Dodge Avenger: Something different

 The Car Family

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If ever a car was misnamed it is the Dodge Avenger. By definition avenger implies inflicting pain or harm to retaliate for real or fancied wrongs. There is nothing in this passive sedan that can come anywhere close to inflicting pain or righting a wrong. It is a calm, relaxing, vehicle that just wants to do your bidding without an assault on anyone or anything, least of all your wallet. In essence it is easy going. Priced at $19.000 and similar under the skin to its less aggressive looking sister, the Chrysler Sebring, this is clearly a model dedicated to those who are looking for an attractive and all American alternative to the Toyota Camry/Honda Accord/Ford Fusion/ Nissan Altima buyers.

What is most noteworthy about the Avenger, outside of its bargain pricing and roomy interior, is the Chill Zone. This is literally a beverage cooler in the area around the glove compartment that can hold several containers and works well. There is also the

MyGig option which is a hard drive and audio, navigation, and entertainment center that enables you to download music and even photos. No one else comes close to offering these distinct features in a vehicle in this price range.

Mom’s view: The standard 2.4-liter four lets you know it is hard at work and is noisy at all speeds. On the other hand it moves the vehicle fast enough to not be a burden on the onramp and also returns over 26 mpg. The four-speed automatic does its best to keep the engine on task, but there is no doubt that a larger engine would make it a “newer” vehicle. Personally, it they could get that Hemi engine in this chassis they would have the rebirth of the muscle car.

Of note are the seat coverings. They don’t look trendy, but are said to be soil repellant and be made of a fabric that protects from stains, orders, and is antic-micobialic. You can also get heated seats, which I always like. The heater takes a while to get going in the Avenger and the air conditioner is equally slow to respond to urgent requests. Once underway the heating and air work fine. The Avenger has LED interior lighting and it is directional, which is very useful when you drop your keys between the seats or have trouble reading a road map.

The dash and instrument are a little difficult to read with their fine fonts, but the night lighting is good. I always would like it if the side view mirror controls were lighted, too. The layout is simple and everything is easy to reach. The seats could use more padding and the color selections are a bit dark for my tastes. We didn’t get a vehicle with the My GIG audio system combined with the navigation unit, but it shouldn’t be difficult to figure out if you have done your homework. 

The rear seat is fine for two adults, tight for more and is really best for youngsters. The head restraints can’t be moved which does impact on rear visibility, especially with the small mirror and high trunk. You can fold down the rear seats to expand the relatively small, 13.4-cubic-foot trunk. The seats have a 60/40-split. You can also fold down the passenger seat should you need to haul a long item.

Safetywise you have multi-stage front air bags, full side-curtain air bags, a tire pressure monitor, front-seat-mounted side air bags and optional ABS, and a stability program that works with brake assist and traction control. This feature is very worthwhile in any vehicle and a must in any family car. This feature is standard on the more expensive Avenger models.

Stopping the Dodge relies on a front disc/rear drum brakes in the base models and all discs for the upscale SXT models with the V6 and all R/T models. Our test car didn’t have great brake pedal feel, but it wasn’t offensive. I like a progressive feel and the Avenger was more of a softer initial reaction followed by an aggressive braking action.

The ride is smooth and there are plenty of interesting options to make any trip more interesting. However, the bottom line is that the interesting exterior, exceptionally roomy interior, and great fuel mileage are offset by a smallish trunk, rather inexpensive feeling seat fabrics, and soft brake feel. Is it better than the Status it replaces? No question about it, but for a little more I would go with the Dodge Charger. As it now stands, the Avenger could appeal to a young family that wants a functional sedan with a little style.

Dad’s view: I really wanted to like the Dodge Avenger more and after a week with it I began to appreciate it more. The front wheel drive sedan is rated as a midsize and comes with a four or six cylinder. I didn’t like the noisy four-cylinder engine, but I would still go with it unless I felt the need for speed.  The 173-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder just takes a while to get up to speed, but once you are there the satisfaction of over 30 mpg on the highway offsets any negatives you might have. A flex-fuel 2.7-liter V-6 engine and an available 3.5-liter V-6 engine mated to a new six-speed automatic transaxle with Auto Stick are options. Chrysler is one of the few manufacturers offering flex fuel vehicles.

The Avenger R/T model has a more potent engine and better handling, but it costs several thousand dollars more. The choice buyers are going to have to make is whether or not to consider the Avenger a bargain priced sedan or a sporty one. It certainly looks sporty, but you need to drive both to make your decision, as the handling on the R/T is very different than the other models. I think the braking wasn’t up to the looks of the car, but is adequate for a car in this price range.

Overall, the Avenger is the best Dodge sedan of this size ever. It can be ordered in a variety of disguises and gives you a fair return on your investment. I happen to like the Dodge Caliber and Dodge Charger a lot more, but they are far different than the Avenger.

