

2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger SXT. Click image to enlarge

Sounds like a pretty dull ride, but in many ways, I actually preferred it to the Sebring I drove a few weeks previous to my stint in the Avenger.

On the road, the Avenger feels lighter and more tossable than the Sebring, with what feels like a firmer suspension, though I don’t think its actual handling is any better. One of my favourite aspects of this platform is the unexpectedly terrific brake feel, even in my tester, which sported drum brakes in the rear. The pedal is firm and responsive and allows for excellent modulation in panic stops.

The 2.4-litre “world” engine feels underpowered compared to the big 3.5-litre V6 (I haven’t driven one of these cars with the mid-level 2.7-litre V6 motor) but there’s plenty of power for tooling around the city. It’s only in pedal-to-the-floor acceleration and passing manoeuvres that my tester felt breathless, but that’s the price you pay for a four-cylinder’s thriftier fuel consumption. According to my calculations, my tester averaged 11.8 L/100 km in mostly city driving; that’s higher than the 10.5 L/100 km reported by the car’s on-board computer, and higher than the Natural Resources Canada city rating of 9.7 L/100 km.

The Avenger’s four-banger comes with a four-speed automatic transmission (as does the smaller V6). That’s one gear less than most of the Avenger’s competition comes with in base form, but believe it or not, it’s preferable to the new six-speed that comes with the 3.5-litre engine.

2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger SXT. Click image to enlarge

Chrysler’s been using this four-speed for a while, and it has had its share of reliability issues, but it’s a far smoother shifter than the six-speed is. It’s also far quicker to downshift when acceleration is needed and, despite only having four cogs, seems to be well-matched to the engine’s 173 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque.

The Avenger gets a slightly different interior compared to its Sebring sibling, but the uninspired fit-and-finish is still here. The difference, for me at least, is that the Avenger isn’t trying as hard: the Sebring, by all outward appearances, wants to be a luxury car, while the Avenger is undoubtedly a run ‘o the mill family sedan. So while interior quality still left a lot to be desired – adjacent panels on the doors and dash don’t quite match colour-wise, and a trim piece on the passenger door was halfway to falling off – at least it seems less out of place here. (What surprises, though, is that the Avenger and Sebring are priced just a thousand bucks or so from each other.)

2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger SXT. Click image to enlarge

But there were a few stand-out features in the Avenger. It’s roomy inside, front and back, and the seats are pretty comfortable all around. I did hear one complaint from back-seat riders, and it has to do with the design of the rear doors: the blacked out panel at the back of the door makes for poor sight lines for just about anyone, and short riders (i.e., kids) will have trouble even seeing over the top of the door. One thing I wasn’t complaining about: the heated seats (part of the $500 Convenience Group) were really nice to have on a few cold mornings; they warm up quickly too, bringing warmth to our behinds by the time I’d reach the end of my (short) street.

The trunk is a useful size and shape, but why the ugly, unlined trunk lid?

Visibility out from the driver’s seat is good, save for the view to the back, which is hampered by the high trunk and, to a small degree, by my tester’s optional decklid spoiler. While the gauges are perfectly legible, I have to wonder (as I did when I had the Sebring) why the needles don’t light up at night. Dark pointers silhouetted against backlit gauges aren’t all that visible in the dark.

The LED interior lights, including aimable reading lights front and back, are a great touch, providing brilliant, crisp light perfect for peering at a map while pulled over by the side of some dark country road.

2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger SXT. Click image to enlarge

My tester had the basic single-disc CD stereo, but was equipped with the $250 Boston Acoustic speaker option, a stand-alone choice on the Avenger that’s well worth the cash if you listen to a lot of music in the car. (My Sebring tester had these speakers too, but as part of a $400 package.)

The large open storage bin ahead of the shifter is handy too (particularly given the tiny door pockets) and it’s my preference to the covered cubby in the Sebring, which features a cheap, undamped door that belongs in an economy car.

I’m glad to see the Avenger name return to Canadian roads. The name is good (if rather wasted on a mid-size sedan), and so is the car. Like so many Chrysler products, though, it has a long way to go before it can be called a great car.


Pricing: 2008 Dodge Avenger SXT

  • Base price: $24,095
  • Options: $1,875 (Convenience group of heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, one-touch up and down front windows, and remote start, $500; Sport Appearance Group of fog lights and trunklid spoiler, $400; Premium Convenience Group of automatic climate control, automatic headlights, LED interior lighting, heated/cooled cupholder, instrument cluster with display screen/trip computer, rear cargo organizer, lighted vanity mirrors, tire pressure monitoring system, $725; Boston Acoustics speakers, $250)
  • Freight: $1,300
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Price as tested: $27,360 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


Competitors

  • 2008 Chrysler Sebring
  • 2008 Ford Fusion
  • 2008 Chevrolet Malibu
  • 2008 Honda Accord
  • 2008 Hyundai Sonata
  • 2008 Kia Magentis
  • 2008 Nissan Altima
  • 2008 Toyota Camry
  • 2008 Mazda6


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