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

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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Scottsdale, Arizona – With the introduction of the new Chrysler Sebring for 2007 you’d expect a comparable product from Dodge, and it arrives in the second quarter of this year in the form of the 2008 Dodge Avenger.

Sharing the Sebring platform, the Avenger takes its styling cues straight from the full-size Dodge Charger. The “mini Charger” look is quite deliberate, suggests Dodge Senior Manager Jim Yetter, and endows the Avenger with the four key qualities: “bold design, affordable power, capable and street smart, that characterize the Dodge brand,” he says.

In contrast with the Sebring, that means more male buyers (60%) than female, who are more likely to be married (75%) than not. However, the Avenger is an appealing vehicle that’s very competitively priced, so it may interest a wider spectrum of consumers than predicted (especially if those who typically buy imports are willing to give it a look).

2008 Dodge Avenger SXT

2008 Dodge Avenger SXT
2008 Dodge Avenger R/T. Photos courtesy of DaimlerChrysler. Click image to enlarge

Initially, the Avenger will be available only with front-wheel drive, but later in the year an all-wheel drive version will be offered. The Avenger will be sold in three trim levels: SE, SXT and R/T. Starting at $21,995, the four-cylinder, 2.4-litre 172-horsepower SE comes with a four-speed automatic transmission, standard side curtain airbags, four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system, tilt/telescope steering wheel, remote keyless entry, power mirrors, height adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40 split rear seat and 16″ steel wheels with covers. Fuel consumption for the 2.4L Avenger is rated at 9.7/6.6 litres per 100 kilometres, city/highway.

The SXT, with the same 2.4-litre “World” engine and four-speed automatic transmission, starts at $23,960. It adds anti-lock brakes, DaimlerChrysler’s YES Essentials stain resistant upholstery, power eight-way driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment, a fold-flat passenger seat, six-speaker audio system, chrome interior and exterior accents, and 17-inch aluminum wheels.

According to Judy Wheeler, DaimlerChrysler’s Vice President of Marketing, the Avenger “volume seller” is expected to be the $25,195 SXT with its 189-hp, 2.7-litre Flex Fuel V6 engine. Although E85 ethanol fuel is virtually unavailable in Canada at this time, this version of the Avenger offers a smooth V6 engine (that will of course run on any combination of gasoline and ethanol, up to 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) for the same price as four-cylinder midsize cars from Asian manufacturers. Fuel consumption for the 2.7L Avenger is rated at 10.8/7.2 litres per 100 kilometres, city/highway.

2008 Dodge Avenger SXT

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

“Domestic manufacturers pretty much have to offer a V6 in this class of car to compete with the import brands,” says Ms. Wheeler. “We’ve equipped and priced the V6 SXT to ensure we’re competitive.”

If you want still more power and performance, the “top-of-the-line” $28,670 Avenger R/T is equipped with a 3.5-litre, 235-hp V6 mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. This is the Avenger that most fully expresses the Dodge brand’s key attributes, as it is also fitted with a sportier suspension and bigger brakes that improve handling and stopping. The R/T also features smart, perforated, two-tone leather interior, leather steering wheel and shift knob, heated mirrors, automatic climate control (single zone), auto dimming rear-view mirror, automatic headlamps, dual exhaust, fog lamps, spoiler and 18-inch aluminum wheels. Fuel consumption for the 3.5L Avenger is rated at 12.9/7.7 litres per 100 kilometres, city/highway.

Electronic stability control is an optional extra on all but the R/T AWD, but not available on the SE. A sunroof is also optional (part of a package) as are several other interesting options, described below.

Dodge design and marketing executives use adjectives like “menacing,” “sinister,” and “aggressive” to describe the Avenger’s appearance, especially when viewed from the front, but in truth it’s not as intimidating as the marketing types suggest.

Compared with the Dodge Charger, whose grill leans forward, the Avenger’s grille is subtly slanted back, which softens its appearance somewhat and makes it more aerodynamic. At the rear, the fenders directly quote the Charger’s “flip” over the back wheel, and give the car a muscular look. But in total, while the Avenger indeed appears substantial and distinctive, its lines will be more agreeable to a larger number of consumers than the “in your face” styling and size of the Dodge Charger.

2008 Dodge Avenger SXT

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

Inside, the Avenger greets you with a tidy and pleasant two-tone design, white face gauges, alloy silver-look trim and easy-to-use controls. All Avengers feature the “Chill Zone” drink cooler which is located above the glove box and holds four 340 ml cans, and cupholders in the centre console which can be heated and cooled (a first, I think, but not available on the SE). The centre armrest has a container for your iPod (or like device) and all Avengers have an auxiliary plug for same.

The sunvisors seem small and flimsy, with mirrors rather crudely attached to their surface. While map pockets are located in the doors, there does seem to be a paucity of places to store items like phones, wallets, keys, etc. And I noticed that some of the trim panels on the inside of the doors were not uniformly fitted. Front seat passengers would surely like a grab handle a la many other brands (which also have side curtain airbags).

2008 Dodge Avenger R/T

2008 Dodge Avenger R/T

2008 Dodge Avenger R/T
2008 Dodge Avenger R/T. Click image to enlarge. More Photos

The A-pillar is thick, requiring the driver to peer around it on occasion, but the tilt/telescope steering and multi-adjustable driver’s seat will enable most drivers to find a comfortable driving position. The armrest between the front seats moves forward up to 7.5 centimetres if required by shorter drivers, and rear seat legroom is generous no matter how far back the front seats are positioned. The trunk is large and evenly proportioned.

An innovative option available on the SXT and R/T is the “MyGig” multimedia “infotainment” system, that combines navigation system, 20-gigabyte hard drive on which you can store your music in MPEG form, Sirius satellite radio and “UConnect” hands free system. A rear seat video DVD entertainment system is also available on the SXT and R/T, and heated front seats are available on all trim levels.

On the road, the three Avenger versions perform quite differently. The suspension on the SE and SXT is tuned for ride, and can produce body roll in corners. These models are, however, very smooth on the highway, and quiet in around-town driving.

The 172-hp of the four-cylinder engine promises more than it delivers, though, likely due to the lack of torque at low engine speeds. Its maximum torque of 166 foot-pounds arrives at a rather high 4,400 rpm, and this can make the four-cylinder Avenger feel sluggish off the line, and in passing manoeuvres. And while Dodge has attempted to reduce engine noise with insulation, this engine doesn’t have a particularly pleasant sound when accelerating.

The 189-hp, 2.7-litre V6 of the SXT is a better bet. At $25,195, it is quieter and smoother than the 2.4L four-cylinder when accelerating, and virtually silent at highway speeds. Torque is up to 191 lb.ft at 4,000 rpm which is also a noticeable improvement over the 2.4. Additionally, an SXT so equipped receives disc brakes front and rear, rather than the rear drums of the four-cylinder cars.

The 235-hp, 3.5-litre R/T is something of a different car. Acceleration is brisk and sporty, the engine is smooth and refined, and the six-speed transmission is effective at all speeds (no lurching or hunting for gears). The R/T’s handling is sharp and precise, and it combines with a very agreeable ride (even with 18-inch wheels). It’s actually more European in its driving manners, although all Avengers are decidedly North American in styling.

The Dodge Avenger is an attractively designed and distinctive car. Dodge is working hard to provide desirable features in compelling packages, and if the Avenger can attract attention in the busy midsize sector, it could prove to be very popular. The absence of standard anti-lock brakes on all trim levels is unfortunate, I think, but the inclusion of side curtain airbags is notable. Traction control and electronic stability control are also optional on all front-drive models, but you’d think they’d be standard on the R/T at least.

The 2008 Dodge Avenger is worth your time if you’re researching a vehicle of this type. The R/T in particular is a standout in terms of ride, handling and performance.

Dodge Avengers are built in Sterling Heights, Michigan.


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www.dodge.ca

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