College going males’ view: The Avenger has the most unique electronic components of any car. It is a must see. First, it has a rear-seat entertainment system, which is very unusual for a car in this price range. The Saturn sedan was the only one I remember that had a similar set up. This system allows Dodge Avenger’s rear-seat passengers to watch movies listen to music or play video games using the 7-inch screen. It plays DVDs, WMAs, MP3s and audio and video CDs. Additionally, auxiliary input jacks on the faceplate show video directly from a video camera, so Avenger’s rear-seat passengers can play games from a video-game console or listen to music directly from a portable MP3 player. This is truly state of the automotive electronic art. And, when the entertainment system is not in video mode it can display information in a split screen format, with two channels. The headphones enable listeners to tap into either channel by use of the switch located on the right ear cup. And, if that isn’t enough, this feature could enable the rear seat crowd to listen to two audio casts at the same time. Don’t ask who thought of that feature and be heard through the Avenger’s stereo. The headphones are wireless.

There is also a  Harman Kardon navigation system and audio unit with a built in 20GB hard drive that is truly a novelty. The MyGIG combines an entertainment and navigation audio system with a 6.5-inch display touch display panel. Combined with satellite radio you can get traffic rerouting, There are also bird’s eye and regular map viewing modes and the display panel can be turned 180 degrees to make it easier to read and reduce glare.

The system is voice activated, too, and recognizes 100,000 words and can be taught new ones. Really interesting and worth a trip to the dealership just to see it in action. This is easily the most unique audiovisual piece of equipment in any car I have tested. Where else can you see a display panel that is supposed to give you 65,000 colors? 

You can also order a satellite radio connection and get a stereo that has a MP3 connection as well as holding six CD or DVD discs. The USB is based on the MP3’s connectivity and puts WMA, MP3, and JPEGs into the unit’s hard drive. The Avenger also offers Gracenote with its song, composer, and artist displays, a play list creator, voice memo recording with a microphone that it tucked into the rearview mirror. The Gracenote music file management program can hold up to 1600 songs should you plan a 100-hour trip and not want to repeat the same music.

The front radio screen can even play videos when the car is in Park, which essentially makes every lover’s lookout a drive-in theater.

As well, there is an Uconnect Hands-free Communication System that has the phone buttons in the radio control panel. This devise can hold 128 phone numbers, has call transfer, can be programmed in English, French, and Spanish, has a mute and microphone, and recognizes up to seven phones as it uses Bluetooth.

All of this is terrific to play with and enjoy, but the Avenger just didn’t light my fire. Perhaps it was the base engine’s moan at practically all speeds, but I wanted a tad more grunt and glamour. Perhaps with the more expensive optional packages such as the R/T I would have been smitten. But to me the base vehicle just wasn’t a fun place to be. As it is the Avenger is basic transportation in a nice dress and she doesn’t ask you to take her to expensive places such as gas stations very often. Fun, but not playful.

Young working woman’s view: The seating position is quite high for a sedan and the low hood gives exceptional front visibility. The high trunk and small rear view mirror make that view a little more difficult. The interior has generous room capable of even handling even an old “bee hive” hair do, but the trunk is a tad small with just over 13 cubic feet.

We always question the need for an all wheel drive system with a vehicle that does not have an abundance of power or ground clearance, but it is going to be an option for those who feel it would be of benefit.  The Dodge system sends power to the front wheels until the computers detect slippage and transfer power at that time to the rear wheels. It is not a viscous-coupling system and is thus less demanding of the engine and more economical to operate.

The Avenger was also meant to be fun to drive. Unfortunately, unless you order the larger engine this car is not fun on the road. It is a good driver, but lacks the spirit under the hood. Of course, with a starting price under $19,00 and with a lot of standard features, it is certainly priced right. You even get power windows, doors and locks, an electroluminescent cluster with outside temperature display, sport steering wheel, tilt/telescoping steering column, driver seat with lumbar with manual height adjuster, AM/FM/CD radio with MP3 connectivity and play capability, an upper and lower bin in the center console, 60/40 folding rear-seat with center arm rest, rear door map pockets with bottle holders and driver’s side front-seat-back map pocket, remote keyless illuminated entry, Sentry Key® Engine Immobilizer and theft alarm with the base model, according to Dodge.

No question that the Avenger has a cute look and the pricing isn’t bad either. It certainly is better to look at than the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, but it still lacks that special flavor that would push it ahead of the competition. Designed for the 30-45-years-old, married couple it was meant to be both youthful and a lifestyle vehicle. Something that is unique, well priced, and stylish.

Family conference: There is a great value, but you get what you pay for. The electronic options are marvelous, the standard features a bargain, but you have to decide whether or not you want basic transportation or a fun ride. The difference is over $5000. Either way, it is much better priced than the competition and far more interesting to look at. We recommend the bigger Dodge Charger, or our favorite, the remarkable Dodge Caliber. For a list of all vehicle websites go to http://www.reacheverychild.com/business/index.html

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