It is very difficult to overcome the initial and deep sense of disappointment I felt when I unlocked the (notchy) door lock of our Avenger R/T test car. I really like the Avenger's aggressive stance, how cool it looks going down the road, and its optional chrome wheels ($550), which nicely complement the Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl Coat exterior paint. But then I stepped inside a sea of plastic. Now, our younger editors tend to whine a bit about "plasticky" interiors. Plastic doesn't really bother me as a rule. The Avenger's interior would leave them speechless. The few small bits that aren't part of the endless sad sea of hard, grey plastic are easy to spot - a bit of chrome here and there, and some optional leather ($525) on the well-bolstered bucket seats and two-tone perforated covering on the nicely shaped and weighted steering wheel, in addition to the leather-wrapped shift ball.
While the big pieces fit together fairly well, I'd put the overall fit and finish about two years behind the entry-level Koreans. But it's the buttons and stalks and handles that really leave me cold. The one-touch electric window switches feel like they're sticking. The interior door handles - while chrome - are an ergonomic disaster, badly positioned, and barely big enough to accommodate your hand without pinching your pinky. The six-speed manumatic's shift lever clunks through its gates. All three steering column stalks have about 1/4-inch of play, making them feel like they need to be tightened. Or like you could snap them off. Even twisting the ignition key on and off, or trying to remove it, feels bad.
There is, however, another bright spot that fits well with the Avenger R/T's zoomy looks: its well-sorted powertrain, a 235-hp, 3.5-liter 24-valve V-6 mated to a very nicely geared six-speed automatic transmission that has a pretty stirring kickdown when you give it a firm boot. The R/T tootles along so effortlessly that you have to consciously work at keeping it under 80 mph. Of course, this bigger engine comes with a disappointing 16 mpg city/26 mpg highway rating.
Another point in its favor is the Avenger R/T's base price, $23,945. Our test car rang up at $27,030, but we could easily drop $1235 from that total by foregoing the Customer Preferred Package (I would only miss the heated front seats). I would also skip the $775 sunroof.
But what I'd really like to do is just skip all that plastic.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief