AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger

Revisiting a mutt from Motor City. 

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Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on DTW in March 2018. All images courtesy of the author.

Was it ignorance? Negligence? Arrogance? The motive(s) may be up for debate, but there’s no arguing about the utter lack of lustre this 2007 vintage Dodge Avenger embodies. Nor that the utter cynicism of this product was the result of management decisions betraying one or all the above-mentioned traits. Naturally, by the time the Avenger was brought to market, most of the people who had made these decisions had departed for pastures new, considerably further afield than Auburn Hills.

After a most glorious turnaround performance abroad, former Chrysler CEO and self-styled Dr Zee, Dieter Zetsche, returned to the parent company in Stuttgart, where he immediately instigated the fire sale of the American car maker. His right-hand man, Wolfgang Ayerle/Bernhard, had already departed, but would eventually rejoin Zee at Stuttgart. Chrysler chief designer, Trevor Creed, was also about to retire; one year after the Avenger’s unveiling, and presumably not on a high note.

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Not least among what these respected men were attempting to flee was an automobile design, part of a product offensive so grotesquely ill-executed, it remains unfathomable to this day. The 2007 Avenger could hardly be described as the worst offender among the likes of Dodges, Nitro and Caliber, the Jeep Commander or the 2007 Chrysler Sebring, but it encapsulates the carelessness, corner cutting and cynicism as well as any of the other cars that constituted Daimler’s parting gift for its former American outpost.

As with all the other cars mentioned, the Avenger betrays a conscious effort to design a car that is interesting, rather than anodyne and competent, as was the norm within this sector of the market at the time. Something with a bit more sparkle than a Camry, perhaps. As a result, elements like the coarse rear haunch, whose shape is supposedly, but not quite picked up by the C-pillar, was added in order to stimulate a sense of flair and excitement.

In conjunction with the awkward angle of the rear screen, not to mention the truncated boot and horrible ribbed triangular piece of plastic trim that only highlights the C-pillar’s awkward, massive proportions, the haunch proves to be more adept at unmasking the car’s basic deficiencies than hiding them. The way in which this haunch was incorporated also results in a very square boot section, lending the rear aspect a most leaden stance.

Some attempt to counteract this effect appears to have been made through the inclusion of an indent on and beneath the boot lid. But the simplistic, clumsy shapes these create only heighten the impression of stylistic carelessness. A similar indent can be found below the Dodge’s front grille too, where it has the surprising effect of visually weakening what is an otherwise very bluff front end.

It is this combination of appearing heavy, yet insubstantial that proves to be the Avenger’s undoing. It is a car design that is primitive, rather than simple, whose flourishes in reality only serve to highlight these most basic shortcomings. That many components, like the rubbing strip or auxiliary lights, appear to be non-bespoke, off-the-shelf units (even though they possibly are not) only adds insult to injury.

While some might like to deflect some of the blame for the Dodge’s shortcomings onto its (allegedly Mitsubishi-sourced) FWD platform, there simply is no excuse for the poor execution of the detail design, the terrible stance (which, incidentally, is only exacerbated by the inflated wheel arches) or the ill-advised, shouty tropes like the haunch and C-pillar treatment.

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There is no shame in producing and designing honest, cheap and cheerful motor vehicles. The Dodge certainly was cheap, but its cheerfulness and honesty resemble that of an alcoholic, chronically depressed day labourer putting on a clown costume and taking half the money he collected for charity to buy himself more booze.

That some of the people in charge during the development of this equally cynical and primitive device are nowadays considered luminaries of the automotive industry proves that this business can be far more forgiving than is often claimed.

The Dodge Avenger, however, will not get off so lightly.

DTW recommends the author’s own site, Design Field Trip.

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs www.auto-didakt.com // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

31 thoughts on “AUTOpsy: Dodge Avenger”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. Quite a rare thing to see one of these in the metal in Europe and that’s for the better. The styling is a mismatch of elements and the whole thing has this feel of cost cutting and bad execution about it.

    Still, over 600,000 were sold, which sounds like a lot, but compared with a Camry, it’s a different story. Toyota shifted over 400,000 in the US in 2008.

  2. I got to rent one of these. Horrible, hard to think that it’s substantially the same underneath as a Mitsubishi Lancer. I think the interior plastics were from some sort of Airfix/Fisher Price consortium.

