The Dodge Avenger has a totally new, much higher quality interior; two new powertrain options; greatly improved ride comfort and noise control; and vastly improved steering and handling. It really is a vastly improved mid-size sedan.
However, to put this good news about the new Avenger in perspective, consider the bad news about the old Avenger – a cold dose of reality. In a US News & World Report study, the 2008-2010 Avenger came in 19th out of 19 mid-size, family sedans under $25K. “The aging Avenger has always sat at the back of a very large, very competitive group of mid-size family cars.”
In a Car and Driver evaluation, the 2008-2010 Avenger came in 7th out of 7 mid-size, mid-priced sedans – according to them, a distant 7th. The Avenger also made the Edmunds.com list of the “Top Ten Worst Selling Cars.”
The mid-size, mid-priced sedan market is just brutal – the most competitive of any car segment. The domestic competition in this segment is the Ford Fusion, ranked 1st of those 19 sedans and the 6th overall best selling car in any class, and the Chevy Malibu, ranked 7th of those 19 sedans and the 15th overall best selling car in any class. The foreign competition to the Avenger includes the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
And now the good news. Since the Chrysler-FIAT affiliation, the focus at Chrysler has been to aggressively answer concerns about interiors and drivetrains. The Avenger is said to have been high on FIAT CEO Sergio Marchionne’s “fix list.” As such, the new Avenger has benefited more than most from Chrysler’s goal to dramatically upgrade its vehicles. That is a big deal – for all the focus on full-size patrol sedans, admin vehicles make up 20 percent of the police fleet.
The old Chrysler Sebring was changed inside and out – the changes were enough to warrant a new name – Chrysler 200. The new Avenger is a sister to the new Chrysler 200 and got the same kind of interior, drivetrain, powertrain and exterior upgrades. The changes, especially to the interior and handling, were enough that this Dodge sedan should have also received a new name. (It’s not like the name recognition for the 19th out of 19 mid-size sedans would be helpful.)
After spending 10 days in the new Avenger, our advice to fleet managers is to look past what that model name used to mean. Every aspect of the NextGen Avenger has been improved, in some cases, greatly improved. The Avenger is now as refined as the Fusion and Malibu, now fully equal to these admin-oriented, mid-size sedans. With national fleet pricing midway between these two, the Avenger is worth a good, hard look as an admin sedan for fleets, especially for fleets transitioning to the police Charger for patrol.
The most immediate, most urgent Dodge goal was to improve both the quality and the comfort of the interior. Automotive journalists have been vicious in their criticism of the “rental car quality” interior with “budget grade” materials in the 2008-2010 Avengers. So, it was the interior that got the biggest makeover for the 2011 Avenger.
The result is virtually the entire interior got soft-touch materials or upgraded plastics. This includes a new, contoured instrument panel and HVAC vents and a new, three-spoke steering wheel. The inside door panels and center console have all been redesigned with better materials. Everything in the interior is smoother, rounder, softer, more blended, better fitting.
The NextGen Avenger also has new seats with much better seat fabrics. They are not necessarily larger, but they are more padded and feel more comfortable; not necessarily more sculpted, but they feel more supportive. The same reviewers who called the old interior “dull” have called the new interior “stunning and modern.”
The impression of a “quality” interior involves more than touch and sight. It also involves sound. This next generation Avenger has 45 new or upgraded sound-deadening materials for vastly improved Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH). Some of the sound-deadening strategy is the use of laminated side glass, which is also safer glass. The overall results are big improvements in road noise, wind noise and engine noise. The new Avenger is a much quieter, more comfortable car.
Room and Safety
The mid-size Avenger (100.2 cubic feet) has the same interior room as the Ford Fusion (100.3 cf), and both are larger than the Chevy Malibu (97.7 cf). The Avenger has more front legroom and front headroom than both the Fusion and Malibu. To accommodate the widest range of drivers, the Avenger uses a manual tilt and telescoping wheel.
The back seat of all these mid-size sedans is not the most spacious place for adults over 6 feet tall. However, two, 6-foot, 4-inch officers were surprised to find they had enough head, shoulder and hip room in the rear seat of the Avenger, and they actually had enough legroom. Of these three sedans, the Avenger has the most headroom.
