Strong performance; agile handling; smooth and quiet ride; nice interior.
A few quirky ergonomics; rear-seat height too low for taller passengers; trunk capacity on small side for segment.
Automotively speaking, one could say this is the era of the former underdogs. Leno used to crack jokes at Hyundai's expense and folks used to say that "Ford" stood for "Found On Road Dead." Well, within the past decade, these two companies figured out that if they actually just built reliable, high-quality products, they would sell really well. Who knew?
And now Dodge has gotten a clue, and the 2012 Dodge Avenger is one of several vehicles that shows the fruits of its newfound labors. The new Avenger is a peach that's so much better than its predecessor that we're surprised Dodge didn't give it a new name like Chrysler did with its similarly reborn platform-mate, the 2011 Chrysler 200 (formerly the Sebring). Then again, the "Avenger" moniker seems somewhat appropriate, as this midsize sedan seems bent on getting revenge by changing the opinions of those who mocked its forebear.
So how exactly is the virtually all-new 2012 Dodge Avenger better than the old one? More appropriately, how is it not? The powertrain, handling, ride and interior quality are all notably superior within its market segment. The $20,000-$30,000 slot of mainstream midsize sedans is chock-full of well-built, enjoyable cars such as the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Nissan Altima and Suzuki Kizashi.
Previously, Dodge's entry sat on the sidelines largely ignored, while better players such as these dominated the game. Now the Avenger finds itself scoring big thanks to its strong performance, engaging drive and polished demeanor.
This 2011 Dodge Avenger Lux is equipped with the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. With 283 horsepower, this is the most powerful V6 in the class of mainstream midsize sedans, and it's paired with a mostly cooperative six-speed automatic. The strong, refined V6 is hard to fault, doling out power across a wide range. Likewise for the automatic with its ultra-smooth gearchanges, which remain so even while under full throttle. But like many modern automatics, this transmission's fuel-efficiency-minded programming means that it gets into the taller highway gears sooner than you might expect and requires an aggressive boot to the throttle to get a downshift. That said, it does respond quickly when a burst of power is needed.
At the Edmunds test track the front-wheel-drive Avenger turns in some strong numbers. The dash to 60 mph from a standstill takes just 6.7 seconds and the Dodge runs down the quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds. We did notice some torque steer from the front wheels when we laid into the gas pedal from a stop or from low speeds. But with nearly 300 hp being funneled through the front wheels, the little tug on the steering wheel isn't too bad and we didn't feel it under normal driving. Hauling things down reveals a slightly spongy but progressive brake pedal. The binders resist fade under repeated heavy braking runs, while the Avenger's 127-foot stopping distance from 60 mph slots in about average for the segment.
While driving our informal handling test loop over canyon roads, the Avenger impresses with its nicely weighted and precise steering, composed cornering attitude and commendable level of grip, easily making this one of the more enjoyable family sedans for driving enthusiasts. The data from the more formal track testing backs up these seat-of-our-pants impressions, with the Dodge turning in a 67-mph run through the slalom cones.
Against the EPA's combined fuel economy estimate of 22 mpg, we averaged 20.2, which included a fair amount of L.A.'s infamous stop-and-go rush hour traffic.
Generously sized and padded, the front buckets are very accommodating for physiques of all sizes. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and eight-way power driver seat make finding an ideal driving position fairly easy. Well, that is once you get used to the seat buttons; they're too close together, which makes adjusting the angle of the bottom cushion an exercise in finger dexterity. Once you're under way, the seat's side bolsters provide decent support while you're driving along a winding road, yet aren't overly aggressive, so getting in and out of the car isn't a hassle.
The rear compartment is roomy enough for a pair of 6-footers, and there's generous space for feet under the front seats, a rarity that allows those longer of limb a bit more stretch-out room. But tall folks will likely find the seat cushion a bit low, as it trades some leg support for more headroom. That said, most of our passengers found the rear seat fine in terms of overall comfort and support.
As with its big brother, the Dodge Charger, the Avenger manages to provide both athletic handling and a comfortable ride. The Avenger swallows up the worst bumps and potholes that neglected, under-maintained city streets can throw its way without wallowing around after the impact. Indeed, this Dodge offers one of the best-sorted suspensions in the segment as far as providing impressive handling along with an absorbent ride. Furthermore, it's a quiet ride, too, as road, wind and powertrain noise are all well-muted at higher freeway speeds.
Large gauges with simple fonts and simple, intuitive controls grace the cabin. And kudos to Dodge for sticking with its effective behind-the-steering-wheel-mounted audio controls — fingers quickly recognize the buttons, which allow one to not only click through radio presets but also seek new stations.
The available navigation system is easy to use as well, though it's somewhat annoying that it doesn't allow time to destination and distance to destination to both be displayed at once — it's one or the other. Other high-tech gizmos earned high marks, such as the Bluetooth connectivity that includes automatic phone book downloading and the heated front seats that also provide warmth halfway up the backrest.
With 13.5 cubic feet of capacity, the Avenger's trunk measures up more like that of a compact than a midsizer. But its opening is large, the lid swings up over 90 degrees to get out of the way and the space is optimized, as the trunk easily accommodates a pair of golf bags and a large travel case. The rear seat features a center pass-through for long, skinny items as well as split-folding seatbacks. A rear-facing child seat can be fitted to the backseat as long as the passenger riding in front is no taller than about 5-foot-9.
Design/Fit and Finish
Although the Avenger is virtually all new underneath and within, the junior Dodge Charger-style sheet metal is familiar and unchanged. However, the front and rear ends have been updated with a more aggressive crosshair grille and revised fascias and light clusters. To our collective eye, it's one of the sportier-looking family sedans out there and most staffers preferred its styling to its Chrysler 200 cousin.
The cabin is another story, as it's so different from last year that one may wonder if it is the same make and model. Cleaner styling and a big jump in materials quality are plainly evident. The dash and door tops are covered in quality, soft-touch materials, panel gaps are even and tight, and the leather seats are handsomely stitched. Apart from a somewhat brittle action from the turn-signal stalk, it's an impressive effort all around. Forget about being almost as good as the class leaders, because the new Avenger is right there with them.
Who should consider this vehicle
Midsize sedan shoppers who want enjoyable driving dynamics along with a quiet and comfortable ride should give the 2011 Dodge Avenger a close look. If they do, they'll also likely be pleasantly surprised at how nice the interior is and how strong and refined the available V6 powertrain feels.