SCOTTSDALE, Ariz., - It looked a whole lot better in person. That's the first impression we had of the 2008 Dodge Avenger. Photos just don't do it justice.
The Avenger was longer, lower (it's actually four inches taller than the car it replaces) and sleeker than we expected. Although we had seen it at the Detroit Auto Show, we never worked our way through the throng of reporters to get up close and personal with the midsize sedan.
Our message is that if you see a photo of an Avenger and it doesn't move you, go to a dealership and see it live. And our second surprise was that there was a whole lot more to the Dodge Avenger than just its awfully good looks.
It had three engine choices, two transmissions and three trim levels. What's more, the top of the line Dodge Avenger R/T can be equipped with all- wheel- drive. It's exclusive to that model. We don't like that decision because it means that all- wheel- drive will be unavailable to the model that will be the volume leader: the Dodge Avenger SXT.
The four- cylinder engine made 173 horsepower and 166 pounds- feet of torque. The 2.7- liter V6 made 189 horsepower and 191 pounds- feet of torque. Both were mated to a four- seed transmission. The Avenger's six- speed transmission was reserved for the 3.5- liter V6 that made 235 horsepower and 232 pounds- feet of torque.
Our test vehicle was an SXT model equipped with a four cylinder engine. It can also be equipped with the 2.7- liter V6. At first we thought it was an R/T because it had a trunk lid spoiler. We found that for a skimpy $310, our test vehicle was equipped with the sport appearance package - a trunk lid spoiler and fog lamps which brought the price to about $20,000. We think we'll see a lot of this setup.
Anyway, we were really impressed with the Avenger. The audio system was thumping. It had MP3 capability and satellite radio was available. We plugged in our own iPod and rolled on down the road. Our Avenger had a chill bin that kept four cans of soda cool, not cold but cold. That's okay, on a long drive in hot weather cooled was good enough.
That's what we mean when we say that there's a lot more to the Avenger than just it good looks. In addition to the chill bin, the car can be equipped with a cupholder that can heat warm drinks up to 104 degrees or cool them down to 35 degrees. Its premium audio system is rooted to a 20 megabyte hard drive that can store 1,600 songs and store movies that can be played on a rear seat entertainment system. The Avenger can also be equipped with heated cloth seats.
Now, that's impressive for a midsize sedan. We were so enthralled by what was going on in the front seats of the Dodge Avenger that we never even bothered to sit in the back seats. But at a glance they seemed like they would be comfortable for two adults.
Our test vehicle was stable on the highway as we headed northwest to the Kirkland Steakhouse. The seats were really comfortable and they provided us some much needed lower back support. Steering was precise and throttle response was more than adequate for passing. Road and wind noise were minimal and the quality was really nice.
Since most of our time was spent climbing through the mountains on two- lane highways and on Interstates, we just didn't get a sense of how the Avenger handles traffic and noise, quick stops, cornering, parking and other hazards implicit in city driving.
The lone complaint we had was that the interior materials could have been better. Although grained, inside the Avenger were gobs of hard plastic. It didn't look cheap but it was close. When we got into the R/T model on our return drive, the armrest was padded but the rest of the interior, doors and dash, was still filled with that hard plastic.
We understand that interior material is a place where automakers can add or reduce cost. But if they spend a little money on better materials, we think Dodge would make a whole lot more money in increased sales.
Still, the Avenger is a much better car than the car it replaces, the Stratus which never came across as a Dodge. What we can say about the Avenger is that Dodge done good; prices start at $18,895. The Avenger is on sale now.