What's New for 2008
The 2008 Dodge Avenger is an all-new, front-wheel-drive midsize sedan. Available with four-cylinder or V6 power, it's a replacement for the Stratus. All-wheel drive is a late-year option on the R/T model.
There are plenty of excellent all-around choices in the midsize sedan segment, but not every family car was born to be a mainstream player. One of these is the 2008 Dodge Avenger, which is easily the most aggressively styled midsize sedan on the market this year. The Avenger's leering headlights and massive haunches will undoubtedly be off-putting to some shoppers, but for those who like the idea of "Charger Junior" bodywork wrapped around a more fuel-efficient, front-wheel-drive machine, this new Dodge may have some appeal. And with its quiet ride, roomy backseat and impressive options sheet, the Avenger offers some substance to back up its tough-guy facade.
Dodge last used the Avenger name to refer to a midsize Mitsubishi Galant-based coupe sold from 1995-2000. Now it's the name of the company's replacement for the now-discontinued Dodge Stratus. Like its sedan predecessor, the '08 Avenger is mechanically identical to its corporate sibling, the Chrysler Sebring. Engine choices include a 173-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder, a 189-hp 2.7-liter V6 and a 235-hp 3.5-liter V6. All return good gas mileage. The Dodge Avenger's options list offers considerable variety for this segment. All-wheel drive is available if you get the big V6, and almost any Avenger can be equipped with a rear-seat DVD entertainment system or a Harman Kardon navigation/audio system with a 20GB hard drive. A full menu of airbags is standard, and most Avengers are eligible for stability control.
As solid as it looks when you run down the equipment sheet, the 2008 Dodge Avenger falls flat in a couple key areas. For a car that purports to be sporty and aggressive, the Avenger delivers a surprisingly tepid driving experience. The base four-cylinder is weak and unrefined, and only if you pony up for the 3.5-liter V6 do you get suspension tuning that feels remotely athletic. Braking performance is similarly mediocre. The other major issue in the Dodge Avenger is materials quality, which still isn't up to the standard of this class.
In spite of its faults, the 2008 Avenger will certainly meet the basic transportation requirements of the typical midsize sedan shopper. However, we think the Nissan Altima, Mazda 6 and Saturn Aura are better choices for consumers seeking a midsize sedan with some edginess to its styling and dynamics.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
A midsize sedan, the 2008 Dodge Avenger is offered in base SE, midgrade SXT and sporty R/T trim levels. The base SE starts you out with 16-inch steel wheels, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, air-conditioning, a CD stereo with an MP3 player input jack, cruise control, full power accessories and an air-conditioned glovebox (the "Chill Zone"). The Avenger SXT adds 17-inch alloy wheels, stain-resistant cloth upholstery, a power driver seat, an extra pair of stereo speakers and a lengthier options list. The high-line Dodge Avenger R/T provides 18-inch alloy wheels, firmer suspension tuning, single-zone automatic climate control, an in-dash CD changer, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
The extensive options list includes leather upholstery, a sunroof, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, Boston Acoustics speakers, satellite radio, heated front seats, heated/cooled front cupholders, Bluetooth connectivity (known as UConnect), keyless remote start and LED interior lighting. The most interesting add-on is a Harman Kardon-designed navigation/audio system (known as MyGIG) with real-time traffic updates (via Sirius) and a 20GB hard drive that allows owners to rip their own CDs or download MP3 files from a jump drive using a USB port. All-wheel drive and chrome wheels are optional on the R/T exclusively.
Powertrains and Performance
Standard on 2008 Dodge Avenger SE and SXT models is a 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine rated for 173 hp and 166 pound-feet of torque. Optional on the SXT is a 2.7-liter V6 good for 189 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque. With either of these engines, a four-speed automatic transmission routes power to the front wheels. Standard on the Avenger R/T only is a 3.5-liter V6 capable of 235 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque. The R/T comes with a more sophisticated six-speed automatic transmission, and is available in both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. Chrysler claims a 0-60-mph time of 7.7 seconds for the front-drive R/T. Equipped with the 2.7-liter V6, an Avenger SXT takes about a second longer to perform the feat.
Standard safety equipment on the 2008 Dodge Avenger includes front-seat side airbags, full-length head curtain airbags and a tire-pressure monitor. Antilock brakes are standard on all models, except the base SE, on which they're optional. All four-cylinder Avengers come with front disc/rear drum brakes, while SXT models with the V6 and all R/T models have four-wheel discs. Stability control is optional on all trim levels, except the SE.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although not exactly premium in feel, the Avenger's cabin is a step up from the outgoing Stratus, thanks to its simple control layout and comfortable seating. The mediocre quality of the materials is immediately apparent, but white-faced gauges, chrome trim and, in R/T models, a two-tone, leather-wrapped steering wheel, give the interior some personality. In models with the multi-featured MyGIG navigation/audio system, it only takes a few minutes to figure out how to enter an address or rip a CD onto the hard drive, thanks to the simple menus and instructions.
The rear seat is spacious enough to accommodate a pair of adults, although the seat-bottom cushion is a bit too low for comfort and the outboard head restraints are nonadjustable. Partially compensating for the Dodge's small 13.4-cubic-foot trunk is the ability to fold down both the 60/40-split rear seat and the front passenger seat.
Although the base four-cylinder engine delivers the best fuel economy, many buyers will be put off by its sluggish response and coarse power delivery. A better choice for most people is the 2.7-liter V6 available on the SXT: Refinement still isn't a strong point, but with this engine, the Avenger feels much stronger during highway maneuvers. Still, the Avenger R/T model is far and away the best choice for those who can swing it. The bigger V6 is still a bit light on off-the-line pull, but it's plenty satisfying once it revs up and considerably smoother than the smaller engines. Equally important, its six-speed automatic transmission provides quicker response than the four-speed unit in the other models.
The other reason to get the R/T is its upgraded suspension tuning, which provides more responsive and secure handling on back roads, along with a composed highway ride. Lower-line 2008 Dodge Avengers ride comfortably but are low on grip during cornering. Braking is an area in which the Dodge could stand to improve. On models with rear drums, the brakes fade quickly with heavy use, and although the full-disc setup on V6-equipped Avengers holds up better, stopping distances remain long for this class.