The cars we loved.
The Dodge Avenger name has a short history of attractive design but mediocre performance. It was first introduced as a replacement for the Plymouth Laser and Dodge Daytona. As such it was a stylish personal coupe that offered something close to near luxury with sporty looks. With less luxury than a Mazda MX6 and less performance than the Eclipse/Talon that it was spawn from, the Avenger coupe was content to fade in to the background of Dodge’s lineup for most of the 90’s.
Fast forward about 10 years and the Avenger name has been resurrected, this time as a sedan. By now, Chrysler has developed a sordid track record of turning formally sporty coupe nameplates into sedans (Sebring and Charger for instance). The all new Avenger was the first of this recent trend. The Avenger was sourced from the JS platform made in a partnership that included Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Hyundai and depending on the engine choice, Volkswagen in some markets. One of the bi-products of so many automakers having a hand in development of this car was the dizzying array of transmission and engine options (mostly for Europe).
Depending on which of three models you chose (SX, SXT,R/T) you could have your choice of no less than three four cylinder engines ranging from 2.0 normally aspirated or turbocharged to a 2.4 world engine(with a diesel option from Volkswagen). Middle range models featured two V6 engines ranging from 2.7 L to the powerful 3.5 L in the sporty R/T models. The vast majority sold were 4 cylinder base or middle range models with normally aspirated engines putting out around 160hp. The entire engine range of four cylinder power plants featured advanced technology like variable valve technology for smooth power delivery and efficiency.
The new Avenger flips the old legacy of good looks/sub- par performance of the first car. For the first time the Avenger could be associated with performance ( in R/T guise). With a sub 7 second 0 to 60 time, the R/T offered smaller scale thrills compared to the Chrysler 400, but was more fun to drive due to its smaller size and lighter weight. Handling was more than competent on all models due to independent suspension. Middle models were offered with appearance packages that included 17 inch chrome wheels that gave the otherwise truckey Avenger sports sedan looks.
Unfortunately, sales were never all that good, despite creature comforts like heated /cooled cup holders (one of the biggest selling points of the car) and sporty appearance packages. The Avenger is sold in Europe as a replacement for the Neon where it sell even fewer units. Here the model line was simplified significantly in 2009 with just two models and engines being offered: the 2.4 L 174 hp four cylinder in the SXT and the 235 hp 3.5 L V6 in the R/T.
As of 2010, it was still possible to buy a brand new 2009 model from dealerships across the country as excess inventory and low sales conspired to keep dealer lots full. Part of the reason the car may not have sold well is that unlike the innovative Stratus sedan from a decade ago, the Avenger is just ordinary aside from its polarizing (ugly?) appearance. The overall look is nothing short of brutish with a design vocabulary more befitting a Ram truck than a mainstream family sedan. The interior is more conventional in appearance with a simple streamlined look that leaned toward sporty. Chrysler tried hard to tie the Avenger’s looks to the Charger by giving it a familiar C pillar and rear end treatment. The unfortunate face is more truck like and gives the car an awkward look from most angles.
The bold American Sedan look worked with the Charger, but in the Avenger it was simply too bold. As if to exaggerate the bold aspect even further, Dodge showed several concept design exercises that featured aggressive ground effects, larger wheels and a 6.1 liter Hemi engine straight out of the Dodge Magnum SRT-8. The lowered white car reminded many of storm troopers from Star Wars. The would be Avenger SRT-8 garnered a lot of excitement in the automotive press and in dealerships, but was never offered a s a model.
Another notable concept shown in 2003 (after the first generation coupe and five years before the new car) was decidedly SUV like in appearance with large wheels and all wheel drive, making it a kind of crossover vehicle before that segment would later storm the market. Neither of the concepts made it to market, but various subtle aspects of each became options or design cues in later versions.
It’s not quite fire sale time at Dodge dealerships, but industry analyst are watching the Avenger closely to see what Chrysler will do to extend public interest until a new Fiat based platform will replace it. The Avenger is one of the rare design misses from Chrysler in recent years, so anything new will be a welcomed improvement, even if it really is a Fiat underneath.