The 2014 Dodge Avenger, now out of production, was the brand’s last mid-size sedan. The last of the Avengers wasn’t particularly competitive in a ruthlessly Darwinian market for mid-size four-doors that saw the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, and Nissan Altima trounce it in sales, among others.
Tha Avenger was last updated way back in the 2011 model year, and it bears the same blocky sheetmetal with which it debuted for 2008. The disappearance of the Avenger will likely be mourned only by Dodge dealers left to fill its segment with either pricey versions of the not-all-that-successful Dart front-wheel-drive compact sedan or the lowest end of the large, powerful, rear-wheel-drive Charger sport sedan.
A recent change in focus means that Dodge will become a sporty specialty brand, and Chrysler the mass-market make. So while there’s an all-new and much improved 2015 Chrysler 200 now hitting dealerships, there will be no Dodge equivalent. If you want a mid-size Dodge sedan, find yourself one of the last Avengers–and prepare to keep it for a while.
At least the 2014 Avenger stands out from the crowd; its design does its best to echo the full-size Charger sedan. Although many details are similar–from its cross-hair grille to the kicked-up “shoulder” ahead of the rear fender–its front-wheel-drive proportions don’t work as well as those of the rear-wheel-drive Charger. The Avenger carries a hint of the Charger muscle in its lines, but the similarity is more visual than functional.
Inside, the mid-size Dodge is arguably about the same size as a Sonata or an Optima, despite its slab-sided and upright lines. 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. 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.
The 2011 update gave the Avenger its excellent and powerful Chrysler Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 engine, along with a much nicer interior and a retuned suspension. But four years later, against almost entirely redesigned competition, it’s still sadly an example of “too little, too late.”
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.
Dodge has reduced prices on the top-of-the-line R/T model; it 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.
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.