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Dodge Avenger RT, 2008: Weidel on Wheels

Shopping for a Dodge Stratus and can’t find the 2008 model? Call off the search, the Stratus is no longer part of the Dodge lineup. After selling nearly 100,000 units in 2005, sales of the Status dropped nearly in half in 2006. That was enough to convince parent company Chrysler it was time to pull the plug on the modest, mid-size sedan. It was a necessary if Dodge wanted to stay competitive in the mid-size sedan classification. Dodge filled the opening with the Avenger.

It’s a catchier name and Chrysler hopes the vehicle will also attract more buyers. The larger dimensions – 2.5 more inches of headroom, 1.2 inches greater shoulder room, and 2.5 inches higher — are definite factors that make an easier entry and exit in comparison to the forgettable Stratus.

Although Dodge bills the Avenger as an “all new” vehicle, it’s quite true. Much like the Stratus, the Avenger is closely related to the Chrysler Sebring. The Avenger has the Sebring’s identical underpinnings and also uses the same transmission and engine. Of course, there are notable differences, primarily the body and interior.

The front-wheel drive Avenger’s aggressive body styling might not appeal to everyone. While not as sporty as the Sebring, the Avenger possesses a bold, cross-hair front grille and the rear end looks more like a Dodge Charger wannabe.

The Avenger R/T, which was test driven here for a week, is a more upscale version and also has all-wheel drive. While the R/T is a solid new entry into the mid-size class, it does come at a much higher price (23,270) than the base Avengers SE model that goes for $18,900.

Detractors question the Avenger SE’s performance. It apparently leaves many drivers wanting more.  And it hardly backs up its muscle-car looks with a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder with 172 horsepower, which can be deficient in certain driving situations where the power needs to be more accessible.

No problem in that department with a more responsive R/T engine that has a 3.5-liter, V6 with 235 horsepower. It performed quite well in freeway passing situations and on some hillier roads where it climbed without laboring.

While the performance is pleasing in the R/T, what many drivers won’t like as much in all the Avenger models is the feel. The handling is stiff and doesn’t provide the type of the security most drivers seek. That lack of feel affects cornering and can lead to some uneasiness behind the wheel.

Another knock against the Avenger is the overuse of hard plastic. Dodge no doubt did this to keep the price down (they claim the Avenger is $1,600 cheaper than the Stratus), but it cheapens the vehicle overall. And speaking of the inside, the dash features a sound layout, and has easy to reach knobs and gauges not difficult to read.

Gas mileage is naturally much more appealing with the base model, while the Avenger R/T has a wide range with an estimated 16-26 mpg.

Fast Facts: Dodge Avenger, 2008

Power — 3.5-liter-liter, V6, 235 horsepower; Mileage estimates — 16 mpg (city) 26 mpg (highway); Standard Features — traction control, antiskid system, automatic climate control, steering wheel radio controls, automatic headlights, 6-disc CD/MP3/DVD changer, satellite radio, power windows, locks, mirrors, keyless entry, center console, cooled glove box, rear defogger.

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