Time has been unkind to the Dodge Avenger. Though, to be fair, so have most things. Chrysler’s mid-sized ‘sports’ sedan offering hit the new car market in 2008 and was produced until 2014. Sporting an un-sporty front-engined front-wheel-drive layout motivated by an equally yawn-inducing variety of four and six-cylinder engines the Avenger was meant to be a successor to the Dodge Stratus, itself a successor to the original Dodge Avenger coupe from the 90s. The new Avenger adopted the face of the Dodge Charger on an economy sedan platform so Daimler-Benz could capitalize on the popularity of the now-dead Dodge Neon and siphon as much money from the rotting corpse of Chrysler as they possibly could before filing bankruptcy and getting bought by the Italians.
From an enthusiast perspective the Dodge Avenger is Beelzebub itself. The antithesis of what every car enthusiast wants to wake up to see in their driveway. Four doors, performance that comes nowhere near living up to the promises made by its styling, an automatic transmission, and such dad-friendly headlining features such as heated and cooled cupholders or a refrigerator in the glove box. Ask any enthusiast about this Chrysler entry to the American car market and you will usually receive something along the lines of “I forgot those even existed” or hate similar to that displayed for the PT Cruiser or the Sebring convertible. Famously the Dodge Avenger was brought back into the enthusiast conscious when it was roasted in this very not-safe-for-work review by RegularCarReviews, calling the Avenger “the car for people who’ve pretty much had it with cars”.
But that’s not fair.
Chrysler, and the Avenger, deserve more.
As a younger Jake, I often looked at the family’s rapidly-aging and oil-leaking 1990 Chevrolet Lumina with its peeling clear coat and rattling door handles and wondered why boring cars had to look boring. Why had nobody taken a car like the Lumina and given it styling from a Camaro? Why were those with little money forced to look like they had no style? The Avenger isn’t usually accused of being a head-turner, but all of the correct styling cues are there. Aggressive hips, hard edges, a front fascia that looks like the scowl of a man whose son struck out at Little League, meaty five-spoke wheels. A car for the responsible mid-life crisisee.
Is it reliable? Who cares! If you’re in your 40s with a family and you’re buying a Dodge Avenger in the late 2000s it means you’re buying new. And new means warranty, and warranty means reliability doesn’t matter because your Local Friendly Chrysler/Dodge Dealership has loaners! Loaners that might even be Dodge Chargers that you can drive and try as hard as you can to keep feeling like you made the right choice.
As enthusiasts, we often forget what makes a car. It isn’t excitement or performance, it’s four wheels and an engine that moves people around. And for this, the Avenger finds its place. It is a car. It is car. It stands out because it tries to appeal to the emotions of a consumer and for that it is heavily criticized.
The Dodge Avenger is, in essence, a Dodge Charger consolation prize. It’s the looks-like-a-muscle car you bring home without hearing the heavy sighs of your significant other. It’s the appliance that gets you to and from your nine-to-five. Eventually it fades into the background of your life until the lease runs out and it goes back to the dealership. Maybe by then you’ll be able to afford the American automotive dream with a big V8 and rear wheel drive. Or maybe you’ll leave with a Town and Country because the missus is pregnant again and a man has to do what he has to do. Either way, the Avenger existed as all boring cars have existed, but is condemned to an unfair legacy because it tried to be less than boring.
But it did not fail.