2012 Dodge Avenger Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
February 6, 2012

With a better interior and a better V-6, the 2012 Dodge Avenger has grown more interesting--but it execution, it still leaves a lot to be desired.

Retrofitted last year with a new V-6 powertrain, a retuned suspension and a new interior, the Dodge Avenger comes back for the 2012 model year still intent on rehabbing its rental-car image. It's undoubtedly better than it was before, but the Avenger still struggles as it competes with some family-sedan powerhouses including the Ford Fusion and Kia Optima.

Carried over almost unchanged in 2011, the Avenger still looks right. It's a mini-Charger, and it has a lock on brand unity that few small cars carry over from their successful big siblings. Dodge's big crosshair grille takes up residence on the nose, but it's the upkick to the rear quarters that connects the Avenger more to the Charger sedan. Inside, the cabin was polished up somewhat in the 2011 model year, but not to the same level as the Chrysler 200. The dash cap's a little more sculpted, the climate controls are streamlined, and some nice details of bright and matte plastic contrast with the softer-touch pieces. The lower half of the dash was mostly left untouched, and it wears lower-grade plastic than the 200, and some of the same carryover gauges and buttons are more noticeable here.

Chrysler carries over the base Avenger powertrain this year, and for most everyday buyers, the 2.4-liter, 173-horsepower four-cylinder and four-speed automatic are best left to rental fleets. The Avenger's 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 was new in the 2011 model year, and it's a vast upgrade. It lets loose 283 horsepower in the front-driver, and its 260 pound-feet of torque can twist its front tires a little too vigorously sometimes. Torque steer's an issue: while the engine winds up smoothly, and puts out more power than the high-output engines from Hyundai, Ki and Ford, the power makes the Avenger's strut-and-multilink suspension dance. The Avenger weaves on takeoff with left-right swings of torque steer before it settles down into a straight-ahead set. 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 like a Fusion is--aside from acceleration, it's uninspired.

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Interior space can be tricky with the Avenger. On paper, it offers roughly the same space as a Sonata, Optima, Fusion or Subaru Legacy. Head and leg room are equal to or better than most, though the Avenger's trunk is on the small side of the scale. It's the mini-Charger roofline that plays tricks. The glassy Sonata lets plenty of light into its cabin, where the tall shoulders and low roofline of the Avenger and its dark interior trim make it feel more confining. With flat, wide seats, it has the space and room to please, but doesn't feel like it. Entry and exit can be an issue in the back seat, too, thanks to high sills and a low roofline.

An IIHS Top Safety Pick, the Avenger comes with curtain airbags and stability control, and Bluetooth is offered at least as an option--but there's no rearview camera on any version, or blind-spot monitors. All versions offer air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; 17-inch wheels; a split-folding rear seat; and cloth upholstery. Satellite radio and a USB port are standard or optional on all models, and a navigation system is now offered on the Avenger.

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2012 Dodge Avenger

Styling

The 2012 Dodge Avenger mimics the more substantial, higher-performance Charger on the outside, though its interior still lacks cohesion.

Dodge carries over the 2012 Avenger's mini-Charger look virtually unchanged. That's actually a good thing; the Dodge Avenger has needed lots of improvement, and it's received it incrementally, but especially on the outside, this mid-size sedan already had a lock on its modern Dodge brand identity, with its aggressive stance, crosshair grille, and upkicked rear quarters.

Even the detailing on the exterior is completely in accordance with Dodge's brawnier muscle cars, with a simplified look to the headlamps and taillamps, plus bright-and-black trim pieces that, with the last retouch, bolster the buff first impression.

Inside is where the Avenger still doesn't come close enough to matching the look of the larger Charger--in either appearance or touch. The cabin clearly wears less expensive trim than the Chrysler 200 (with which it's closely related), but even compared to other affordable mid-size sedans it looks quite good from a few paces back. The dash cap's a little more sculpted, the climate controls are streamlined, and some nice details of bright and matte plastic contrast with the softer-touch pieces. The lower half of the dash was mostly left untouched, and it wears lower-grade plastic than the 200, and some of the same carryover gauges and buttons are more noticeable here.

