Dodge Avenger, 2008-14: Now a family sedan

The original Avenger was a Hillman—and since Hillman became Chrysler Europe, re-using the  name was perfectly fine. The first Dodge Avenger was a two-door coupe, based on the Mitsubishi Galant platform. For the 2008 model year, the old four-door, midsized “cloud-car” platform was replaced by a new JS platform, based on the Mitsubishi GS platform, and the Avenger grew two more doors.

2008 Introduction

In February 2007, a new Dodge sedan began hitting showrooms. The Avenger was a front-wheel-drive midsize sedan targeting cars such as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Chevrolet Malibu; it was very similar to the Chrysler Sebring. This would be the last completely DaimlerChrysler-issued vehicle, as the company’s owner gave way to Cerberus and then Fiat from 2007 to 2009.

2008 Dodge Avenger

On the outside, the Avenger took on a styling theme similar to that of the Dodge Charger, with a prominent “kink” in the rear window, accentuated fenders, and other aggressive styling elements. Inside, the Avenger had a roomy back seat and a fairly quiet cabin. The build quality inside was mediocre, however, and some low-quality materials were used throughout the cabin. Still, the spacious interior and amenities like the “Chill Zone” air-conditioned glovebox, stain resistant seats, and heated and cooled cupholders made the Avenger interior stand apart from its competitors. 

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Three engine options were available for the 2008 model year: a 2.4L inline 4-cylinder (the “World Gasoline Engine,” or WGE, co-engineered by Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Chrysler, and Mercedes),  producing 173 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque; a Chrysler 2.7L V6 producing 189 horsepower and 191 lb-ft of torque; and a Chrysler 3.5L V6 making 235 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque, down from its 300M/Charger power rating of 250 horsepower and 250 lb-ft.

The two smaller engines were mated to a four-speed automatic transmission, while the more powerful V6 was paired with a six-speed automatic. The 3.5L V6 was also the only engine option available with all wheel drive (AWD) later in the 2008 model year.

The three trim levels were SE, SXT, and R/T.  The 2008 Avenger SE included steel wheels, air conditioning, power locks, mirrors, and windows, cruise control, and the “Chill Zone” glovebox. The only powertrain for the SE in the 2008 model year was the 2.4L 4-cylinder, which sounded like a sewing machine when revved and did not make much power at lower engine speeds. 

chillzone

The SXT model added 17” alloy wheels, stiff but stain resistant seat material, a power driver’s seat, and a premium sound system, among other features. The standard engine on the SXT was the 4-cylinder, but the 2.7L V6 was available as an option.

The top-line R/T added 18” wheels, sportier suspension tuning, automatic climate control, steering wheel mounted audio control buttons, a CD changer, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The highlight of this trim level was the 3.5L V6 engine, as well as AWD when it became an option later in the model year. 

Comparisons. The four-cylinder Avenger was just a tenth of a second behind the Toyota Camry in 0-60 times (tying it in fuel economy in the Car & Driver test, but being 1 mpg behind in EPA tests), and was half a second faster than the Ford Fusion. The Avenger and Camry were the top midsize sedans for fuel economy with their four-cylinders. Allpar’s Bill Cawthon tested both the Sebring (the Avenger’s twin) and the Camry, and found that the Camry wallowed around the road with poor handling; the Sebring was more responsive to steering and was reasonably nimble. He thought both cars were comfortable, with the Toyota having better fit and finish. The Avenger and Sebring had more head room and leg room, with a slightly smaller trunk than the Camry; the 3.5 liter Chrysler V6 produced 34 horsepower and 16 pound-feet less than the Toyota, turning in 1 mpg less city and highway mileage.

2009-2010 Updates

After a short run for part of the 2008 model year, the AWD option was dropped from the lineup for the 2009 model year–an odd choice since the engineering was done, suggesting that there may have been some problems with it, or that the cost was high and the take rate was low. More sound insulation material was added to all 2009 trims. More standard features were added to the lineup, with SXT and R/T now gaining a spoiler and fog lamps.

An optional package for the SXT added more luxurious amenities such as heated mirrors, automatic headlights, heated seats, heated and cooled cupholders, and remote start. 

