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Dodge Avenges the Nitro

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Dodge's Avenger is a conventional mid-sized four door sedan that looks kind of like a smaller and a bit more subtle Charger (not a bad thing). It's quite attractive, visibly a Dodge (if that's important to you) and gives reasonable driving pleasure for its price. Whether it's as good as, or better, than its competition will surely be settled objectively by the marketplace.

I got to test the R/T trim level, which in days gone by meant the vehicle would be hot. Heat is relative; I like colder temperatures than my wife, but when it comes to cars our roles reverse. The Avenger is her kind of hot, as is the Accord and Camry – fine cars, indeed. A 911 is mine….

The base Avenger comes with a 2.4-liter four cylinder "World Engine" featuring dual variable valve timing and putting out 172 horses @ 6000 rpm and 165 lb. ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm. My R/T came with the 3.5 liter V6, which is much more satisfying and, well, hot. It cranks out 235/232 horses/torque and is coupled to a six speed automatic with a manual mode that, curiously, shifts side to side and, curiously, often shifts when it pleases, seemingly.

Power is more than adequate, as is torque. Watch for some torque steer and engine noise, though.

Avenger also keeps avenging thanks to its independent suspension front and back, four wheel disc brakes with ABS and decent feeling rack and pinion steering. All wheel drive is available.

The Avenger drives nicely, but in an Accord/Camry/Sonata kind of niceness (which I guess means it's just right) but the interior isn't up to the standards of those competitors, at least so far as its rather cheap-looking plastic pieces and inside door handles are concerned.

The driver has a nice place in which to work, with a good-feeling steering wheel, straightforward instrumentation and controls, and good seats (my tester's were leather and heated). The driving position is good, though the sun visors seem cheap and the vanity mirrors look as if they were an afterthought.

The stereo rocks, though it's a tad bassy, and there are volume controls and the like duplicated on the steering wheel. I was surprised to see it play DVD's, even though there was no DVD screen (one is available); this let me bring my DVD Audio discs aboard and listen to them, albeit in "dumbed down" Dolby Digital rather than their native format. But it was better than most cars offer.

Storage space abounds, including dual glove boxes (the top one also functions as a cooler; the lower one can hit the passenger's knees). Headroom is good; I felt as if I could sit on a booster seat and still not hit the roof.

Visibility is good until you try to shoulder check, at which time the big C pillars get in your way. You can get around this by adjusting your other mirrors correctly, though.

You get the creature comforts and safety features you'd expect, including keyless entry, one touch up/down front windows and a gaggle of airbags.

I have no idea if the Avenger will carve enough of a niche to help Chrysler's new owners pay off the mortgage, but it seems like a reasonable attempt. I'm not convinced it's up to the quality of its major "foreign" competition, but it was definitely a pleasant surprise after that blasted Nitro.

The Dodge Avenger SE starts at $19,020 U.S./ $21,995 Canadian. The R/T starts at $23,670 U.S./ $28,895 Canadian.

Canada Free Press, CFP Editor Judi McLeod