1995 Dodge Avenger

By November 10, 1999
1995 Dodge Avenger

Most of us don’t worry about an inch here or an inch there – unless, of course, we’re on a diet and there’s a class reunion just around the corner. Generally speaking, one of these small dimensional units just doesn’t make much of a difference in our lives.

But in the automobile business, an extra inch, strategically placed, can give your car a big advantage over its competition. That’s one of the big reasons for the resurgence of the Chrysler Corporation. Starting with the LH cars (the Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid and Eagle Vision), Chrysler designers have made sure each of their cars has had a little edge – an extra inch or so – in roominess, especially rear-seat roominess.

Obviously, it helps that all these new Chrysler cars look good. And when it comes down to tiebreakers, that extra inch of rear legroom, combined with smart looks, can make a pretty big difference. Particularly in the rear seat of a swoopy sport coupe.

Enter the Dodge Avenger.

It’s not the hottest thing in its class. Almost every sport coupe on the market, including Chrysler’s own Eagle Talon, offers an edition that makes the Avenger’s performance look pretty ho-hum.

But thanks to Chrysler’s inch-consciousness, the Avenger offers something none of the so-called 2+2 coupes can match. An adult can sit in the Avenger’s rear seat without first qualifying as a circus contortionist.

In fact, among the affordable sport coupes, only the much bigger Ford Thunderbird offers more rear legroom. The Avenger’s rear seat even has a legroom edge – albeit a very tiny one – over the new Chevrolet Monte Carlo, a car that’s just as long as the Thunderbird.

Is this a big deal? You bet. The No. 1 complaint of small sport-coupe owners concerns inadequate rear-seat legroom. Sooner or later your sport coupe will accommodate a rear-seat passenger, and you’ll probably want that passenger to emerge feeling as good as when he or she climbed into your car. The Dodge Avenger should elicit that response.

Avengers are offered in two trim levels: the base model and the upper-level Avenger ES. The rock-bottom price for a basic – very basic – Avenger is $13,876, including destination charge. ES models start at $17,726 and include 4-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock braking (ABS), alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control and an AM/FM/cassette sound system.

Our test ES was also equipped with a preferred equipment package – power locks/mirrors/windows plus dual illuminated vanity mirrors – for a ready-to-roll total of $18,585.

If you added a sunroof, CD player, leather seats and keyless remote entry, you could manage to spend $21,222. But those high-priced options are typical of all cars.

Walkaround

Although that extra inch or so counts for a lot, it does take a little more to give a new sport coupe some visibility in a market that’s already overflowing with sexy and sinuous shapes.

One glance tells you this newcomer measures up well in exterior styling. Echoing the design theme established by the Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus sedans, the Avenger looks like it’s ready to rumble, an appearance that’s reinforced by its Viperish nose.

Some of the smaller 2+2 coupes – such as the Talon/Mitsubishi Eclipse, Honda Prelude VTEC and Ford Probe GT – exude a little more racetrack-readiness. But in a week of cruising, our Avenger ES drew more freeway attention and parking-lot inquiries than any new car we’ve driven since the Oldsmobile Aurora.

The Avenger utilizes the same basic chassis as the Talon/Eclipse, although its wheelbase is 4.9 in. longer. This chassis was the foundation for the Mitsubishi Galant sedan, and it’s a good one – plenty of rigidity and excellent suspension design, which are the wellsprings of crisp response.

A 140-hp DOHC version of chrysler’s spirited 2.0-liter Neon engine is standard, matched with a 5-speed manual transmission. A 155-hp 2.5-liter V6 engine matched to a 4-speed automatic transmission – basically the same combination provided in the new Cirrus sedan – is standard on the Avenger ES.

Interior Features

Inside, the Avenger has the same collection of soft curves and flowing lines that help distinguish the Cirrus/Stratus, although the grade of interior plastics used in this car isn’t quite as classy as in the former. We expect to see slightly better materials when chrysler’s version of this car, the Sebring, comes along this spring.

Materials aside, though, our test car’s fit-and-finish looked good, with seams uniform and properly aligned.

Instrumentation is the same as in the Cirrus/Stratus: straightforward black-on-white analog dials that light up with a warm red and gold glow at night.

We have only one small reservation concerning the avenger’s interior comfort quotient. That has to do with the front bucket seats, which were cloth-upholstered in our test car. Although they’re nicely bolstered, which is consistent with this car’s sporty image, they weren’t particularly comfortable. The padding seemed a little on the thin side and the shape of the seatback didn’t offer very good lower back support, even when adjusted.

Safety features are up to current standards, with dual airbags and side-impact protection. ABS, however, is standard only on the ES model.

Driving Impressions

We think this car’s handling will make a favorable impression when a showroom look-see leads to a test drive.

Although we wouldn’t rank the avenger’s athleticism with cars such as the Prelude, Probe GT or Talon, and though its steering could benefit from a little more road feel, the Avenger inspires driver confidence the first time it bites into a hard turn – and this partnership escalates from there.

It looks like it’s fun to drive, and in the area of handling confidence, the looks reflect the soul of the machine.

However, the avenger’s exterior suggests something else about its performance that isn’t quite true. The machine may have soul, but it isn’t very long on heart.

In a car that weighs between 2800 lb. and 3000 lb., depending on equipment, there’s not enough power to raise your pulse rate much, regardless of your engine choice – although the basic 4-cylinder at least allows the fun of a 5-speed manual transmission.

A manual transmission isn’t available with the V6, and our response to the performance that goes with the V6/automatic combination is about the same as it was for the slightly heavier Cirrus: Is that all there is?

The Mitsubishi-built V6 is smooth and reasonably quiet in normal operation, but it begins sounding distinctly busy when you go for the gusto. And, after all, there’s nothing like the kind of punch available in the premium models of most other sport coupes, great and small.

Like the in the Cirrus, the automatic transmission’s gearing doesn’t seem well-conceived for passing. If you’re in a real hurry and mash the throttle right against the fire wall, the transmission kicks down to second gear, which sends the tachometer needle and decibel levels soaring without adding much additional acceleration.

Summary

Built at Diamond-Star Motors (a Mitsubishi subsidiary) in Normal, Illinois, the Dodge Avenger won’t perform with the screamers and rockets of the sport-coupe class.

But even so, it’s got the ingredients for success: decent performance, good ride and handling, competitive pricing, terrific looks and, that key element, rear-seat roominess.

Chrysler’s policy of going the extra inch wins again.