Dodge is on the rebound. Sales are brisk, with some dealers reporting their best month in January of this year since the economic crisis started, according to a report at CNN. New models, including a beefy Jeep Grand Cherokee that lets you raise the vehicle for ground clearance with the push of a button, have helped the troubled automaker find their footing. Many of Dodge and Chryslers best models are either getting a refresh or design tweaks, and the 2011 Dodge Avenger is no different.
Interestingly, Dodge chose to emphasize certain features on the car while postponing a few other innovations, possibly until the next model year. In the Avenger, there are two rather startling specs to note. One is that the engine is no slouch. After driving the 2012 Ford Focus, with its 4-cyclinder engine, up and down the hills of Southern California a while back, we welcomed a more powerful sedan.
We tested the Avenger Heat version, which costs about $23,000 and has fog lights, heated seats, 18-inch wheels, a V6 engine, and a more sporty design. The new Avenger has a close-cousin, the new Chrysler 200, with a similarly-sized engine and styling, although that vehicle is a bit more sleek and elegant.
Muscular outside, mediocre inside
Styling on the Avenger is fairly similar to the 2010 model with a pronounced rounded rear and a muscular, boxy design. Our all black model has a rear spoiler and looks a bit like a classic muscle car and not a business sedan.
The interior is a slight improvement over the last model year, which made excessive use of plastic, and is now laden with some extra cloth-like material that adds some color and style. The Avenger doesn’t really scream high-style inside or out, but is good enough for this price point and unexpected engine size.
That said, are a few surprises that annoyed us. One is that, when you slip into the car, there is a sliding arm rest that slides too easily. In fact, if you use the arm rest to brace yourself for a moment as you slide your feet in, you might actually slip as you get in.
Rear seating on the Avenger is also just passable, not roomy. In this class, you also won’t find any extra conveniences – the trunk doesn’t pop open, it just unlatches. There are seat warmers, but they only work in two modes: barely heating and almost too hot.
New engine, old-school power
The Avenger’s 3.6-liter 283-horsepower Pentastar V6 engine has quite a growl – the duel exhaust and wider stance make the new Avenger more like a real muscle car. In fact, the design has stood up over time, with Dodge being one of the few automakers who still insists on putting the automatic shift on the floor between the seats, and the ignition on the dash instead of the steering column. Revving the engine doesn’t exactly make your ears bleed, but it does make you think of a bygone era. The engine is one of the best features on this model, and also one of the main reasons the car will probably do fairly well for Dodge, since people like a stocky, beefy engine.
In our tests, the Avenger sounded great from the starting line but actually doesn’t really blow you away in a 0-60 test, clocking in at about 8 seconds. The power comes in handy in the upper gears for merging into traffic and holding the road around tight corners. The Avenger is fun to drive in that classic Dodge sense of feeling like the car hugs the road, unlike some foreign-market sedans.