1997 Dodge Avenger

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

Dodge Avenger. Always reminds me of Emma Peel. You know, of

The Avengers, the British mystery series from the dim,

flickering past of black-and-white television.

I used to think about Emma Peel a lot. Gorgeous. Smart.

Athletic. Tough. Wore a miniskirt. Drove a cool car — Lotus

Elan, if I recall. Ah yes . . .

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, Dodge Avenger.

This Avenger is one of a pair of children (Chrysler Sebring

coupe is the other) of the all-over-but-the-shouting marriage

between Chrysler and Mitsubishi.

Styled by Chrysler, both coupes are based on Mitsu's Galant

midsize sedan platform, and built in the former joint venture,

now Mitsu-owned, Diamond Star plant in Normal, Ill.

Like Emma Peel, the Avenger is gorgeous, with that

hound-dog-on-the-scent nose-down attitude (no, no, the car, not Emma

Peel) and smoothly rounded lines rising to a high tail.

Avenger makes a pretty good-looking race car too. The

son-of-IROC (International Race of Champions) series switched to

Avengers from Camaros, and while the rear-drive race cars bore

little mechanical relationship to the front-wheel drive

production cars, they looked terrific.

The Sebring coupe is perhaps even prettier than Avenger, with

a dramatic front end, which is the best argument this side of a

Mazda Miata for doing away with front licence plates.

In the real world, as opposed to the teenaged fantasy world,

I never got to know Emma Peel personally. But I cannot help

believe her beauty was more than skin deep.

The Dodge Avenger, I'm not so sure.

The interior is certainly spacious for a two-door coupe, the

rear seat in particular rivalling some sedans for headroom.

Usable trunk too, augmented by a splitfolding rear seatback.

Far be it for me to criticize nice, legible analogue

instrumentation, steering column stalks for lights and wipers,

and round knobs for ventilation, located above the reasonably

large push buttons for the radio — all ergonomically sound stuff

which, just a few years ago, I'd be doing handstands over.

Still, it's disappointing to find little of the styling flair

inside the Avenger that's expressed outside.

The seats are lacking in cushion length, although are

otherwise reasonably comfortable. I cannot imagine anyone but a

power boat fan setting the tilt steering column to anything but

its highest position. Those of giant thigh need not apply. The

seat cushion can be tilted at both front and rear, but to get

sufficient clearance, the cushion may be so flat that you'll

slide right off into the footwell.

Mitsubishi has always been a tiny step behind Toyota and Honda

in assembly and trim material quality; the Avenger is okay, but

not outstanding in fit and finish.

But the largest flaw in the interior can be traced back to the

styling: the bottom edge of the rear window is so high that

rearward visibility is a giant problem. Every car you see in the

rear view mirror appears to be tailgating because you can't see

its grille. Lane changing must be done with great caution, and

backing up is a giant adventure.

The mechanical package is again, okay but hardly

worldbeating. The base engine is the 2.0 litre twin-cam 16-valve

four from the Neon Sport, offered with either a five-speed

manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. This engine's 140

horsepower can only be extracted when the thing is revved out

the torque peak of 130 pound-feet is not reached until 4800

r.p.m. — and it gets awfully buzzy and noisy in that mode.

The optional 2.5 litre V6 is an uninspiring Mitsu lump, which

has found a home in several Chrysler products over the years.

The single overhead camshaft (per bank of cylinders)

four-valve unit generates 163 horsepower at 5500 r.p.m. and 170

pound-feet of torque at 4350 r.p.m.; respectable numbers, but it

delivers only adequate performance in the 1356 kg Avenger.

There's a hint of torque steer when launching from rest, a

hint that the suspension and drive-train aren't state-of-the-art.

This Avenger cornered better than the last one I drove, which is

probably down to the larger (optional) tires on my tester.

Steering is a little wooden, but light enough in effort.

And Avenger has an unusually large turning circle parking in

tight spots is a genuine pain.

Avenger does bring one considerable positive surprise: in

today's world of incessant sticker shock, it at least appears to

be well priced. A base Avenger (four-cylinder, five-speed, no

air) costs less than $19,000. Even with V6, auto and a host of

goodies, it's well under 25 grand.

There is some strangeness in the option list. Antilock brakes

are an option on all models, but if you order the "sport"

package on the base car, which includes some dress-up items,

wide tires and 17-inch aluminum wheels, you can't choose ABS.

Odd. You'd think "sport" buyers would be first in line. They

can't get remote keyless entry either, unless they move to the

uplevel ES. Unless I'm reading this order sheet wrong . . .

If comfort and style are more important than leading-edge

dynamics — there's no shortage of customers who fit that

profile, though most would be loathe to admit it — Avenger

offers strong styling and good value.

But in a lot of ways, Avenger feels like a five-year-old

Japanese car, dressed up in pretty clothes and makeup. Which is

approximately what it is.

It's like finding Diana Rigg needed plastic surgery to play

Emma Peel.

Some things don't bear thinking about.

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