New Car Review

1998 Dodge Avenger ES

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Dodge Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:            2.5-liter 24-valve V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 163 hp @ 5,500 rpm/170 lb-ft @ 4,350 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, 23.2 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         103.7 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    190.2 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    53.3 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     69.1 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       2,989 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     16.9 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  13.1 cu. ft.
TIRES:             215/50HR17
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, oil pressure, 
                   digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, cruise control, 
                   air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                   with cassette and in-dash CD, power sunroof, 
                   anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $22,493

Dodge has been coming out with new models so frequently, it's hard to believe the Viper is the oldest design in their showroom. The Avenger is probably one of the newest in the showroom. But if you look at the grille, if you look at the front, there are definitely some Viper influences there. This isn't a bad move on Dodge's part, of course. You want your cars to identify with the hot one in the lineup.

However, unlike the V-10-powered Viper, the Avenger is powered by a more conservative 2.5-liter V-6 rated at 163 hp. This is a nice engine for this car. The Avenger looks as if it could go a lot faster and be a powerful, extreme sports coupe. The engine tends to detract from the image of the car because it doesn't offer pure performance. But once you get going, you don't need all the horsepower and torque and you can keep up with anything else on the highway.

Sport coupes, like the Camaro, Mustang and that genre, are muscle cars. The Avenger isn't a muscle car. It looks like a muscle car but needs a more powerful engine to get the job done. It's more in the class with the Probe and Talon.

The engine drives the front wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission with a shifter that is mounted in a console between the front seats. The automatic doesn't make the car not a sporty coupe, but with the smaller engine one would hope for a stick shift to extract the most performance from it.

Our tester was also fully equipped, which made it more of a "secretary's sports car." But unlike the good show/no go false sports cars, the Avenger had an oil pressure gauge in addition to the basic four instruments for serious drivers.

Fortunately the Avenger was watertight because the week we tested it was one of the rainiest in our area. The HVAC system kept us cool during the hot days and warm on the cooler evenings.

Front seats are individual buckets separated by the console. they could offer more side support to tempt adventurous driving, and in fact look as if they do offer decent side support. But in reality they're pretty flat. They are fully reclining so the passenger can take a nap.

In the rear is a bench with decent legroom, even when the front seats are pushed all the way back. The back of the rear seats folds down to extend the trunk space from the standard 13.1 cubic feet. The standard trunk was a decent size and was big enough to hold a couple of coolers for a long trip.

On our long trip we spent time on the Interstates in cruise control. The engine was fine for highway driving and we definitely had one of the better looking cars on the road.

Styling is excellent, and again, it betrays the character of the car. You are always looking for more out of the Avenger and it simply isn't there. Handling was very good, and fully in character with the rest of the car.

I guess I liked the Avenger. It is a very nice car that did everything I asked it to do. The unfortunate thing about the car is that it can't deliver what it looks as if it could deliver. I'd like to see what would happen with a bigger, more powerful engine under the hood and maybe a stick shift.

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