1 October 2007

Someone Needs To Take Dodge Out To The Woodshed (MF Drives The Dodge Avenger)

My personal opinion on reviewing cars and judging their worthiness has always been that one has to view things in relative terms. For example, the interior trim in my Nissan Altima is quite nice for a midsize mainstream sedan, but would be very much out of place in a luxury vehicle- but because it IS a midsize mainstream sedan, it gets top marks. And for an opposite example, the interior in a Cadillac STS is amazing for an entry level luxury car, but not so much for a top of the range luxury car. Stuff like that.

So it's been interesting (to me at least) to gauge my own reactions to recent Chrysler products. Take for example the Dodge Nitro, the Jeep Patriot and the Jeep Compass (no really, take them)- they all have more or less the exact same interior, but to me, the only interior of the threesome that matches the intent of the vehicle is the Jeep Patriot- because the Rubbermaid hard plastic stuff screams utility to me- and the Patriot seems better suited to that than the overstyled overcompensating Nitro and the girly Compass.

A more relevant comparison for the purposes of this review would be the Chrysler Sebring vs. the Dodge Avenger. Basically the same car. Basically following the same old crappy marketing efforts that I thought had been eradicated from Detroit many moons ago. The Sebring? More feminine 'classy' styling, and a more 'upscale' interior. The Avenger? More butch 'aggressive' styling, and a, umm, less 'upscale' interior. It's actually somewhat amusing to see Chrysler pigeon-holing their buyers like this, but I digress.

What I'm actually trying to say is- the Dodge Avenger is less of an affront to the car buying public than the Chrysler Sebring, but not by much.

Where to begin? Well, first, the model I drove was a rental car special- a 4 cylinder equipped automatic SXT with the bare minimum in terms of interior goodies. No U-Connect, no chilled/heated beverage holders, no navi, no MyGig entertainment system, no steering wheel controls. On the outside, I was bedazzled by some of the most brilliantly orange peeled red paint I've ever seen, paired with a set of nice alloy wheels. Of particular hideous note- the designers at Chrysler must have a vendetta against C-pillars, if the C-pillar of the Sebring and the Avenger are any indication. Otherwise, I actually LIKE the exterior shape- yes, it's a mix of Caliber and Charger, but at least it's distinctive in a field which includes the Toyota Camry, Chevy Malibu and Honda Accord.

Inside, we arrive at the issue I hinted at in my Compass/Patriot/Nitro example earlier- materials that are obviously sub-standard in the Sebring become less sub-standard in the Avenger. Don't get me wrong, they still suck, but at least they fit in more with the image of the vehicle. Yes, it's all hard plastic. Yes, it gets uncomfortable at times when your knee rests against the center console or your elbow sits too long on the elbow rest. However, panel gaps are pretty tight, and there wasn't a squeak or a rattle anywhere. So it looks like Fisher-Price, but at least it was built by adults. Seat comfort is non-existent due to flat spongy surfaces. The stereo sounds like crap. The transmission lever is ringed by some of the fakest plastic chrome you'll ever see. But for some reason, it's not as offensive as you might think.

And the drive? Well, it's a mix of good and bad. First the good- the 2.4 liter four banger is, believe it or not- VERY smooth. It's actually a willing partner all the way up to the redline, and it sounds great. The transmission would be better served with another cog, but otherwise, it performs smoothly, although it is hesitant to shift down when more power is needed. And that's about it for the good. The rest is horrific. Spongy brakes? Check. Floaty suspension reminiscent of my dad's old 1985 Buick LeSabre coupe? Check. Incredibly overboosted steering? Yup, you got it. The best thing I can say about the drive is that it's not as bad as a base Buick Allure/LaCrosse. And if that's not damning this vehicle with the faintest praise imaginable, I don't know what is.

In the end, the place where I got my Avenger is also the place where it is best suited- the rental agency. On its own, one can make some arguments that it is a feasible vehicle. If you compare it to ANYTHING other than the Chrysler Sebring, it falls flat. Yes, it has a silky smooth I4, but apart from that, it is severely outgunned by everything in the segment. Even a Kia. I am absolutely floored that the designers at Chrysler and Dodge thought that THESE vehicles would be the ones to compete with the market leaders. Their OWN vehicles from last generation are in many ways better than these rolling piles of crap- seriously- stick this engine in a last gen Sebring, and I'd probably like the resulting vehicle more than these messes. The very fact that these have made it into the hands of the buying public is a testament to just how messed up the American automobile industry (particularly Chrysler) is.

The only way I could recommend this vehicle to someone is if they got it for about 6-7k off of list price. Which with the way Chrysler is going, may be in the cards somewhat soon.

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