Dodge’s Avenger and it’s Chrysler Sebring compatriot may have been the two most-reviled mid-size sedans on the planet in 2010. For 2011, a major overhaul of both models—and a new moniker for the Sebring—aim to change that.
Armed with an available new V-6 and a new interior, the Avenger is but one of several Chrysler or Dodge products that has either been redesigned or refreshed for 2011. As it pulls out of bankruptcy and tries to make its marriage with Fiat work, Chrysler Group desperately needs the Avenger and 200 to be a hit in the mid-size class. Can the Avenger be lifted out of the basement and brought up to play with the rest of the group?
Unlike the 200, which is mostly reskinned when compared to the Sebring, the Avenger’s exterior looks change little. There’s a new “split crosshair” grille; revised front, front lower, and rear fascias; new fog lamps; and new rear taillights.
Other than that, the familiar shape remains. Some deride it as too blocky, others find it sporty. Either way, those hoping for a new design will need to wait a while.
We’ll reserve further judgment on the looks until the next update comes along, but for now, it’s entirely possible that some consumers will confuse it for the old model, which could be a problem for Dodge.
The revised interior includes more soft-touch materials, a more coherent shape, new gauges, and a new steering wheel. Chrysler’s Uconnect multimedia-suite interface and the climate controls look familiar, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Overall, the new interior is much better looking. It’s not the top of the class, but it’s class competitive. At last. No more rental car feel.
Our tester had Uconnect, but did not have the available wireless cell phone link or navigation system, although it did offer a USB hookup for iPods.
The seats are fairly comfortable, although they lose some of that on longer drives. Leg and head room are a tick above average for taller drivers.
The trunk is fairly spacious, although the opening is a little small.
There are two available engines, a 2.4-liter that makes 173 horsepower and a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that makes 283 horsepower. Both mate to a six-speed automatic transmission. We had a chance to sample the V-6 over several days while driving across California.
Acceleration with the V-6 is stout and surprisingly brisk, with the engine giving off a bit of snarl under hard acceleration. There are faster cars in this class, but the Avenger now keeps up, whereas the old model would leave you staring at taillights.
The ride is a bit stiff without being unduly harsh, while the steering feel is much improved. Handling is, dare we say, sporty?
Indeed, the Avenger attacks corners in a way that the last model wouldn’t, although it ultimately succumbs to understeer and body roll when pushed too hard. Again, it’s not the best in class—the Mazda 6, Suzuki Kizashi, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, and Honda Accord, among others, all handle better—but now the Avenger has moved into respectability.
Despite its stiffness, the highway ride is comfortable enough for long highway drives, as we discovered on a long highway slog from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
There are flaws. Despite the improved steering, the Avenger is still a shade shy of truly sporting. The brakes are average, and the transmission seems ill-matched to the engine. Road and engine noise intrude a little too much on the cabin. And Uconnect didn’t seem able to download MP3s from an iPod onto the hard drive.
When it comes to driving dynamics, the Avenger is much, much better than it used to be. That’s the good news. It still has a ways to go, especially in terms of fun to drive factor, but for once, it’s not embarrassing to be seen behind the wheel of one.
With the new Avenger, Durango, Charger, Journey, Grand Caravan, and updated Challenger, Dodge is in the midst of quite the product makeover. Chrysler is moving its brands full-steam ahead as it tries to emerge from one of the roughest periods in company history. It has its hands full. While some products are fully redesigned—Charger, Durango, and Jeep Grand Cherokee among them—others will have to bridge the gap as refreshed models until replacements are ready to launch. So it is with the much-changed Avenger, which still owes much to the previous platform.
Still, the result is very good. This feels like a different car, even if it isn’t completely overhauled. The major makeover—new V-6, revised suspension, updated styling, new interior—conceals most of the old flaws, without creating many new ones.
The Avenger is like that ugly kid in class that had a growth spurt over the summer, while simultaneously improving its grades. It still hasn’t earned teacher’s pet status, but no longer will it linger in V-6
· Upgraded interior
· Decent trunk space
· Improved steering feel
· Handling that actually induces an occasional grin
· Respectable fuel economy
· Still looks like old Avenger, despite styling tweaks
· Still a tad shy of the best handlers in the class
· Brake feel is average
· A bit too nosiy