Monday, August 18, 2008

Dodge Offers Midsize Alternative

To describe today’s midsize sedan market as crowded is a little like referring to the overwhelming nausea following your Thanksgiving dinner binge as a little full. The reality is that today’s fuel prices are driving more and more former SUV owners back into the sedan fold. Chrysler is hoping that offering a muscular-looking sedan, combined with creative dealership incentives, and shrewd marketing will drive sales to their all-new Dodge Avenger, which was re-introduced in 2007 as a 2008 model after a seven-year hiatus. Only time will tell if this strategy will ultimately be successful. However, after only one week of the “Refuel America”$2.99 per gallon gasoline promotion, their website traffic went up by 25% percent increasing internet leads by 34%. We’ll see if that can be chalked up to projected five-dollar-per-gallon summertime gasoline rumors perpetuated by mainstream media.
Of the four available trims on the Avenger, there are three powerplants. They are a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, a 2.7-liter flex-fuel V6, and a 3.5-liter V6, which is available with AWD. My tester being the SXT, it came equipped with the all-new 2.7-liter flex-fuel V6. Based solely on horsepower, engine noise, and sophistication, this engine is not terribly impressive. I can only assume that Chrysler’s reason for offering it is to demonstrate their commitment to more fuel efficient choices. After all, they say they are investing three billion dollars in powertrain and axle development for their next generation models. Unfortunately, if you compare this engine against the competition’s larger and more powerful choices, you’ll find that any increased fuel efficiency is marginal at best.
Since AWD is only available in R/T trim, I couldn’t tell you how the Avenger stacks up against its competition. However, comparing the SXT to its front-wheel-drive competitors, I can tell you that it doesn’t stack up very well at all. While its ride quality is passable, putting the Avenger through its paces around corners reveals its less sophisticated personality. Abundant body roll, imprecise steering, and incommunicative suspension is immediately noticeable. It’s a bit like taking that really hot chick from the trailer park home to meet the folks for dinner.
Taking a walk around the Avenger reveals good and bad. It has an aggressive stance, big wheels and tires, and appears to be lurching forward standing still. It also has cheap black plastic inserts inside the rear windows above awkward-looking rear shoulders. The Avenger’s interior reveals the biggest deficiency between Dodge and the rest of the field. The biggest problem is the abundance of cheap-looking plastic. However, the Avenger’s MyGig multimedia system features 20 gigabyte disc drive and one of the best MP3 interfaces I’ve used to date.
The Avenger doesn’t offer enough reasons to pry away buyers from Toyota or Honda.

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