Later in the model year, the 2.7L V6 was dropped from the consumer lineup, becoming a fleet-only option and leaving the 2.4L 4-cylinder and 3.5L V6 in the lineup. The R/T now had the 4-cylinder as standard, rather than the 2.7, with the 3.5 V6 still available. 

For 2010, the SE was dropped; the SXT was now the base model, with an Express trim added above it but below the R/T. That said, since the SXT came with 16” steel wheels and was restricted to the four-cylinder, one could argue that the SE continued under the SXT name, with Express replacing the SXT. In any case, the SXT also came with power windows, locks, and mirrors, air conditioning, the “Chill Zone” compartment, and a base sound system with satellite radio.

The Express added 17” alloy wheels, heated mirrors, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, a leather wrapped steering wheel, a better sound system, a touch-screen radio with music storage, and steering wheel mounted audio control buttons. Again, though, buyers were restricted to the noisy four-cylinder.

The R/T, curiously, dropped the touch-screen radio in exchange for a lower-tech version, but added  a CD changer, spoiler, fog lights, and leather seats; again, the four was standard, the 3.5 optional. 

2011-4 Updates

With Fiat fully in charge for two years, it was time for a big refresh for the 2011 Dodge Avenger—and many other former-Chrysler-Corp. cars and trucks.

2011 Dodge Avenger

The 3.5L V6 was replaced by a more powerful and quieter 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine. Interior materials were improved, with higher-quality plastics everywhere, better seat cushioning, and new upholstery. The exterior was refreshed with a new grille, front bumper, and LED “ring of fire” tail lamps similar to those of the refreshed Journey. The suspension and steering were retuned to give the Avenger sportier driving dynamics and a smoother ride, and sound insulation was bumped up again. Some of the changes included raising the roll center, stiffening body mounts while softening the ride rate, using a heavier rear sway bar, changing the tire model, adding acoustic glass.

The 2.4L 4-cylinder engine was still available, now with the 6-speed automatic on all but the base model. A new trim lineup was introduced: Express, Mainstreet, Heat, and Lux. The idea was that Dodge had done some serious market segmentation work and had created new models to appeal to each market segment. The success of this may be judged by the fact that none of these four trims were still sold two years later.

Avenger gauges

The Express, replacing the old SE, included 17” steel wheels, power locks, mirrors, and windows, cruise control, air conditioning, and a base sound system with four speakers. It was available with the 2.4L 4-cylinder matched to a 4-speed automatic and no possible upgrades. Very few people were expected to actually buy the Express; it was there for a few true cheapskates and a low MSRP in the ads. 

The Mainstreet added alloy wheels, heated mirrors, automatic climate control, a better sound system, satellite radio, a power driver’s seat, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel; the four-cylinder was hooked up to a six-speed automatic, which was much more suitable, especially given the “WGE” power bands. 

The Heat trim level added 18” alloy wheels, fog lamps, a rear spoiler, heated front seats, remote start, and a touch screen radio. The new 3.6L Pentastar V6 engine was standard on the Heat, paired exclusively to a 6-speed automatic; it boasted a stunning (compared with the original V6, or most 1960s V8s) 283 horsepower, and was one of Ward’s Ten Best Engines for 2011 (and 2012).  

2011 pentastar V6

The top-end Lux trim level added leather seats, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and chrome wheels, while dropping the spoiler; the 2.4L 4-cylinder and 6-speed automatic were standard but the V6 was optional.

pentastar-no-engine-cover

The 2011 Dodge Avenger was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and retailed for $18,995. Its twin, the Chrysler Sebring, was seen as “different enough” to be renamed to Chrysler 200; one reason was because the Sebring had been relentlessly mocked by critics after one called the convertible version the worst car ever made, something of an overstatement. The 2008-2010 Avenger and Sebring may not have been the best sedans on the market in 2008-2010, but they were competitive and reasonably reliable.

The effects of the 2011 update were stunning. The Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200 née Sebring went from being a bit noisy and rattly to the being among the quietest cars in their class, feeling every bit as solid as any Honda, Toyota, or Chevrolet. The seats were more comfortable, the scratchy, inflexible stain-resistant fabric dramatically improved (or, more likely, completely replaced by something different). The interior styling went far upscale, with the bulgy, semi-gaudy styling of the 2008-10 models totally gone. The company reportedly put around $2,000 more into each car’s components, and it showed. The hefty sound insulation did much to improve the 2.4 liter four-cylinder engines, too, since owners no longer had the sensation of sewing machines going into overdrive when they hit the pedal; vibrations had been successfully attacked, too. Some were fooled into thinking they were in the V6 model when they drove four-cylinders.

2011 dodge avenger dashboard

With the 2011s, Avengers and Sebrings became rental-fleet darlings, not because they were impossible to sell otherwise (though their reputation stuck with them, so sales were still a problem), but because rental car customers sought them out. The cars were comfortable, easy to drive without paying particular attention, comfortable and controllable on the harshest roads, and predictable in their responses and control layouts. The Avenger and Sebring, with the 2011 redesign, were now actually among the top of the mid-size class. The Camry, still stuck in “cost-cutting” mode, was not quite as attractive; even the Camry’s 3.5 liter V6 was less powerful than Chrysler’s new, cutting-edge Pentastar V6.

2012. The innovative trim names were mainly dropped for the 2012 model year; the base model was again the SE (replacing Express), SXT returned to replace Mainstreet, and R/T replaced Heat. Since there had been no real between-SXT-and-R/T trimline before, Dodge created SXT Plus to replace Lux; it fit between the SXT and R/T. The main change, other than name badges, was making the V6 standard on the R/T, since the four-cylinder wouldn’t fit the heritage of the badge. The Avenger V6 was now a pretty quick car, doing 0-60 in 6 seconds and running a 14.8 quarter-mile ending at 94 mph. The four-cylinder ran 0-60 in 8.8 seconds with the six-speed, and 9.4 seconds with the four-speed.

2013. The SE added options for 18” chrome alloy wheels, the V6 engine, dual exhaust, and a rear spoiler. The SXT Plus was dropped, with most of its equipment becoming optional on the SXT, including the V6 engine; a new Rallye package was also available for the SXT, adding 18” wheels, sportier trim details on the exterior and interior, and a spoiler. 

2014. The new Blacktop and and old Rallye packages became available for the SE and SXT trim levels.  

Discontinuation

Chrysler’s new chief executive, who also ran Fiat, was unhappy with the “badge engineering” that resulted in a nearly identical Chrysler Sebring and Dodge Avenger. When the Dodge Dart was brought back in 2013, within spitting distance of the interior space of the Avenger, he could have dropped the older car, but he didn’t. Instead, he waited until the launch of a brand new 2015 Chrysler 200; 2014 was the final model year for both the Avenger and old “Sebring-based” 200.

The Avenger was arguably outclassed by newer entries into the midsize sedan market; however, the 2011 upgrades had touched just about every part of the car, leaving the base engine and the stereo as the only retrograde reminders of DaimlerChrysler. What really killed the Avenger was Sergio Marchionne’s decision to spend billions on a replacement for the Avenger and 200, and to move both Chrysler and Dodge in new directions. Dodge would become a muscle/sport brand; Chrysler would become the mainstream brand. A midrange, midsized sedan had no place in Dodge’s new world, so the only Avenger/200 replacement would be the Chrysler 200.

Ironically, the brand new 200, with its ultramodern 8.4” telematics screen, nine-speed automatic transmission, and superior handling, acceleration, and gadgetry—all vastly updated from 2008 to 2015—did not add up to a car that was clearly “better” than the Avenger for the typical buyer. The main issue seized upon by critics was the 200’s sloping roofline, which made it harder to get into the back seats. In a stunningly brief time, the Avenger’s replacement was also dead, more the victim of changing customer tastes than that design flaw; people now wanted SUVs, and even the best-selling sedans would see huge drops in sales despite substantially lower prices.

Ryan had an obsession with cars from a young age, reading NADA books and MotorTrend magazine as well as sketching cars in elementary school. He has since moved on to creating renderings in Photoshop and writing about auto news. You can reach Ryan at +1.516-531-4021.

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