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2012 Dodge Avenger

Performance

The 2012 Dodge Avenger has some promising components, but they just don't work together in an inspiring way.

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.

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2012 Dodge Avenger

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Dodge Avenger has a roomy interior, but back-seat accommodations suffer somewhat from the fashionable exterior.

The 2012 Dodge Avenger has roughly the same interior space found in the Hyundai Sonata, or in the latest Ford Fusion or Subaru Legacy, which amounts to a roomy cabin in front or in back--although the Avenger's tall beltline can make the back seat feel claustrophobic to some.

With flat, rather wide front seats, as well as plenty of headroom and legroom, there's space for a wide range of body type, but a lack of side support. Back seats are a bit flat, but contoured like those of most other mid-sizers, with enough legroom for adults and just enough headroom--although you might need to bow your head for entry and exit. The Avenger's trunk is on the small side of the scale, but we'd guess it to be large enough for most family needs.

But the Avenger's tall shoulders and high beltline--designed to mimic those of the larger Charger to some degree--definitely have their cost, making the back seat more of a Dramamine zone than the back seat in sedans with a taller, airier greenhouse, like a Sonata. Dark trim most everywhere inside save for the upholstery enhances the more confining feel.

The 2012 Dodge Avenger rides well, for the most part, with four-cylinder models soaking up more bumps; V-6 models stand as impressively quiet and refined for highway cruising.

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2012 Dodge Avenger

Safety

The 2012 Dodge Avenger has a good set of safety features and a sound structure--and the tests help prove it.

While the Dodge Avenger has left a lot to be desired in refinement and interior appointments in past model years, it's always tested well for safety and offered one of the better safety equipment lists.

The 2012 Avenger earns four-star scores all around in federal-government NCAP tests, and it's not a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for 2012, thanks to a better 'good' result when it was retested for (rollover-related) roof strength this past year.

Dual front, side and curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; and active headrests are all on the standard-features list for the Avenger. Advanced options like blind-spot detection and parking sensors aren't on the menu at all.

You might think the thick rear pillar and rather high rear beltline would get in the way of outward visibility, but it's not bad--and considerably better than a number of other smaller cars.

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2012 Dodge Avenger

Features

Dodge packs a lot of features for the money into the 2012 Avenger.

Dodge has thankfully done away with the confusing trim levels like 'Mainstreet' and 'Heat' and brought back its traditional trim levels for 2012, including SE, SXT, SXT Plus, and R/T.

All versions offer air conditioning; power windows, locks and mirrors; 17-inch wheels; a split-folding rear seat; and cloth upholstery. Satellite radio and a USB port are standard or optional on all models, and a navigation system is now offered on the Avenger.

SXT models add the far-superior six-speed automatic transmission, plus automatic climate control, body-color heated mirrors, an eight-way power driver's seat, 17-inch alloy wheels, a trip computer, and an upgraded six-speaker sound system with satellite radio. Step up to the SXT Plus and you get the V-6 engine, larger 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, upgraded upholstery with French-seam stitching, and a touch-screen based media center.

2012 Dodge Avenger R/T models add a more blacked-out, monochromatic look throughout, including read accent lighting inside, perforated black leather trim, and 18-inch polished "Rallye Design" wheels.

Other options include Boston Acoustics sound with hard-drive media storage, chrome-clad wheels, and premium leather upholstery.

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2012 Dodge Avenger

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Dodge Avenger is one of the thirstier options among mid-size sedans.

The 2012 Dodge Avenger is certainly no gas-mileage standout. Base four-cylinder Avenger models are near the back of the pack with respect to fuel economy, at 21 mpg city, 30 highway. The same goes for versions with the Pentastar V-6, at 19/29--though we've noted numbers in the low twenties in spirited driving.

Get the SXT Plus model and you'll upgrade to a six-speed automatic with the four-cylinder. While it's a much more responsive and agreeable combination, from our experience--and it achieves better real-world results--it's actually rated 1 mpg lower in the EPA city test (but 1 mpg higher on the highway) for ratings of 20/31.

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Styling 7
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 7
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Features 9
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