DANVILLE, Va. -- On a line of black pavement at Virginia International Raceway, a juicy R/T edition of Avenger -- Dodge's sports sedan bearing a NASCAR nameplate -- runs down the track's long straightaway at a clip way beyond the legal speed limit on any public highway. This modern muscle car flashes the menacing face of a bulldog and wears shapely body bulges over the sleek profile of a coupe despite a pair of doors hanging off each side.
Avenger's blunt-nosed hood stretches long and the body's beltline on flanks seems tall, with a roofline tapering toward the rear and squeezing window glass to narrow proportions.
Front and rear overhangs have been whittled away and the wheels on front and back corners convey an impression of strength and swift performance.
Avenger as the name of a car plate tracks back four decades to the Hillman Avenger in Great Britain and through a corporate connection with Chrysler Europe to derivations like the Chrysler Alpine in Europe, the Dodge 1500 of Brazil and Argentina, and the Plymouth Cricket in the USA.
During the 1994 season of IROC contests, NASCAR racers like Mark Martin steered a Dodge stock car which bore the name of Avenger.
For Dodge's 1995 consumer line the aged Daytona coupe was replaced with a sleek compact sports coupe which sported the Avenger badge borrowed from the IROC racer.
Then in 2007 a new Dodge Avenger stock car joined the Dodge Charger in NEXTEL Cup competition with the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow (COT) race series. And that led to a street-legal version as a four-door sedan with bold styling and clever accessories packaged as the 2008 Dodge Avenger.
Avenger with front-wheel-drive (FWD) traction slots into the class of mid-size sedans and for the editions of 2010 comes in two flavors with a different engine for each -- price-leader Avenger SXT and sporty Avenger R/T.
We log seat time in each version and find the car wears an independent suspension system tuned to deliver a smooth ride quality, with the passenger compartment, padded and insulated, amounting to a comfortable space filled with stylish appointments.
Each Avenger carries unique trim on the body.
For instance, the prow of Avenger R/T shows foglamps in the low fascia and at the tail there are dual exhaust pipes with chrome tips to accommodate a souped-up powertrain.
Avenger SXT the entry issue carries a 2.4-liter four-in-line engine with dual variable valve timing (VVT) to generate 173 hp at 6000 rpm plus torque muscle of 166 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.
The four-pack ties to a four-speed automatic transaxle with electronic controls.
This engine scores Avenger's best fuel economy numbers -- to 30 mpg for highway cruising.
Avenger R/T totes a zippy V6.
The single-cam 3.5-liter six-pack runs to 235 hp at 6400 rpm with 232 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
It ties to a six-speed electronic automatic with the AutoStick which offers easy automatic or shift-it-yourself manual modes.
With the V6, regular-grade fuel (87 octane) is recommended and the fuel economy figures drop to 16 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
Despite its low-slung posture, Avenger provides a passenger compartment of sizable scale.
Layout of the cabin consists of two big buckets up front and followed by a rear bench broad enough for three but with indented sections for two.
All chairs rise high so it's easy to slip laterally into a seat to climb aboard.
Up front, the driver fits in a comfortable sport bucket seat, which adjusts in multiple directions -- and with power controls added to the R/T.
Instruments in the dashboard cluster include three binnacles housing large round analog gauges with bright white faces and chrome rims.
And in a vertically-flush stack at the center of the dash are controls for climate and audio equipment plus the screen for an optional navigation system.
A floor-mounted center console contains the transmission's lever in a shifter gate dressed with chrome.
The back of the front passenger bucket folds forward to form a flat horizontal surface, and backs of the rear seat, divided into two separate sections, also fold for access to the trunk.
Long cargo items can be stacked on top of these folded seats and stretched from dash to trunk.
* A cupholder in the front console has hot/cold elements to keep a beverage piping hot or nearly freezing.
* Chill Zone in the dashboard is a cooler bin that holds four 12-oz. cans of beverage.
* The Boston Acoustics 276-watt premium sound system is packaged with a dashboard-mounted navigation system.
* UConnect adds hands-free wireless voice communication with a cell phone using Bluetooth technology.
Avenger SXT stocks power controls for windows and locks and mirrors, air conditioning, a tilting steering wheel and an audio package with a CD deck and MP3 connection.
Avenger R/T adds the foglamps, twin exhaust pipes, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and power controls for the driver's seat.
Measures for passenger safety in the cabin extend from the sturdy safety-cage construction to front seatbelts with load-limited and pretensioning apparatus, backseat restraints with upper and lower anchors to mount a child's seat, smart multi-stage air bags up front plus thorax side air bags in front seats and curtain-style air bags for outboard seats front and rear.
And the car contains active safety systems to avoid accidents, including a quick-response rack and pinion steering system, big disc brakes at all wheels plus an anti-lock brake system (ABS), emergency brake assist (EBA), electronic stability control (ESC) anti-skid device and a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Dodge sets the MSRP figure for a 2010 Avenger SXT at $21,180, or $22,400 for the Avenger R/T.