The new Avenger has front airbags, side seat airbags and side curtain airbags. It has the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) top rating of “good” for offset front, side, and rear crash tests and for roof strength. All this earned the new Avenger an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
The trunk of the Avenger is smaller than the competition: Fusion (16.5 cf), Malibu (15.1 cf) and Avenger (13.5 cf). While this may be an issue with retail customers, and it certainly would be for patrol use, trunk space is rarely an issue for police admin use.
The exterior of the Avenger was restyled, not as much as the Sebring-Chrysler 200, but it still has a new, more aggressive look. At the front, the new Avenger has a new crosshair grille and a contoured lower air intake. Projector beam fog lamps are options. At the back, the new Avenger has larger tail lamps using the so-called “ring of fire” LEDs. Overall, however, the Avenger still looks like a Little Charger, and that is a good thing.
The 2008-2010 Avenger was powered by either the 173 hp, 2.4L I4 with a 4-speed auto or a 235 hp, 3.5L V6 with a 6-speed auto. Powertrain-wise, that 4-speed is totally obsolete and so is that 3.5L V6. You buy a 4-cylinder car for the maximum fuel economy – and that means 6-speed. And the 3.5L V6 was neither particularly powerful nor fuel efficient. The new-for-2011 Avenger corrects both competitive shortcomings.
The new Avenger now teams the 2.4L World Engine I4 with an optional 6-speed trans. This 4-cylinder has also just been recalibrated for better fuel economy, smoother idle and more refined running. It has less Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) at idle and during acceleration. On any 4-cylinder engine, that is a major accomplishment.
This 2.4L I4 has Variable Valve Timing (VVT), which means more of the peak power and peak torque is available at lower rpms – the elusive “flat” torque curve. VVT is one of the biggest engine advances since fuel injection. A 2.4L I4 Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) powertrain is available in “California Emissions” states.
One possible downside to the 4-cylinder engine– the 2.4L I4 is not E85 FlexFuel rated. This is a bit hard to understand for a powertrain called a World Engine and marketed directly to fleets, especially government fleets. However, the 3.6L Pentastar V6 is E85 Flex Fuel rated.
As for the 6-speed trans, it doesn’t give the 4-cylinder Avenger a lot better mileage than the same 4-cylinder engine with a 4-speed trans. Instead, the 6-speed gives the 4-cylinder a lot better throttle response – drivability much less like the image of a dreaded 4-cylinder sedan. So, the 6-speed has the same EPA fuel ratings but very different driving dynamics.
Heads-up! The old 4-speed auto is still standard on the low-trim Avenger Express and the mid-trim Avenger Mainstreet. That means a lot of new Avengers will inadvertently be purchased with the old 4-speed. The 6-speed is a $200 option. Go out of your way to spec the 6-speed.
New Pentastar V6
The old 2.7L V6 and 3.5L V6 have been replaced by the promising, high performance 3.6L Pentastar V6. See the September-October 2011 issue of Police Fleet Manager for lots of info on reliability and durability for the new Pentastar V6. This is also online in the Resources-Article Archives section at www.hendonpub.com.
The new 3.6L Pentastar V6 has about 50 hp and 30 lb-ft of torque more than the old 3.5L V6. Again, VVT puts a greater percentage of this peak power and torque at lower rpms. The new V6 has better mileage ratings – 3 mpg better in City and 2 mpg better in Highway. During a week with the Pentastar V6 Charger, we actually got 4 mpg better mileage than the old V6 doing exactly the same kind of enforcement duties.
A $2,700 optional, this 283 hp, best-in-class, 3.6L V6 turns the new Avenger into a real hot rod. It hits 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and 100 mph in 18.8 seconds. The Avenger is smaller and lighter than the Charger, of course. Powered by the same 3.6L Pentastar V6, the Avenger is 2 seconds faster to 60 mph and 2 seconds faster to 100 mph.
You buy a smaller sedan with a smaller engine for admin and detective use for one primary reason – fuel economy. The 2.4L 4-speed Avenger is rated at 21 mpg City and 30 mpg Hwy. The 2.4L 6-speed Avenger is rated at 20 mpg City and 31 mpg Highway. Both 2.4L I4 drivetrains have the same 24 mpg Combined rating. The 3.6L Pentastar V6 is 19 mpg City, 29 Highway, 22 mpg Combined.
