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First drive: Dodge Avenger – on sale now

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Review

Dealers have taken a generally favourable view of the Dodge brand – as long as their expectations were not too ambitious to begin with. Sales and returns have been reasonable for a franchise that occupies a space within their Chrysler dealerships.

This month they start selling the third right-hand drive model in the range (they also have the LHD Ram pick up and SRT-10), the Avenger.

A D-sector family saloon, Avenger picks up on the aggressive, bold, thickset styling trends of the Nitro and Caliber with tall bonnet, prominent crosshair grille and high, muscular rear shoulder lines. It’s another “love it or hate it” design that will appeal to people who want something a bit different.

However, while the front and side profile fit the brand values, the rear design is rather lacklustre, blending in anonymously on busy roads. This anonymity carries through to the interior which, while spacious front and back, contains a bland, minimalist cabin with drab plastics in shades of grey and flimsy looking controls. In fact, some trim in the test cars was already coming loose.

Built in America alongside the platform-sharing Chrysler Sebring at the Michigan assembly plant, Avenger will be a fillip to Dodge volumes which last year hit 2,156 on just one model (Caliber).

Dodge is typically tight-lipped on sales aspirations, saying only that dealers will sell in the “low thousands”, likely to mean around 3,000.

Marketing support will include TV ads, billboards and static displays at shows and shopping centres. Pricing is competitive compared to rivals, undercutting the Mazda6 by around £500 and the Toyota Avensis by more than £1,500. Add in a generous list of standard equipment – Dodge comes with just two trim levels, SE and SXT – and the saving is even more pronounced.

Three engines will be available at launch: 2.0-litre and 2.4-litre petrol, 2.0-litre diesel. The diesel will account for 70-80% of sales, with the range topping SXT taking the bulk of those. It costs £2,000 more than the entry level SE, but contains £2,400 worth of specification additions. An auto diesel will be launched in February.

Where Avenger falls short is in its performance. Despite enjoying a more powerful 2.0-litre petrol engine, Chrysler’s “world engine”, it is slower and less efficient than its rivals, not helped by a heavy kerb weight of 1,555kg.

This difference in performance is even more marked on the less powerful 2.0-litre diesel engine which drags around 1,635kg of car; it’s more than two seconds slower to 62mph than its main rivals.

Potential buyers will most likely gloss over these facts. They will be pulled in by the American-ness of Dodge – it’s a lifestyle choice and a clear statement of individuality based on style and keen pricing.

As sales director Jon Wakefield says: “Avenger defines the brand in the UK because it has the design cues of the Dodge Charger, which is the brand icon.”

Behind the wheel

Avenger has a typically soft American suspension which can sometimes be a bit wallowy but is also cushioning. It’s not a driver’s car in the sense of the sharp handling Mondeo but rather sits in the Citroën category of majoring on comfort.

The handling is precise and heavily weighted rather than going down the lifeless light route of some rivals. The VW-sourced 2.0-litre diesel is underpowered at low speeds but offers good mid-range brawn when wound up. Engine and road noise is low but wind noise is intrusive.

Much as the Dodge is a bland driving experience, there’s something quite appealing in its ability to swallow miles in absolute comfort, leaving driver and passengers refreshed at the end of a long journey.

Price: £14,995-£19,995
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel/petrol, 2.4-litre petrol
Transmission: Six-speed man/auto
Performance: Diesel 0-62mph 12s, 126mph top speed; petrol 11.1/11.3s, 118/124mph
Efficiency: Diesel 45.6mpg, 170g/km CO2; petrol 36.2/31.7mpg, 185/211g/km
CAP RV: 32-34%
Rivals: Mazda6, Toyota Avensis, Skoda Superb, Chrysler Sebring

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