2011 Dodge Avenger
Grab the reins
A 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder carries over from last year's Avenger, but the V-6 is new across the board to the Chrysler lineup. Firing up a V-6 Avenger for a short first drive around wine country in Napa, we found few differences from the 200 with the same drivetrain--the same bucketloads of horsepower and worthwhile distinctions in ride quality.
The new Chrysler V-6 drops 283 horsepower in the front-drive Avenger's engine bay, with 260 pound-feet of torque twisting through a six-speed automatic transmission. On the spec sheet, that's higher output than the new Sonata 2.0T turbo, the Fusion V-6 and the Regal GS. In practice, the smooth windup of the six just can't be controlled with the Avenger's small-car strut-and-multilink suspension. Mash the gas hard and the Avenger weaves on takeoff with corresponding bucketloads of torque steer before it takes a straight-ahead set.
Chrysler's new six-speed automatic isn't the best companion for the power. Especially in manual-shift mode, the Avenger lags out some downshifts with slow torque-converter lockup that feels like a drivetrain burp. A dual-clutch transmission is coming, but even with the stock six-speed automatic, a pair of paddles on the steering wheel would be safer and less distracting than the lever-controlled sport-shift mode.
The old Avenger had a reputation for a thocking, thrumming ride. New tires, relocated suspension pieces, and better shocks shear off the sharp edges. The Avenger still has hydraulic power steering, augmented by a lower ride height in front than in back, which leaves it with more natural feedback and bite in its steering than most other mid-size sedans--with the exception of the 2011 VW Jetta, which reverts to old-school hydraulic power steering. What the Jetta has, and what the Avenger still lacks, is a cohesive driving feel--and an eagerness to use all its talents.