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Friday
Nov182011

2011 Dodge Avenger Heat: A Big Step Forward

By Christopher A. Sawyer

From its launch in 2008 to the 2010 model year, you’d have to be a committed Mopar fan to want a Dodge Avenger or, for that matter, a Chrysler Sebring. A cynical, half-assed mid-sized sedan, the Avenger lacked everything: style, sophistication, efficiency, character, charm, warmth, personality… and the list goes on. Maybe you wouldn’t have to be a committed Mopar fan. You’d have to be ready to be legally committed.

Introduced in 2008 as a replacement for the Dodge Stratus, the Avenger took its name from the 1995-2000 coupe built on a Mitsubishi Galant platform; a name that was first used on the British Hillman Avenger when Chrysler owned that company in the 1970s. It’s a great name, Avenger, that has been used on vehicles that had no chance of living up to the imagery it elicits. Especially ones that might as well have been built by the United Nations.

The platform for this car started as a Mitsubishi, and was heavily revised. The four-cylinder engine, was built in Dundee, Michigan, under the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance, a joint venture of Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Hyundai. These are not bad things on their own, but cash-starved Chrysler (Daimler was doing all it could to cut costs and rid itself of its American albatross) did not have the opportunity to turn these pieces into a fine stew. Gruel was the best it could do with the cost and time constraints staring it in the face, especially once Cerberus took control and began ruthlessly cutting costs. Costs, it should be noted, that were the lowest of the American automakers on a per-part basis. There was no decontenting possible.

Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. Despite Chrysler’s styling successes of previous years, the Avenger was saddled with ersatz Dodge Charger sheetmetal pulled over a cowl that was too high, and a body that — despite its nearly 109-in. wheelbase and 73-in. width — looked short and narrow. It was, in short, a stylistic disaster. And the Sebring, which aped Chrysler’s 2003 Airflite concept car on much too small a canvas, was even worse.

The Avenger’s interior was a mish-mash of horrible plastics, low-cost switchgear and thin cloth and leather coverings. Build quality was such that you wondered if the people screwing the cars together could define either of those words. Or whether, to be fair, they rushed through their duties as fast as possible so as not to prolong the pain they felt while assembling the car. It was a mockery of all that Dodge — and Chrysler — had once stood for, and an exhibit of why Chrysler should not survive in its brush with insolvency.

But what about the 2011 model? Has it changed at all? Has it changed enough to wipe away the memories of the past three years? No, of course not. That would take a massive rethink and redesign, not a major facelift. What the 2011 Avenger has done, however, is give hope that Chrysler under Fiat can, and will, be capable of massive improvement.

Until the Avenger is replaced by an Alfa Romeo-based sedan in 2014, it will have to soldier on with ungainly proportions and derivative styling. Yet the mild revisions — a new grille, bumpers, and trim changes — let you know there’s something different about this version.

Most of that difference is in the interior. No longer a prototype for terrorist interrogation rooms, the insides have lost the nasty hard plastics with elephantine graining, and large and uneven gaps. The team tasked with upgrading the Avenger spent a good deal of its budget on narrowing the gaps, redesigning the grain, and placing soft-touch materials in those areas driver and passengers are most likely to touch. The transformation is nothing short of astounding. You can run your hand across the door tops and instrument panel without having to worry that you will cut your hand to ribbons on a ragged edge or lose a digit in a chasm between facing panels. Nor does the switchgear feel like it is molded from recycled candy bar wrappers, and filled with grit. They are passable, almost memorable, in their ability to get the job done, and feel good while doing it.

Unfortunately, the driver and passengers are still faced with the Avenger’s bunker-like interior, a problem made worse by the black interior of our test car. Thankfully the black and red mesh seat and door inserts, and brushed silver plastic trim on the air vents, console and steering wheel help alleviate the darkness.

The instrument cluster is handsome, if unremarkable, and sits well below the cowl height. It’s as though someone built a vehicle with taller sides than the one you are sitting in. Somehow, you expect the Russians to be above you, raping and pillaging Berlin. It’s not the best feeling, but one that could not be changed in the time the engineers, designers and others had to revise this car (rumored to be much less than 18 months), and the budget available.

Red stitching is used on the seats, door panels and the dash top, and brings a dash of color to the interior. The driver gets an eight-way power seat with manual lumbar support (Word to the wise: unless you have an extremely bad back, leave it in its lowest setting.), while the front seat passenger gets an all-manual throne. Rear seat room is more than adequate, aided by a relatively upright backrest and decent leg room. You won’t find yourself stretching out for a long nap, but neither will your knees be up against your chin should the front seat occupants decide to stretch their legs.

So what, other than the instrument panel, doors and exterior frippery did they change, and is it worth the effort? Let’s take a look.

Order the Avenger Heat and you get a V6 standard. But not just any V6. This is the V6 Chrysler and Daimler co-developed before the Germans cut their losses and fled the Motor City. And what a V6 it is. Measuring a rather large 3.6 liters, the all-aluminum dual overhead cam engine has 17% more horsepower and 11% more torque than the V6 it replaces. Fully 90% of peak torque is available from 1,600 – 6,400 rpm, and the four-speed automatic of the base 2.4-liter, four-cylinder Avenger makes way for a six-speed automatic with manual shift capability. The transmission moves to the highest available gear quickly, but can be a touch jerky under anything but light acceleration.