There is only a slight difference in the estimated fuel economy between the I4 and the V6, but the symbolism to the city-county council and public is important. The chief or fleet manager may need to say, “The majority of our patrol cars have 6-cylinder engines and the majority of our admin cars have 4-cylinder engines.”
A higher quality interior was first priority; improved powertrains were second. The third major area of improvement for the new Avenger was the ride and handling. Dodge knew they needed to correct “tepid driving dynamics, unsophisticated road feel, lifeless steering and excessive body roll.” And they did.
The entire suspension and steering have been upgraded, and the Avenger was lowered and widened. The changes included higher rate springs, revised shocks, tuned suspension bushings, and a reworked suspension geometry. Of the 30 suspension bushings, 26 have been redesigned. Anti-sway bars were added, front and rear. (Incredibly, the 2008-2010 Avenger did not have anti-roll, anti-sway bars!)
The tires are now wider, which increases the track. The result of all these changes is less body roll, less play in the steering, better steering feel, more responsive handling – an overall improvement in driving dynamics. The handling of the Avenger has gone from “mediocre” to “agile and impressive” with nicely weighed and precise steering. All trim levels of the Avenger have exactly the same Touring suspension.
We went out of our way to get the 4-cylinder Avenger with the 6-speed trans. We were looking for the most economical – but very drivable – admin sedan to compliment the Charger patrol sedan. And that means 6-speed.
So, how about the acceleration from this 4-cylinder sedan? Lots of car magazines have tested the Pentastar V6-powered Avenger. No one (but us) has tested the new Avenger powered by the 2.4L I4 and 6-speed. We hit 60 mph in 11.5 seconds and 100 mph in 36 seconds. The zero to 100 mph time is quite slow, but frankly, that 0-60 mph time is just fine for the urban-suburban admin use of this Avenger.
What makes this acceleration OK is the torque-felt, initial takeoff made possible by the 6-speed. The 4-cylinder Avenger with a 4-speed feels like a 4-cylinder – sluggish. The 4-cylinder Avenger with a 6-speed feels like a sedan with a small V6. The extra two gears of the 6-speed auto make a difference - they improve both acceleration and throttle response without hurting fuel economy.
During normal driving, the powertrain control modules did an excellent job of working both ends of the 6-speed gear set. When downshifting, the controllers found the correct gear without “hunting” or delay. During heavy acceleration, the controllers held the correct gear all the way to the redline. During light acceleration, the controllers aggressively moved the transmission to higher and higher gears for the best fuel economy. We can’t speak highly enough of this 6-speed.
Ride & Handling
In terms of ride and handling, the Avenger is now honestly competitive with the Fusion and Malibu. The steering is very responsive and the body roll is nil. One aggressive drive around a tight entrance ramp and you know this is a whole new vehicle. The Avenger took accident avoidance drills and evasive maneuvers with confidence-inspiring ease. The new Avenger now acts like it shares the same basic platform as the hyper-handling Mitsubishi Evo – which it does.
In some police-oriented sedans, the outward visibility, 360 degrees around the car, is limited. In some areas, extremely limited. This has been fixed for the NextGen Charger Pursuit, but remains a problem in other sedans. The visibility out the Avenger is excellent. Lots of side glass, lots of rear glass, great mirrors.
We put 1,000 miles on this 2.4L I4 6-speed Avenger in typical admin and detective driving – a mix of urban and suburban driving with minimal idling. The EPA Combined rating is 24 mpg. Over the seven-day period, we averaged 24.3 mpg. In the limited time we spent in crush of heavily urban driving, we got 22.8 mpg, and during the open highway driving got 25.7 mpg. Overall, we can confirm the EPA Combined rating of 24 mpg to be a good estimate.
The upgraded Avenger is now a head-to-head, toe-to-toe match for the Fusion and Malibu – really. And, no, we have not been drinking the Kool-Aid. The upgrade to the Avenger is that good. The 2.4L I4 Avenger at the Mainstreet trim level, with the 6-speed trans, has a national fleet price around $17,200.
Ed. Note: Thanks to Chicagoland’s Thomas Dodge for the extended use of this promising admin sedan.