Scottsdale, AZ - Let's be truthful, I'm in Scottsdale for the sun. It's January, 2007, Scottsdale is sounding heavenly, relaxing by the pool, getting a little sunburn. No Sir, not going to happen. It is snowing in Scottsdale on Sunday. The snow turns to hail as we sit inside and watch the Bears and the Colts realize their dreams to go to the Superbowl.
The next morning we get up and the sun is out and the day warms to a beautiful 55 degrees, just in time for us to drive the new Dodge Avenger. According to Tom Loveless, marketing director for Dodge products, Dodge is the fifth largest brand in the United States, capturing about six percent of the U.S. market place. Dodge is also the largest brand in the DaimlerChrysler family, delivering almost 1.4 million vehicles worldwide.
We've all heard that Chrysler is having problems with their inventory. It's funny how you know a brand, you hear about a brand, you drive their cars. But, when you hear the numbers, you are surprised by the numbers. Like the fact Loveless gave, that the Magnum and the Nitro buyers are younger than the rest of the segment buyers and that 30 percent of Dodge's buyers are under 35 years old. Maybe it's because Dodge seems so masculine to me, so male. And the big numbers come from pickups sold to males. Dodge is known for assertiveness, for pumping up the muscle design in their cars. The Avenger will skew male, like the rest of Dodges. Dodge created more command of the road by making the Dodge four inches taller. The headlights are big and bold, the grille is as wide as Dodge could make it. The spoiler is not an add-on, it's standard, and it's all-male.
There are three engines to pick from and five models. Starting at $18,895, including destination charge, is the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder SE. The 2.4 i-4 is the new engine from the joint venture between Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Dodge. The SE gets 173 horsepower and 166 lb.-ft of torque. Dodge says you get 21 city/30 highway miles per gallon using unleaded gasoline. SE comes standard with 16 inch wheels. The 16-inch wheels don't dampen the road noise like the 18-inch wheels do, so if you hear the noise think of getting bigger tires.
The SXT starts at $19,795, including destination charge, with the 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder. You can get the SXT with the retuned 2.7-liter V-6 engine for an extra $1,300. The 2.7-liter gets 189 horsepower and 191 lb.-ft of torque. Dodge says you get 19 city/27 highway miles per gallon using unleaded gasoline. SXT comes standard with 17-inch aluminum wheels. The 2.7-liter is gasoline or flex-fuel.
Last is the 3.5-liter, V-6 with two models; the R/T FWD and the R/T AWD. Both models get 235 horsepower and 222 lb.-ft of torque. Look at the chrome grille and the black in the light casing to tell whether the car is an R/T. R/T comes standard with 18-inch wheels. You can tell it's an R/T from the back by the dual exhaust. The AWD will be available in the second quarter of 2007.
The all-wheel drive has an electronically controlled clutch (ECC) system with an internal two-stage clutch. The clutch has an electronic control module that calculates pedal position and wheel speed through a sensor that modulates torque. Under performance demand or slippery road conditions, where the driver wants more road performance, the ECC unit will clamp and deliver the appropriate amount of torque. Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and traction control are also standard on the all-wheel drive. This is the same ECC that is available on the Chrysler Pacifica all-wheel drive.
I drove two R/Ts, one that was about $24,000 and one that was about $30,000. Past sales on the Dodge Stratus were skewed towards the 6-cylinder. Dodge has said they expect Avenger sales of the SXT to be 50-60 percent, SE to be about 10 percent, the R/T FWD to be 25 percent and the rest to go to the R/T AWD. This will be the first all-wheel drive for Dodge in this segment.
The face of the Avenger is not as muscular as the Charger, but from the B-pillar back it looks like the Charger. One would naturally think this was because they wanted to differentiate the Charger from the Avenger. My thought was they were going after the woman buyer. But the front was smoothed out for aerodynamics; that's right better fuel mileage. I still think you'll find more women interested in the Avenger. In a segment that has more women buyers than men, that would be good a thing.
The interior of the Avenger is comfortable, intuitive, and easy to use. The seats are comfortable even on a long drive through the desert. There's a "chill zone" where the glove box used to be that will keep four cans of pop cold. First for Dodge is a folding front passenger seat with both seats in the back folding as well. The center console in the back has cup holders and there are more cupholders molded into the doors in the back. There is a heated/cool cup holder in the center console. MYGIG and iPod auxiliaries were standard on the car. The only issue for me was too much plastic, not enough soft feel to the car. Even Ford's vehicles had cushiony sidearms in the doors.
The mid-size compact segment is the most competitive segment in the market. The total market makes up over 13 percent of sales each year. According to the Power Information Network (PIN), the main competitors in the mid-compact market, in order of mid-size compact marketshare are; Toyota Camry 17.41%, Honda Accord 1.52%, Nissan Altima 10.18%, Chevrolet Malibu 7.18%, Pontiac G6 6.9%, Hyundai Sonata 6.55%, Ford Fusion 6.24%, Subaru Legacy 3.7%, Buick LaCrosse 3.11%, Mazda Mazda6 2.90%, Chrysler Sebring Sedan/Conv 2.90%, Volkswagen Passat 2.37%, Dodge Stratus Sedan 1.83%, Kia Optima 1.68%, Mercury Milan 1.57%, Mitsubishi Galant 1.21%, Saturn Aura 0.86%
Chrysler already has the Sebring in the mid-compact segment and they sold a little over 66,000 units of the sedan and the convertible last year. But Dodge has said they want to compete against the Ford Fusion, and the Pontiac G6. The Ford Fusion sold over 142,000 and the Pontiac G6 sold over 157,000 units in 2006.
The competition is only going to get stiffer; the Saturn Aura just won the North American Car of the Year award (NACOTY), so people that may not have looked at the Aura before will take notice. Why would Dodge enter this market? Because Dodge dealers need a car in this segment to be competitive in the market. In 2005 large pickups were larger than the mid-size compact segment, but that changed in 2006. The mid-size compact segment is is the largest segment of any market for 2006.
If I read it right Dodge wants somewhere between 144,000 and 157,000 sales. Chrysler gets around 66,000 from the Sebring. How will Dodge position the Avenger differently than the Stratus it replaces? And how will it position the Avenger to do better than the newly designed Sebring? According to Glenn Jackson, General Manager of Tate Dodge in Maryland, "Tate owns a Chrysler dealership as well as a Dodge dealership Sebring has been a challenge - beyond the car itself. They should have renamed the car, because it's a completely different car (from the previouse Sebring of the same name)."
Changing the name and the styling is key and Dodge did this. Pricing is key and Dodge took into account their residual (resale) value compared to their competitors and set the price competitively. My suggestion is the V-6 R/T. It's worth the extra cash for the bigger wheels, meaning less road noise, and the extra horsepower. After all, even women like extra horsepower.