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Road Test: 2009 Dodge Avenger SXT
For years, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord basically owned the midsize sedan segment, but as each of these (as well as the Chevrolet Malibu) have grown to almost full-size proportions, the competition among midsized sedans is heating up. The Camry, Accord and Malibu may be bigger than the Avenger, but their starting prices make them prime competition for the Avenger in addition to the Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata.
Assembled in Sterling Heights, Mich. alongside the Chrysler Sebring, the 2009 Dodge Avenger is available in two trim levels (SXT and R/T) with a starting MSRP of $20,515. We tested the SXT with an assortment of packages that essentially stepped it up to the R/T trim level in terms of appearance and convenience, and it came with an as-tested price of $27,955. Dodge is always at or near the top in the truck and SUV market, but we wanted to see how Dodge is holding up in the lucrative midsize sedan market going into its second year with the Dodge Avenger.
2009 Dodge Avenger SXT Exterior
Since hitting the market in 2008, the Dodge Avenger has received more than its fair share of criticism, but one area you can't knock Dodge's midsize sedan is its chiseled styling. As a replacement for the conservatively styled Stratus sedan, the Avenger's design mimics some of the more aggressive design cues of the popular Dodge Charger sedan from the sporty front fascia to the raised rear haunches. The Avenger's styling is by far its best attribute, and our test vehicle had numerous add-ons that gave it an even more menacing look closer to that of the R/T trim level. Fog lights, 18-inch five-spoke alloy wheels and a rear decklid spoiler all helped give this often overlooked sedan a look that stands out. Breaking up an otherwise monochromatic paint scheme, the only part of this 2009 Avenger that wasn't painted in Dodge's Deep Water Blue Pearl Coat hue was the signature cross-hair grille which gets a chrome treatment.
2009 Dodge Avenger SXT Interior
One of the Avenger's biggest downfalls is the interior quality, but Dodge makes up for this with a spacious and technology-laden cabin. The ironic part is that Dodge says its Avenger is the 'official passenger sedan of NASCAR,' and this car's cabin surely backs that up. Yes, you'll be comfortable and entertained on a 500-mile trip; just don't expect too much luxury along the way. Aside from the HVAC and stereo/navigation buttons and switches, all of the controls inside the Avenger just felt cheap from the turn signal and windshield wiper stalks to the window buttons. Fortunately, there are enough goodies inside the car to help make up for other shortcomings.
Highlights of the interior include a trio of Chrysler's UConnect offerings as well as a multitude of beverage coolers. As a $1,200 option, the UConnect package includes UConnect phone, GPS and tunes which all work in different ways to make the cabin more connected to the driver. The UConnect GPS is by far the most impressive feature as it is offers real-time traffic and weather updates and suggests route changes for congested traffic areas. Voice recognition and Bluetooth connectivity are the main highlights of the UConnect phone, while the UConnect tunes (formerly MyGig) offers a 30-gigabyte hard drive for ripping music and photos through either the CD or integrated USB port. Our Avenger's interior was also equipped with the $1,495 Premium Convenience Group package that added remote vehicle start, heated and cooled center cupholder, a premium headliner with bright LED lighting and an electronic vehicle information center that includes a digital trip computer and tire pressure monitoring among many other features. The interior was finished off with an optional ($775) power sunroof and the standard Chill ZoneÂ® beverage cooler that holds up to four 12-ounce beverage cans above the glove box.
Passenger space is also something that the Avenger offers plenty of, with one of the roomiest back seats in this class with more rear headroom and legroom than the 2009 Nissan Altima. From the outside, we would have thought the Avenger's raised haunches would make for a large dark spot for the rear passengers, but other than an unattractive patch of black plastic, the back seat is just as comfortable as the front seats. The additional room given to the rear passengers apparently came at the expense of cargo volume as the Avenger only holds 13.4 cubic feet of cargo in the trunk (less than the compact Chevrolet Cobalt's trunk space of 13.9 cu. ft.).
2009 Dodge Avenger SXT Performance & Handling
Our test vehicle was equipped with Chrysler's 2.7-liter V-6 engine as a $1,300 option, which turns out to be a rather odd engine option. While this engine's 186 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque are only slightly better than the 2.4-liter inline-4 that is standard on the Avenger, the main draw for the middle V-6 option is the fact that it is E85 compatible. It must have been hard for customers to rationalize the extra $1,300 to get E85 and lower fuel economy, because this engine choice is being dropped for 2010. The only transmission available on the Avenger SXT is the four-speed automatic that felt clumsy at times with a shift quality that was somewhere in between a hard, sport-tuned shift and a lazy, fuel economy-minded shift. Despite giving up 49 horsepower and 40 lb-ft of torque to the larger V-6, the 2.7-liter actually gets worse highway fuel economy with EPA estimates of 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway (compared to 16 mpg city/26 mpg highway) - if E85 is used, fuel economy drops to 13 mpg city and 20 mpg highway.
The extra power from the V-6 is good enough though to give the car smoother and quieter acceleration compared to the inline-4, but under heavy acceleration (say merging with interstate traffic) the V-6 is a bit on the loud side. Once up to speed, though, we found another gem in this Avenger SXT as it exhibited a surprisingly smooth ride especially when compared to comparably sized competitors like the Altima and the Saturn Aura. Under heavy acceleration, the Avenger does not suffer from dreaded torque steer that some of its front-wheel drive competitors suffer from. Speaking of front-wheel drive, Chrysler no longer offers the Avenger in all-wheel drive format, meaning that Avenger is losing perhaps one of its best drivetrain advantages. Base Avenger SXT models come standard with drum brakes, but our test model was equipped with four-wheel disc brakes. Like the 2.7-liter V-6 and all-wheel drive, the 2010 Avenger will no longer offer rear drum brakes.
2009 Dodge Avenger SXT Safety
Like its interior, the Avenger on the cusp of greatness, but it's the small details that are glaring. While most of its competitors are getting quadruple five-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Avenger not only gets a four-star side-impact rating for the rear seat occupant, but adds a safety concern for the front. As it turns out, the concern is that the front door becomes unlatched during the crash test, and since the 2010 Avenger has yet to be tested, there is no indication that this concern has been fixed. As for the crash rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the only factor that prevented the 2009 Avenger from being an IIHS Top Safety Pick in 2009 was the Average rear-impact rating. This has been corrected for 2010, with all models getting standard active head restraints, and as such the 2010 Avenger has been named an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Standard safety equipment for the 2009 Dodge Avenger includes six airbags, antilock brakes (ABS) and a tire pressure warning light. Chrysler's electronic stability program with traction control is an option on all 2009 Avengers, and it was equipped on our test model, bumping the price up by $425.
When it comes to styling and cabin tech, the 2009 Dodge Avenger is probably one of the top vehicles among midsize sedans. Even the inside of the Avenger features a nice, spacious layout with an abundance of optional high-tech goodies, but the poor choice of interior materials throughout the cabin could end up spoiling what would otherwise be a great family sedan.
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