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Dodge's midsize sedan competitor, the 2009 Avenger, has a surprising set of features to recommend it, most notably cabin conveniences you don't expect to find on a model starting in the low $20,000s. A Stone-Age transmission is what really keeps it from being an effective Camry killer, although many will like Dodge's muscle-car design language. Dodge packages its cabin tech options for Bluetooth and navigation under the UConnect name, but our Avenger lacked these extras.
On the road
We used the 2009 Dodge Avenger SXT for a 1,000 mile trek from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back, and when we first got into the car we couldn't help but think we'd gotten a rental. Fleet sales over the last couple of decades inured us to cars with bland interiors made from hard plastics, of which the Avenger is a prime example.
Ready for a road trip, we have a TomTom clamped to the windshield.
Lacking a navigation system in our car, we clamped a TomTom to the windshield, programmed in our Los Angeles destination, and started counting down the miles. As the leading, lower edge of the windshield was far forward, using the TomTom's touch screen while underway was not possible. Further, that severely slanted windshield subjected the TomTom to plenty of glare.
Audio for our trip came from an MP3 CD in the six-disc changer, an iPhone tapped into the car's auxiliary input, and Sirius satellite radio. It's not the most advanced audio set-up, but it does provide some options.
Our Avenger SXT was fitted with a 2.7-liter V-6, an upgrade from the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, transversely mounted and powering the front wheels. Although this is a flex-fuel engine, we didn't encounter any E85 at the pumps during this road trip.
While passing big trucks on the Interstate, the V-6's acceleration was less than satisfying, often because it had to wait for the four-speed automatic transmission to step down, which didn't happen promptly. And when the transmission finally realized passing gear, the tach needle would shoot up to 6,000rpm with the power train making a terrible straining whine.
The four-speed automatic transmission makes the engine strain when it steps down to passing gear.
However, during the steep climb up the mountains on the northern border of Los Angeles, we put the shifter in third gear and the Avenger easily maintained power, passing up other cars that were wheezing on the steep grade.
There are more comfortable cars to take over long distances, but the Avenger proved adequate. As a bonus, our total mileage for the trip, which included high-speed freeway driving and Los Angeles traffic, came in at 27.8 mpg, just a little over the EPA highway number of 27 mpg (19 mpg city).
In the cabin
Arrows in Dodge's cabin tech quiver include UConnect GPS, UConnect Phone, and UConnect Tunes, branded terms for a hard drive-based navigation system with live traffic, Bluetooth phone support, and onboard music storage. Although our 2009 Dodge Avenger SXT wasn't equipped with these options, we tested them earlier in the Dodge Challenger, and found they worked very well.
The simple display on the stereo shows channel information for satellite radio.
The major features lacking from this tech line-up are iPod integration and a USB port for the audio system. The Avenger has an auxiliary audio jack in the stereo face plate--not the most elegant solution, but there is a convenient cubbyhole at the bottom of the stack where you can keep an MP3 player.
For the six-disc changer and satellite radio, the two-line radio display shows information such as album, artist, song title, and channel. Navigating through the folders on an MP3 CD requires you to go through one at a time. There is no list function.
The audio system in the car is pretty basic, with four speakers in front and two in back. The sound quality is helped by the large diameter door speakers and loud amplification. But don't expect crisp highs or much nuance.
The cup holder has buttons for cooling and heating.
A Premium Convenience package brought in a lot of nice features you don't normally see in cars like the Avenger. LED map lights provide bright and targeted cabin illumination, while automatic headlights and front windows add a note of luxury. And as a surprise feature, one of the front cup holders has cooling and heating elements.
Under the hood
For power, our 2009 Avenger SXT had a newly available 2.7-liter V-6, offered as a compromise between the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a 3.5-liter V-6 available in the Avenger R/T. The 2.7-liter V-6 makes 186 horsepower and 191 pound-feet of torque. That's 13 more horsepower than the four-cylinder engine, which is not a big gain. It does offer 25 more pound-feet of torque, but sacrifices about 3 mpg. A bigger advantage of the smaller engine is that, in states following California Air Resources Board regulations, the Avenger is rated as a PZEV, or Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle, meaning particularly clean emissions. The 2.7-liter V-6 hasn't yet been rated.
For 2009, Dodge is offering this 2.7-liter V-6, getting a little more power and torque than the standard four cylinder.
The four-speed automatic transmission in the Avenger, standard on all models and engine choices, was the least impressive. The large gap between fourth and third gears leads to big rpm changes when the transmission steps down a gear for passing power, with an attendant cacophony from the engine. Although there is no manual-gear selection, the transmission has two low ranges, plus Drive mode, which effectively lets you choose third and second gear.
Steering-wheel response is good, with the power set to provide enough resistance to easily keep the car in a straight line. Handling displayed the kind of understeer we would expect in a car of this class, but body roll wasn't severe.
The 2009 Dodge Avenger SXT has a base price of $21,500. Our review car was optioned up with the Premium Convenience package for $1,495, electronic stability and traction control for $425, and the 2.7-liter V-6, which also brings in front- and rear-stabilizer bars, for $1,300. A $225 paint job and $740 for the destination charge brought the total price to $25,685. Expect the really good UConnect tech options to add about $2,500 to the price.
Although the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry might seem the obvious competitors among midsize sedans, the Ford Fusion makes for a better comparison. Both the Dodge Avenger and Ford Fusion have superior cabin tech to the Honda and Toyota models.
In rating the Avenger, we gave it credit for the available GPS and Bluetooth systems, considering it excellent for cabin tech. For the power train and handling, while we liked the fuel economy and the fact you can get it as a PZEV, we could only call the performance good. The design gets a similar score, as we like the muscle-car touches, but note that it doesn't have enough power to qualify for that classification.