By the numbers, the 2012 Dodge Avenger is perfectly competitive in performance--although there's nothing all that inspiring about it.
The base powertrain combination, of 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder and four-speed automatic, are best left to rental fleets. But we seriously recommend the SXT four-cylinder model, which includes a new six-speed automatic transmission and makes the engine feel more perky and refined. Otherwise in SXT Plus models as well as in the R/T, the Avenger's 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is a vast upgrade.
In practice, the smooth windup of the V-6, and its 260 pound-feet of torque, 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 steroidal twitches of torque steer before it takes a straight-ahead set. And while the six-speed automatic works well with the four, it's not the best companion with the V-6--as if it's been put in a lazier, more hesitant mode to tolerate the torque.
The Avenger still has hydraulic power steering, which imbues it with more natural feedback and bite than other mid-size sedans--a positive thing. But it's not happy and taut at most speeds like a Ford Fusion is.