This is a strong engine capable of pulling the Avenger’s not insubstantial 3,603 lb. around quite quickly. Plant your foot and it accelerates hard, making holes in traffic easier to reach and accelerating into the flow of traffic much less worrisome. According to the EPA, fuel economy, if you can keep your right foot under control, is a decent 19 city/29 highway/22 combined. We saw 22 mpg in driving split approximately 45% city/55% highway, but feel that the 29 mpg figure is replicable mostly on long easy cruises where speeds don’t exceed the limit by much more than 10%. After all, this isn’t the most aerodynamic car out there.

It is, however, a surprisingly well-behaved one. The old suspension tuning was (thankfully) thrown out, and a new calibration substituted. Engineers retuned or redesigned virtually every part of the suspension for 2011. The front and rear track are an inch wider, tire width up 10-mm, 26 bushings have been retuned, and the suspension is 12-mm lower in the front and 6-mm lower in the rear. Vertical transitions, where the car encounters a bump, road irregularity or surface change are handled extremely well. The car responds quickly without harshness or float until you reach the limit of travel. At that point, the suspension, which must control the acceleration and deceleration of the largish 18-in. wheels and tires, softens and begins to float. Unfortunately, this almost luxurious ride comes at the expense of body control in corners. The Avenger exhibits a lack of roll control that makes the car feel a touch too “floppy” as it changes direction. Obviously, the settings aren’t perfect, but they are miles better than previous years, and won’t be noticed by most buyers. This is neither a car nor a buyer that is likely to be found attacking freeway on-ramps at speed.

At 13.5 ft3, the trunk isn’t the largest in the class, though it is regularly shaped and supported by split-fold rear seats. Because the seatbacks don’t fold completely flat, the intrusive rear bulkhead, which cuts off the upper portions of the pass-through, reduces the usability of this feature. For large, bulky items, bring the Caravan or Journey and leave the Avenger at home.

TVD Rating: 2.75 out of 5.

There are better midsize sedans out there; cars with better styling, more modern interiors, higher fuel economy and less bunker-like interiors. However, there are few that are as big an improvement over their predecessor with so little time and money having been spent in the revival process. Laugh, if you must, at the Avenger, but ponder the future if the creativity and engineering prowess of the Chrysler-Fiat combine is as deep as its dogged determination. It’s been enough to pull a near-zero car to near mid-pack ratings.

2011 Dodge Avenger Heat

 

Pricing

MSRP: $21,245

Options: Redline two-coat pearl paint, $295; Customer Preferred Package 27W (18 x 7-in aluminum wheels, P225/50R-18 all-season tires, trunk spoiler, 30 GB hard drive, 6.5-in. touchscreen, audio input jack, automatic headlamps, projector fog lamps), $705; Cold Weather Group (heated front seats remote starter), $385; 3.6-liter Pentastar engine (includes engine oil cooler, dual bright exhaust, dual rear exhaust), $1,795.

Destination charge: $750

Price as tested: $25,175

 

Powertrain

Engine: Transverse 3.6-liter V6. Aluminum block with iron liners, aluminum heads, dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, roller finger followers.

Horsepower: 283 @ 6400

Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4400

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

EPA mileage rating: 19 city/29 highway

 

Steering, Suspension and Brakes

Steering: Hydraulic power-assisted rack and pinion.

Suspension F/R: Gas-charged MacPherson struts, anti-roll bar/Multi-link independent with gas-charged shocks, anti-roll bar.

Brakes F/R: 11.5 x 1.0-in. vented discs with 2.2-in. single-piston floating calipers/10.3 x 0.4-in. solid discs with 1.4-in. single-piston floating calipers. ABS.

 

Dimensions (in inches)

Length: 192.6

Width: 72.8

Height: 58.4

Wheelbase: 108.9

Fuel capacity (gallons): 16.9

Cargo capacity (cu. ft.): 13.5

 

Warranty

Anti-corrosion: 5 years/100,000 miles

Powertrain: 5 years/100,000 miles

Engine: 3 years/36,000 miles

Vehicle: 3 years/36,000 miles

Roadside Assistance: 24-hour towing.

Reader Comments (4)

Latest car models that have been out in the market nowadays possess different specs. Some cars offer more comfort than the others. It is just a matter of price.

December 3, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdriving lessons Evesham

Indeed for most it is just about price. However, even the least expensive car, or those with the most stuff for the money should be satisfying to drive and own. The original Avenger was not. However, the 2011 model has made great strides. Still not fully competitive, but much, much better than previously. And a sign, we here at TVD hope, of much more to come.

December 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris Sawyer

Thanks for the detailed analysis. For me price is not everything. I would rather shell out a lot more to be comfortable. I remember when I had the Chrysler 300c, that was a comfy car. I believe they are roughly around the same price now aren't they?

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermartin

Martin:
The 300C is the V8-powered version of the 300, rear-drive (the Avenger is front-drive) and much more expensive. (The 300M was the front-drive version that preceded the rear-drive 300.) The Avenger has been greatly improved, but will be hard-pressed by the 2013 Dodge Dart until a new version is built on a joint Fiat/Chrysler platform.

Chris Sawyer

January 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterChris Sawyer

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