That's a problem, because the Avenger is going to need all the help it can get to stand out in the crowded family sedan segment, which is getting better every year. Witness the redesigned 2011 Kia Optima, winner of Cars.com's Best of 2011 award.
The 2011 Avenger rides well, but that's overshadowed by lingering quality issues and a cabin that's not as comfortable as its competitors.
We tested the midlevel Mainstreet trim level, which has a base price of $21,245. Options — including 18-inch aluminum wheels, a 3.6-liter V-6, heated front seats and a touch-screen audio system — pushed the as-tested price to $24,880.
Quiet & Confident
With the optional V-6 engine, the Avenger was one of the quietest non-luxury cars I've driven lately. Road noise is nearly nonexistent at midrange speeds, as are noises from other cars around you. Dodge made a number of changes for 2011 aimed at quieting the car like installing an acoustic glass windshield, laminated side windows and new sound-absorbing material. If quiet is what you want in a family sedan, check out this car.
The Avenger's suspension was also overhauled for 2011, and the results are good. Unlike some cars, in which you can feel shimmy when you hit particularly nasty bumps, the Avenger's suspension is especially tight, with no unnecessary wiggles to sully the driving experience.
The suspension tuning skews to the firm end of the spectrum, but there's enough damping to soak up any rough stuff before it disturbs you. Body roll is well-managed, too. Overall, it's one of the better examples of melding the competing qualities of ride comfort and handling poise.
The quiet cabin and composed ride make you feel like you're riding in an entry-luxury sedan, but that impression withers the longer you're in the car.
New V-6, Underwhelming Transmission
An all-new 3.6-liter V-6 is optional (a 2.4-liter four-cylinder is standard), and it makes the Avenger an acceptably quick car. Still, it can't match the forceful acceleration of the Toyota Camry's optional 3.5-liter V-6, which still impresses even if it has been around for a few years.
You may feel some torque steer when accelerating hard in the Avenger — the car pulls a little to the right — but the bigger issue with the drivetrain is the six-speed automatic transmission that teams with the V-6. It contributes to the car's quietness by readily upshifting to higher gears to keep engine rpm low — and engine sounds to a minimum — but numerous complaints cropped up during our test. The transmission pauses slightly between gear changes when upshifting, and a few of us noticed balky shifts in low gears, along with unrefined kickdown at highway speeds. We're left to wait for a better transmission to pair with the new V-6.