Tuesday, March 18th 2008, 4:00 AM
A lot of upscale sedans have a preciousness despite their power, but the all-new Avenger doesn't play that elitist game — it's more your Uncle Joe who buys his shirts at Target, his meals at Fuddruckers and his beer at the joint on the corner. It's also a Charger-lite, meaning if you don't have the cash to lay out for New York's finest choice of wheels, this similarly styled midsize sedan can get you where you're going in an (almost) equal hurry for less coin.
The Avenger body's a rugged, choppy collection of corners and curves, with an attitudinal snout, stubby rear and a spoiler topping it off. Eighteen-inch cast aluminum wheels with all-season tires and chrome-tipped dual exhaust further up the rush-rush body flavor. It's actually closer neighbors with Chrysler's Sebring than the Charger, sharing the Sebring's powertrain, but the similarity ends there.
There's plenty of room inside, especially in the rear, so the kids won't be cramped on long trips. And speaking of kids, you'll be able to relax about scuffs, ice-cream spills and so on with the Avenger's YES Essentials stain-odor-static-resistant fabric, which withstands severe rubbing.
Another welcome accessory is the Chill Zone, a dash-mounted beverage holder, and MyGig — an audio, nav and entertainment center allowing users to download both photos and music to a hard drive. An optional DVD rear-seat entertainment system that includes AM/FM stereo radio with MP3 capable CD/DVD player, six-disc CD/DVD changer and SIRIUS Satellite Digital Audio Radio was easy to work and the sound was better than average, especially for Chrysler. Remote start and remote keyless entry let you start the car from up to 300 feet away.
The Avenger is Dodge's first midsize car to offer all-wheel drive capability combined with a sport-tuned suspension, performance steering and Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with traction control, all of which give the vehicle a respectable if not world record-shattering road performance. City parking and K-turns were a breeze due to a quick gas-brake-shift-steer combo that didn't require looking down to get the job done quickly.
The Avenger R/T comes with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that produces 235 horsepower and 232 lb.-ft. of torque coupled with a new six-speed automatic transaxle that comes standard with Auto Stick. Other trims feature smaller engines.
Minor gripes include a somewhat stiff ride and a bizarre triangular section of plastic trim both on the inside and outside of the rear window; if I bought this car, I'd snap it off. Mileage is also a feeble 15 miles per city gallon, 24 on the highway.
But if you're looking for a car, not a cupcake, the Avenger abides.