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New Car Review

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SEE ALSO: Dodge Buyer's Guide

Often, in a large company, it's "business as usual" until it's too late. Originality can be an anathema to a bureaucracy. Chrysler Corporation had its back to the wall not too long ago, and was forced to innovate or die. With nothing to lose and the world to gain, they have created some remarkable and original products in the last few years. The LH family sedans, Neon economy and sports sedans, Cirrus and Stratus midsize sedans, and the Viper sports car are all products of the new Chrysler. With the recently-introduced second generation minivans, the last vestiges of the unlamented K-cars have finally disappeared. Now there is yet another new Chrysler product: the Dodge Avenger sports coupe. It is a sports coupe with a difference, a practical sports car designed, as they say, to let buyers "have their cake and eat it too." It is not a retro "muscle car", and most emphatically not a replacement for the Daytona.

Sports coupes have gone in two directions recently. On one hand, there are the performance-at-all-costs serious, seriously fast, small, and expensive sports cars. On the other are larger, softer machines that are more for show than go, and can offer luxury - for a price. In between the extremes is a heretofore-unexploited niche for a car that offers comfort, style, and reasonable performance at a real-world price. Enter the Avenger. It is a balanced, practical two-door automobile with style and spirit. It is made at the Diamond Star plant in Normal, Illinois alongside the Eagle Talon and Mitsubishi Eclipse, and is based on a stretched version of the Talon/Eclipse platform.

APPEARANCE: Looks are important in the sports segment, and the Avenger has the aggressive appearance to succeed. As on all Dodge products, a Viper-inspired crossbar grille dominates the front of the car. Hood bulges hint at power. The cab-forward styling puts the base of the windshield nearly at the front wheels. From the side, the Avenger is a tail-high rounded wedge with long doors. The high rear deck helps aerodynamics and trunk space at the expense of some rear visibility.

COMFORT: Inside is where the Avenger really differs from other sporty coupes. Because of its cab-forward design, there is a lot of interior inside of the exterior. Inside, it seems more of a two-door compact sedan than a typical cramped small sports coupe, with more interior room than in some much larger cars and nice detail touches. Front seat occupants get soft bucket seats. There is a real back seat with room for two adults and leg room greater than in many transcontinental air liners. Side panels in the rear are concave for extra rear hip room, and the rear seat is mounted higher than the front for improved passenger visibility. The trunk is quite useful. The ES package includes power windows, locks and side mirrors, and remote locking, fuel door, and trunk releases.

SAFETY: The new Dodge Avenger ES meets all of the 1997 Federal safety standards. The chassis is made with side guard door beams and front and rear crush zones. There are dual airbags in front, three-point seat belts on all outboard seats, and adjustable-height front seat shoulder belts. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are standard on ES models.

ROADABILITY: Although style and comfort are emphasized in the Avenger, it does inherit good road manners from its front-drive Diamond Star relatives. It is stable, comfortable, and reasonably quiet. With four-wheel antilock disc brakes and all-around independent double- wishbone suspension anchored to a rigid chassis structure, the ES tracks true in damp or dry weather. Think of the Avenger as a civilized grand touring car for people on a budget.

PERFORMANCE: The base engine in the Avenger is a two-liter, twincam four-cylinder unit, matched to a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions. ES models are offered with a torquey 155-horsepower 2.5-liter Mitsubishi V6 overhead cam powerplant matched with an electronically-controlled four-speed automatic transmission. The transmission shifts itself quickly and smoothly. For those so inclined, manual shifts also work well. The powertrain is smooth and refined, in keeping with the car's character. The Avenger ES is no Viper, but it should satisfy its buyers with a good mix of power and economy.

CONCLUSIONS: The Dodge Avenger shows that practicality can coexist with style and performance in a sports coupe.


       Base Price             $ 17,191
       Price As Tested        $ 18,155
       Engine Type            V-6, sohc 24v, smpfi
       Engine Size            2.5 liter/152 cid 
       Horsepower             155 @ 5500                         
       Torque (ft/lbs)        161 @ 4400 
       Wheelbase/Length       103"/187"
       Transmission           four-speed EC automatic w/overdrive
       Curb Weight            3090 lbs.
       Pounds per Horsepower  20
       Fuel Capacity          16 gal.
       Fuel Requirement       Unleaded regular (87 oct)              
       Tires                  Goodyear Eagle GA+4
                              P 205/55HR16 M+S             
       Brakes                 vented disc/disc, ABS standard
       Drive Train            Front engine/front drive
       EPA Economy - miles per gallon   
         city/highway/observed       20/28/24.5
       0 to 60 mph                   9.5  sec 
       1/4 mi (E.T.)                 17.3  sec  
       Coefficient of Drag  (Cd)     .36