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2011 Dodge Avenger Heat - V6 Review

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2011 Dodge Avenger

SEE ALSO: Dodge buyers Guide


Contender for Most Improved
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

With Fiat now managing Detroit’s smallest car company model updates are coming at a rapid pace with a new Durango, 300, Grand Cherokee, 200 and lots of others. I’ve driven most of them only around the block, so to speak, and have been looking forward to doing full reviews as they become available. A couple months ago I found the revised and updated Dodge Journey to be a contender for most improved and now here’s another for that competition.

Rather than use alpha-numeric designations Dodge has chosen to use semantic descriptors that have no automotive meaning for the Avenger line. This week we are testing the Avenger Heat –one of four trim levels for this mid size, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan. The entry-level Express starts at $19,245, the Mainstreet starts at $21,340 and top-of-the-line Lux with the 4-cylinder engine starts at $23,745. Our sportier Heat, with V6 engine, shows a base price of $23,840.

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Vastly improved inside and out the new Avenger sedan sports the masculine good looks of larger sibling, the rear-wheel drive Dodge Charger. Charger, too, has been redone with dramatic sculpted sides and other refinements and it remains a step ahead stylistically. But the Avenger, too, has made a giant leap in style and design. The greenhouse-to-body depth ratio reflects the Chrysler and Dodge styling language that implies strength. Large wheel arches, big wheels, a rear spoiler, aggressive grill and bobbed tail all suggest that he who drives this one is tough. Aerodynamics appears not to be part of the language.

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Inside, we found everything vastly improved over the Avenger’s cheap and uninspired predecessor. The mix of simple, but good quality, black materials - plastic, metal and fabric – exudes tastefulness without pretension. Design is functional and attractive but not innovative or forward looking. The seat fabric reminded me of a sharkskin suit of the 1970s - a mix of black and red that has almost a strange iridescent quality.

The seats fit my broad beam well. I spent a good deal of time on the road with this one and felt not a twinge of cramp or discomfort as I often do when seats are too narrow or too hard. These were just right. The interior felt roomy as well. The back seat – with easily released 60/40 folding seat backs - is as generous as any in the class. With a reasonably high roofline, ingress and egress were relatively easy.

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Our bright red test car has optional paint for $295, the $705 Custom Preferred Package 27W (18”X7” aluminum wheels with 50-series Goodyear Eagle LS low-profile tires, trunk lid spoiler, Media Center with CD/DVD/HDD 30GB hard drive and 6.5” touch screen, audio jacks, automatic headlights, and projector fog lamps), the $385 Customer Preferred Package 20W (heated front seats an remote start) and the optional V6 engine for $1,795. The official Dodge Web site shows the V6 as standard but it’s listed as an option on the sticker. Figure that out if you can. In any event, with the $750 destination charge we’re looking at just over 25 grand on the sticker.

The new 3.6-liter, normally aspirated, Pentastar engine is a real thrill to drive. Mated to a quick and smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission (also new) it generates a good 283 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It feels just like you might expect from those numbers – strong. The EPA estimates mileage to be 19-mpg in the city and 29 on the highway. I drove it a lot this week and my experience validates that estimate. I managed an average of 26.8 mpg in a variety of driving environments using regular fuel.

This engine is, by the way, E85 capable as well, though you wouldn’t know it without reading the manual or sticker. There is no badge on the car. A few years ago that auto makers were proud of offering E85 capability, but no longer.

Suspension is fully independent and of conventional design with McPherson struts up front and multilink in the rear. While the geometry has not changed much the tuning has been brought up to date. This is not a sport sedan in spite of its modestly aggressive styling. It is tuned for a good balance between handling, confidence and comfort. In everyday driving – not charging into turns or challenging on-ramps – I found nothing to complain about, though not much to rave about either.

Steering has a fairly light touch with minimal feedback – a bit lighter than other cars in this class like Fusion, Sonata, Kizachi, and a raft of others. Most ergonomics are well thought through. I’m not fond of the radio tuner, though, an electronic function actuated by the touch screen. It’s called “Direct Tune” on the screen but it’s not very direct. A knob would be much more direct and precise.

The Dodge warranty covers the whole car for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 100,000 miles.

The Chrysler Sebring and last generation Avenger were just not up to par in the ever-stiffer competition in this, the largest segment in the car business. Now this updated version is much more competitive, though certainly not leading. While the driving experience is as tepid as any in the class it’s still a pleasant and competent car to live with.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved