2008 Dodge Avenger

Dodge figures the full-size Charger's styling will work just as well on a mid-size car. And so we have the Avenger, which basically looks like a three-quarter-scale Charger. Mechanically, the Avenger is a twin to the Chrysler Sebring sedan, sharing its underpinnings and powertrains. And like the Sebring, the Avenger hopes to out-value the Honda Accord, the Nissan Altima, and the Ford Fusion. To that end, the Avenger starts at$18,895--$1605 less than an outgoing Stratus but with $985 more content.

The Avenger's cabin is spacious enough for two six-foot, two-inch occupants to sit one behind the other in comfort. Perceived quality is a big step up from other recent Chrysler efforts, and the unique dashboard architecture is characterful. Other neat cabin touches include the Chill Zone (a beverage cooler mounted in the dash) and MyGig (an optional audio, navigation, and entertainment system that allows you to download music and photos to a hard drive).

The driving experience is not nearly so cool. The 2.4-liter four moves the beast along reasonably well, but those expecting a performance hit from the V-6-powered R/T (man, does that badge set up expectations, or what?) will be disappointed. At least the six-speed automatic is smooth and fast-reacting, especially in manual mode.

Eventually, there will be an Avenger SRT, but Dodge hasn't decided yet whether it will use a blown version of the 3.5-liter V-6 or a higher-displacement V-6. It'll almost certainly be all-wheel drive, an option that arrives by July for R/T models.

This new Avenger won't be rewriting any rules for the mid-size class. At best, it's an alternative with a uniquely American accent.

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