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Dodge Avenger for Admin

Many fleet managers remember when a mid-size admin sedan cost under $15,000. Some agencies bought the old-style Taurus for under $13,000. Those days are gone. Or are they? Depending on state bids or regional cooperative agreements, the 2009 Dodge Avenger SE costs between $14,500 and $16,000.

The mid-size market is the largest and most competitive retail car segment. It makes up 31% of the passenger car market. It is hard to get noticed in this admin-car segment, but PRICE is one way to do it. The Avenger driven in this One Ticket Book review cost $14,997.

And what about gasoline? The national average (retail) price of gas was just under $3.00 in late 2007, rose to over $4.00 in mid-2008 and fell to under $2.00 in late-2008. However, this uncertainty of fuel prices and the budget lessons of $4.00-plus gasoline have pushed fleet managers to buy cars with the smallest engines for admin use.

The midsize Ford Fusion is available with a 4-cylinder. The midsize Chevy Malibu is available with a Four. And, so is the midsize Dodge Avenger, a comparable front-wheel drive, four-door sedan. The Avenger is clearly styled after the Charger, thus the nicknames Baby Charger, Charger-ette, Lil Charger and Charger-Lite.

Avenger SE

What is an Avenger? It is a greatly restyled Dodge Stratus, but forget what you know about the Stratus. The Avenger costs much less. The new Avenger is a full 4 inches taller than the old Stratus with 2.5 inches more headroom. This makes the entire mid-size car feel much roomier. The new Avenger is 1.2 inches wider than old Stratus with 1.2 inches more shoulder room and 1 inch more hip room. The Avenger feels much larger and is, in fact, 7% larger overall than the Stratus.

While clearly a mid-size car, the Avenger had plenty of head, shoulder, hip and leg room for a 6-foot, 4-inch officer in full uniform. The knee width was a bit tight, but again, the center console is a reality and not going anywhere.

The Avenger is built on the same platform as the Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Caliber and Jeep Patriot. The Avenger / Sebring JS platform is slightly wider and longer than the Caliber / Patriot GS platform from which it was derived. The Avenger is assembled in Sterling Heights, MI along with the Chrysler Sebring. The engine and trans are made in the USA.

Interior Room

Three aspects of the Avenger’s interior stand out. First, drivers sit 2.5 inches higher in the Avenger than they did in the Stratus. The Avenger has excellent visibility in all directions, unlike some of the visibility issues raised with the Charger. Second, the base Avenger comes standard with roof-rail, side-curtain side airbags and seat-mounted thorax side-air bags.

Third, the Avenger has a tilt and telescoping steering wheel. The tilt / tele uses the unhandy below-column friction lock, but the wide range of up-down and in-out adjustments made it worth it. You may find, as we did, that once set, the wheel did not need to be adjusted to exit or enter. We found it easy to enter and exit the Avenger, even after a full day of traffic enforcement in full uniform.

With 100.9 cf interior and a 13.4 cf trunk, the Avenger is squarely in the middle of the mid-size car class. In comparison, the Malibu and Fusion have 95.0 cf to 100.4 cf interior volumes and 15.1 cf to 15.8 cf trunks. The Charger and Impala have 104.0 cf to 104.8 cf interiors and 16.2 cf to 18.6 cf trunks. At first, the 13.4 cf trunk sounds small, but the Avenger trunk should be plenty for admin use.

Options or Not?

At the SE and 4-cylinder level, very few options exist. The Avenger SE comes with disc front and drum rear brakes. Yes, they still make vehicles with drum brakes. These worked fine for admin and non-emergency driving. The issue is that with the 4-cylinder engine, ABS is optional. Drum brakes on the rear is no big deal, but the lack of ABS is certainly is. Anti-lock brakes are a safety device dating back to the early-1990s on police vehicles. ABS should be standard equipment and not able to be deleted for credit. All admin cars should have ABS.

At the SE and 4-cylinder level, the Avenger comes with manual-adjust seats. An eight-way power seat is an option. With both seat bottom bolsters and seat back bolsters, and vent-like cloth, these upgraded seats are very nice, but certainly not a required option.

World Engine

The Avenger is available in three engines: a 173-hp, 2.4L I-4; a 186-hp, 2.7L V-6; and a 235-hp 3.5L V-6. In the November-December 2006 issue of Police Fleet Manager, we reviewed the 2.7L V-6 powered Dodge Charger for admin use. That is the smallest engine available in the full-size Charger. Likewise, the 2.4L I-4 is the smallest engine available in the mid-size Avenger. The 2.4L I-4 in the Avenger performs just slightly better than the 2.7L V-6 in the Charger.

Dodge’s 2.4L 4-cylinder is called its “World Engine.” It was a joint development between Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Hyundai. An advanced engine design, this uses dual overhead cams and dual variable valve timing. The 2.4L World Engine replaces an engine of the same size, so don’t be confused! The new 2.4L engine with variable valve timing has 15% more power and gets 8% better fuel economy than the old 2.4L engine. The 2.4L I-4 World Engine is built in Dundee, MI.

In some states like California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, the 2.4L World Engine may not be available. In these states, the 2.4L I-4 “PZEV” (Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) engine will be substituted.

The Avenger SE comes with a 120-amp alternator. A 140-amp version is available, but only with the V-6 engine. Agencies differ widely on the amount of upfitting with admin cars. Depending on the current draw of what is added, the 120-amp alternator may be enough. If not, the only option is to go with the 2.7L V-6 to get the bigger alternator.

Based on our experienced, expect the Avenger with the 2.4L I-4 to get 3 mpg better than the Avenger with the 2.7L V-6. The 2.7L V-6 is, however, E85 Flex Fuel capable, and it is the only FlexFuel engine available in the Avenger. That alone may make the difference in engine selection.

Performance Package

The fleet-oriented, base-level Avenger SE is available with a “performance safety” package. This includes an upgrade to ABS brakes, traction control and electronic stability control, which all go together under the Electronic Stability Program. This option also includes an eight-way power driver’s seat with premium cloth. However, this option also requires the 2.7L V-6, which defeats the goal of “maximum” fuel economy. The 2.7L V-6 has just 13 hp more than the 2.4L I-4.

The performance safety option runs between $1,700 and $2,000. In “Dodge speak,” this essentially makes this Avenger an SE-Plus, i.e., more than an SE trim level but not quite an SXT. As it is, the Avenger SE comes with power windows and locks, power mirrors, and full wheel covers, mirrors, power trunk release and full-style wheel covers. While stability control would be nice, for the maximum fuel economy, pass on the performance package, but get the optional ABS.

Driving Impressions

With a curb weight of 3,355 pounds, the Avenger has a bit of bulk to it. Yes, that seems heavy for a 4-cylinder to pull around. The 2.4L Avenger took 10.4 seconds to reach 60 mph. In comparison, the 3.5L Charger, 3.9L Impala and 4.6L Ford CVPI all take around 8.5 seconds. Actually, the 4-cylinder Avenger was not as slow as we were worried it could be. It is just “One Mississippi, Two Mississippi” behind these full-size police package sedans in reaching 60 mph.

On two-lane roads, we could pass other vehicles, of course, but we had to plan ahead. The passing performance is only fair. And the very nature of a double overhead cam engine means it needs to rev up to work its best. That means a full throttle, a double downshift and a lot of engine noise. None of this was an issue whatsoever in any of the heavily urban, urban and suburban during we did. The 4-cylinder did just fine during that kind of driving.

The Avenger has a nimble 36.5-foot turning diameter, which made a number of urban and suburban “maneuvers” easy to do. The ground clearance of the Avenger is 5.2 inches. That may seem low, but it is identical to the Charger. The Ford CVPI has a 5.6-inch clearance.

The Avenger uses a MacPherson strut front suspension and a fully independent multi-link rear suspension. The Avenger uses three different suspension settings based on which engine is used. Those with the 2.4L I-4 get the “normal duty” suspension. The cars with the 2.7L V-6 use the “touring” suspension. And the Avenger with the 3.5L V-6 has the “sport” suspension.

The lightest duty of three stiffness levels may cause concern, but we found the sedan to handle just fine. The Avenger SE was no Charger Daytona, but it had responsive enough steering, reasonable ride and better than average high-speed stability. The handling is surprisingly flat, very little body roll, very little wallow after the initial turn-in. “Normal duty” will work for admin use.

Gas Mileage

Thanks to Thomas Dodge in south suburban Chicago, we spend two weeks and 2,000 miles in the Avenger. We used the sedan like an admin car with a mix of driving in urban and suburban areas. We spent “forever” in Chicago’s rush-hour traffic, but we also spent time on Indiana’s rural interstates.

We did a few zero-to-60-mph and top-speed tests. And we idled for three hours during one school zone traffic enforcement detail. To be sure, the traffic enforcement we did was not very demanding, and it was easy for the Avenger to handle. You don’t need a HEMI Charger to enforce most 20-mph and 35-mph speed limits.

The 2.4L I-4 has EPA ratings of 21 City, 30 Highway. The 2.7L V-6 has ratings of 19 City, 27 Highway. In comparison, the 2.3L 4-cylinder Fusion is rated at 20 mpg City, 29 mpg Highway, while the 2.4L 4-cylinder Malibu is 22 mpg City, 30 mpg Highway.

All in all, we averaged 27.3 mpg, which ranged from a low of 23.6 mpg for city-type driving and 32.1 mpg for highway-type driving. Our overall average of 27.3 mpg was slightly better than, but very close to, the EPA Combined estimate of 26 mpg. While EPA estimates have been unrealistic in the past, its new test protocol and the Combined rating are actually quite close to reality for admin and detective vehicles.

The bottom line? Against the Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu, the Dodge Avenger is very competitive. The Avenger costs about $15K, averages a real 27 mpg in real driving. It is entirely suitable for virtually all admin, detective, investigator and similar support staff functions.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2009

Rating : Not Yet Rated

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