The Dodge Avenger isn't bad looking. It's smooth and clean with sharp creases, but it just seems to gets lost among all the mid-size vanilla sedans. It misses an opportunity to be eye-catching, like Dodge's full-size Charger.
The Avenger was significantly updated for 2011, with a slightly wider track and wider standard tires. The changes create the impression of a lower, wider stance and a better planted car, and we certainly like it better than the original 2008-2010 Avenger.
Avenger's shape suggests the Charger, especially at the hips and roofline, but doesn't inspire like its larger sibling. Its clean look is emphasized by the lack of cladding or ding strips on the sides and body-colored door handles and mirrors (except on the base SE). The bumpers, front and rear, are smooth. They need to be sculpted more, or something.
The crosshair grille is a Dodge trademark, but it doesn't work for us on the Avenger, partly because it's plated-chrome plastic. And it doesn't seem as if much work went into making the dual headlights sleek. There are twin character lines on the hood, deep enough that you can see they're V-shaped, but they don't do much to accentuate the long hood.
The Avenger R/T, new for 2012, is most likely to stand out from the pack. It's easy to spot for its monochrome paint scheme, black headlight background and go-fast slash stripes on the front fenders. Yet the distinctions are mostly in-your-face graphics, rather than an inherently racy shape or look. The body-colored crosshair on the R/T grille helps some, and the black egg-crate in the grille and below the bumper is an improvement.
Most cars in the mid-size class are trying to look like sleek luxury sedans, with varying degrees of success. The Avenger says retro, period.
The prevailing impression inside the Dodge Avenger is driven by its to-the-point layout and easy, comfortable space. It's not particularly exciting, but neither is it annoying, frustrating, or inconvenient, as are many cars with interiors and controls that try to do too much or be cool. The Avenger is simple: everything in its correct place, and not too much of it. That alone makes driving more relaxing.
The Avenger's dashboard is big and slabby, perhaps described as monolithic. The doors are well designed, with comfortable armrests, a good grab handle, door pockets, and small levers that make opening easy. The best part of the interior might be the expensive feel of the perforated leather on the steering wheel, standard on all but the base SE. The worst part might be some cheap looking chrome and faux aluminum trim. An interior overhaul for 2011 improved fit and finish substantially, but the Avenger's interior materials are still not best in class.
In front, the Avenger feels a little more enclosed than the roomiest cars in its class, partly for the massive impact of the dash, but it doesn't feel confining. The fabric on the base seats is good and rugged, though a bit boring in light colors and better in black. The front seats are comfortable for cruising and long hauls, but not as supportive as they might be in corners. Those in the sporty R/T have leather bolsters, red stitching and unique, Z-striped fabric inserts. The bolstering improves a bit, but the sport seats are still a bit too much like heavy, cushy Barcaloungers for truly aggressive driving.
The instrument package is a nicely lit cluster of three gauges, with the largest in the center and one on either inside. All models have a tach, and a fuel/temperature package on the left, with a digital display on the bottom that allows the driver to scroll various options. Still, our biggest single gripe inside the Avenger applies to the gauges, because the one on the right is very hard to see.
On the R/T, the tach gets the big spot in the center. The speedo is on the right, blocked by the wheel rim depending on where you set it, and there is no digital readout. Besides being blocked, the script on the speedometer is small and hard to read, so it's hard to note what speed you're traveling without staring at the speedo for a second. That isn't good. On other models, the speedo stays in the center, and the problem reading the right gauge (the tach) becomes a little less crucial.
The Avenger has thumb-wheel controls for cruise and audio on the steering-wheel spokes. The lights, wipers etc. on the column stalks are easy to find and operate, but the stalks themselves feel a bit more shaky or wobbly than those in some competitors. There are three big, solid, perfectly placed knobs for climate control at the bottom of the center stack. They're as good as any car gets.
Avengers equipped with navigation or the Boston Acoustics audio upgrade have a 6.5-touch screen in the middle of the center stack, flanked by four menu buttons and a rotary knob for volume. It makes for one of the easiest systems to use in any car. However, the screen graphics are thick and hard to read.
There's plenty of space for front passengers to put things, with two cupholders in the center console, behind a power point and audio jack. The console has a sliding armrest and a big storage box, and the glovebox holds a lot more than the owner's manual. The bins molded at the bottom of the front door panels are a bit narrow and noisy, but they work.
Some of the Avenger's rear-seat dimensions are smaller than the competition's, but we found no shortage of space. With the driver's seat set for a five-foot, eight-inch driver, there was enough legroom behind for a five-foot, eight-inch passenger to fully extend legs under the front seat, and at least five inches of headroom to spare.
The outside rear seats are contoured and comfortable, with adequate amenities. Rear passengers get the same, bright, aim-able LED map lights as those in front, two cupholders in the folding center armrest and molded bottle holders in the door bins. There's a map pocket on the back of the driver's seat, but not on the front passenger's.
The Avenger's trunk is deep, top to bottom, though the floor length going forward toward the seatback in shorter than in some competitors. The opening is large, and the lid swings high, managed by gas struts. Overall, the Avenger delivers 13.5 cubic feet of trunk space, or less than competitors like the Ford Fusion (16.5), Hyundai Sonata (16.4), Chevy Malibu (15.1) or Honda Accord (14.7).
The trunk is lined with surprisingly rich carpet, almost as good as what's inside the cabin. Our test cars had no cargo net. There's a small pass-through for long objects such as a couple of two-by-fours or fishing poles. The rear seat also splits and folds, expanding available cargo space. Still, the bulkhead behind the Avenger's rear seat limits the size of the objects the can fit from trunk to cabin, compared to some cars. And worse: There is no release on the trunk lid, so you'll have to open it with key-fob button, or the release inside the car. Trunk lid releases located on the back of the car are a handy thing to have.