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The 2013 Dodge Avenger stands out as refreshingly different, design-wise, yet in most other respects it falls woefully short in a class of high-achievers. It's grown further from rental-only territory and closer to becoming a worthy competitor for the cars in the segment, certainly, but essentially, as we say with the closely related Chrysler 200, it's a case of too little, too late.
Within the past several years, Chrysler has given it a new V-6, a retuned suspension, and a mostly new interior. It's undoubtedly better than it was before, but models introduced in recent years like the new Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima, along with the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima introduced a couple of years ago, have kept the competition tough.
What we're relatively sure of is that, especially after a mild retouch a couple of years ago, the Avenger's exterior looks attractive and stands out. It's a smaller take on the design of the large Charger sedan, and it has a lock on brand unity that few small cars carry over from their successful big siblings. The big crosshair grille instantly identitfies it as a Dodge, but it's the upkick at the rear fenders that really connect it to the Charger—and give it just a hint of muscle. Inside, Dodge gave the cabin appointments a little more polish a couple of years ago, with some better detailing and soft-touch materials around the dash, but the lower half of the dash was mostly left untouched. And in general, the look neither has the premium look of the Charger or even the detailed, sporty look of the new Dart cabin.
For most everyday buyers, the 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder and four-speed automatic should be skipped right over and left to the rental fleets. The four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic—the default combination throughout most of the rest of the model line—is quite perky, but there's a bit too much coarseness at times. Otherwise, the 283-horsepower, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that's optional is a vast upgrade, with a strong, smooth demeanor. Most of the time, the six-speed automatic is a good companion, with smooth shifts under full-throttle acceleration, but in lighter-duty driving there's some shuddering and indecision. Also, the V-6 has a bit of an issue with torque steer. The Avenger has old-fashioned hydraulic power steering, and a lower ride height in front than in back; together they give it decent road manners and feedback, but it's not happy and taut at most speeds.
The 2013 Avenger can look deceptively small compared to some of the newer mid-size designs, with their elongated rooflines, but it's arguably about the same size as a Sonata or Optima. Front seats are comfortable and a bit on the wide side, but they lack much back support; in back there's enough legroom, although the mini-Charger roofline can make it feel a bit confining. Entry and exit can be an issue in the back seat, too, thanks to high sills and a low roofline.
Safety has been an areas where the Avenger doesn't disappoint. It's an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, and it comes with curtain airbags and stability control. On the other hand, with the roofline blocking visibility, there's no rearview camera or blind-spot monitor.
Dodge has reduced prices on the top-of-the-line R/T model, and it's added leather and heated seats to the SXT options list for 2013. The base Avenger SE includes air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; 17-inch wheels; a split-folding rear seat; and cloth upholstery, but it's the only model in the lineup to be saddled with a four-speed automatic. The SXT adds a power driver's seat, 17-inch alloys, fog lamps, leather trim, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, and more. A Bluetooth hands-free interface is lacking from much of the lineup, but Satellite radio and a USB port are standard or optional on all models, and a navigation system is now offered on the Avenger, as is a Boston Acoustics premium sound system.
For 2013, there's also an enhanced Rallye appearance group that brings 18-inch alloy wheels, black-bezel headlamps, a body-color grille, rear spoiler, and available black-and-red cloth interior.