2011 Dodge Avenger Lux review: Clearing a low bar…by a large margin

2011 Dodge Avenger Lux

2011 Dodge Avenger Lux

The 2011 Dodge Avenger is, like all other Chrysler Group vehicles, much improved over last year. Getting better wasn’t problem. That’s a rather low bar to clear. But bringing it up to industry standards is something else.

The Avenger , like every other model in the Chrysler Group lineup, was the beneficiary of an intensive 13 month forced march of improvement. The Chrysler 300, the Chrysler 200 sedan and the Chrysler 200 convertible have also been the beneficiaries of intensive advertising, as anyone who watched the Super Bowl ads knows. The Dodge Avenger, on the other hand, apparently lives under the staircase, at least as far as promotional attention goes.

Regardless, the 2011 Dodge Avenger got at least as much an upgrade as did the Chryslers. The previous generation’s exterior looked like a toy blown up to full size. The new model, however, has the crispness of design that the old model lacked. The Coke-bottle shape continues, the rear fenders having a significant kick up, but the edges are sharper.

2011 Dodge Avenger Lux

The 2011 Dodge Avenger Lux seats were comfortable but lacked lateral support. (click to enlarge)

The Dodge Avenger now sports the Dodge trademark “split crosshair” grille and the lower front fascia juts forward like a hero’s chin, if a hero’s chin had a mesh opening and projector beam foglights. The Avenger also gets the “ring of fire” LED taillights.

Alas, while Dodge engineers lowered the Avenger by a half inch at the front and a quarter inch at the rear and tire width was increased to 225 mm from 215 mm, it’s not enough to make a visual impact. The fender openings are still too big for the wheels inside them.

Inside is where the biggest changes were made. The older Dodge Avengers had plastic that Fisher Price wouldn’t use, hard and brittle enough to tap your fingernails on. The 2011 Avenger, on the other hand, has a vinyl fabric covered dash with real stitching. And it’s actually soft to the touch. That’s going from cave man to rocket scientist overnight.

The front buckets of are soft and comfortable but they’re simply not sporty, at least as much as the exterior promises. They appear to have been lifted from a generic sedan, which would be satisfactory if the Avenger promised nothing more than generic sedandom, but even considering that tester was the Avenger Lux model instead of the Avenger Sport, we would have asked for more lateral support. They’re good road trip seats. They fail, however, to be the stuff of winding road affection.

The Avenger Lux’s back seats are comfortable. Leg room is ample with good toe space under the front seats. The sporty taper of the roof means ducking is required to enter the back seat but headroom is still satisfactory inside. The rear seat headrests fold down when the seat is unoccupied for a better driver rear view.

2011 Dodge Avenger Lux instrument panel

The 2011 Dodge Avenger Lux instrument panel has a large centrally-mounted speedometer with a tach to its right. (click to enlarge)

Chrysler Group abandoned its outstanding navigation system this year in favor of a Garmin-based nav system. While the Garmin wasn’t lacking, at least to our experience, in guidance, the graphics are far inferior, with fat imprecise markings. Worse yet, we couldn’t zoom the screen into its maximum. The Garmin did zoom in and out on its own, depending on the detail it thought was needed at the moment, but even in crowded Manhattan wouldn’t stay at full zoom. And the lady giving directions sounded like she was talking underwater. Garmin may be cheaper but it’s not as good.

Everything touched, however, had just the right amount of weight and resistance, from the levers on the stalks to the easy to use heat/air conditioning, and the automatic temperature was set-it-and-forget-it. Interior lighting is by bright LEDs, but the color is so intensely white that it makes the headlights, otherwise satisfactory if not world-beating , look yellow in comparison.

Where the 2011 Dodge Avenger Lux fell down, however, was in handling. Dodge says that engineers redesigned almost the entire suspension system, and that 26 of 30 suspension bushings were recalibrated. However there are probably legacy problems with the overall system that makes a compromise between ride and handling difficult. Another problem is that the new Avenger look promises more sportiness than the Lux suspension is intended. Put us in the R/T, please.

The 2011 Dodge Avenger also suffers from torque steer from, well, heck. That’s due in part to the new optional V-6, the 283-horse 3.6-liter Pentastar engine that has replaced the smorgasbord of V-6’s across Chrysler Group’s offerings. Nail the accerator at low speed and the Avenger will seek its own direction. Avenger owners will learn to accommodate the steering oddities–hold on tight and point it right–but it shouldn’t be that way. We’ll have to wait until the Lancia-based replacement arrives in 2013 to reconcile the problem. Either that or live with the 173-hp base four-cylinder engine.

2011 Dodge Avenger Lux

2011 Dodge Avenger Lux (click to enlarge)

All-wheel drive would, by the way, eliminate the torque steer, and it had been available on earlier Avenger R/T models but was discontinued for 2011. We suspect the take rate was quite small.

We’re ambivalent about the 2011 Dodge Avenger Lux. We like the improvement in the car’s overall style and the quality of the interior especially. The power of the optional 283-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 is grin-worthy, even if the low speed steering is eye-opening. Ride is smooth and everyday operation is quiet. The price is competitive with the equipment provided and the interior is roomy.