  3. We rented one in Atlanta in 2011 as I thought it would be “sporty”. A Hillman Avenger would have been better.

  4. Maybe it’s the effect of yesterday evening’s Redolò, but I can see some reminiscences of Virgil Exner’s experiments in this car.
    The wild haunches and icongruent C pillar somehow remind me of this one
    https://i0.wp.com/www.macsmotorcitygarage.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/1957-Chrysler-300C-Ghia-RR-view-314.jpg?w=600&ssl=1

    I don’t think Daimler can be blamed for taking some cost cutting measures.
    After having spent some twenty-five thousand million Euros in cash on their American experiment it was high time to get out of there and as soon as there was no more Schrempp in the way Z did the only sensible thing and pulled the plug.

  5. Gentlemen: A slight gremlin crept in during the editing of this article. The correct author of this piece has now been reinstated. My apologies for any confusion.

  6. Hi Eóin, this piece was originally by Christopher, I gather from the footnote. As usual his analysis hits the mark: that the Avenger is ugly isn’t the point. The point is that it’s badly executed, possibly willfully so. It’s a car that shows that not one of the design team had pleasure in the creative process, everything is forced and without inspiration, even if it is superficially referencing something like the 300.

    The stilted design process it reflects reminds me of my own study, Industrial Design, at a major Dutch technical university. The ‘serious’ technical studies at the same university looked down on Industrial Design, loosely translated dubbing it an arts and crafts course. That’s alright, were it not that it really seemed to bother the powers that be at my study who made every effort to ‘prove’ they were technical too, really they were. This resulted in a design process as stilted as the one the Avenger seems to hint at with loads of fact finding, requirement defining and concept culling with somewhere in between five minutes for creativity. After a grueling morning debating the finer points of some technicality, they’d say something like: “we are now going to be creative for five minutes, then spend the rest of the afternoon criticising the results of this creative outburst: go!” No pleasure, no creativity, no instinct, no inspiration. Exactly what the Avenger (and a number of other contemporary products) exudes.

  7. Here in the states, we understood that the Avenger’s shape was intended to evoke the Dodge Charger. Cynical, despicable.

  8. Good afternoon all. For those of you that think the Avenger is ugly, may I remind you of its inbred cousin? This truly is the elephant in the room:

    The Avenger may be a bit crude, but the Sebring looks like they just couldn’t give a damn. Note the wonky joint at the base of the A-pillar, the horrible cheater panel on the C-pillar, that carelessly placed side rubbing strip and the awful headlamps. How on earth could this have made production?

    I actually spotted an Avenger yesterday. Not as hard as you might think as I’m currently on an all-expenses-paid DTW assignment to the American Midwest, approved by our esteemed editor(!) Favourite car sighting so far, one of these:

    The Pontiac Solstice is lovely in the metal, and very diminutive.

    1. Agreed, Daniel. I like those. Enjoy your stay across the pond.

    2. I’ve admired the Solstice/Sky/Opel GT from afar, but may never have seen one on the road. Opel Speedsters seemed more plentiful in Germany. Perhaps Daniel has encountered some Breckland Beiras in his manor.

      Through no fault of its own, it seemed to be a curse on all but one of the brands it was sold under; Pontiac, Saturn, Daewoo, Breckland. Opel’s still standing, but no longer part of GM.

    3. What really surprised me was just how small the Solstice was, 7mm shorter than the contemporary third-generation MX-5 at 3,993mm (but with a wheelbase 86mm longer). It was 91mm wider than the Mazda, so really looked well planted on the road. I wonder what it was like to drive? I’m must check it out when I get home.

      Robertas, I now before your encyclopedic automotive knowledge: I had never heard of the Breckland Beira, even though it was made in my (home) part of the world, Dereham in Norfolk.

  9. A little easy research established that the black Avenger was registered in the Niedersachsener town of Nordheim, or possibly its wider Kreis.

    It made me wonder if rather bobbins and relatively recent American cars found favour in small German towns. Perhaps I missed the plethora of Neons and Calibers on my travels, but I didn’t miss the enormous late model pickups and repro-Muscle Cars out in the sticks.

    It made me wonder what the German word for ‘oaf’ is…

    1. It’s not so much small German towns but a certain clientele that seems to like US cars.
      In our village (five kilometres out of Frankfurt, 8,000 population) there’s a white F150 and a black RAM, the latter with Southern State flag and ‘Southern Rebell’ script on its bonnet and rubber testicles dangling from the tow bar. Once I walked past the RAM with my wife when the proud and fittingly dressed owner wanted to get in and I commented on the size of the car and the orthography on its bonnet and the possible conclusions concerning the intelligence of the owner. On the next day the mis-spelled script was gone.

      There’s no direct German equivalent to ‘oaf’. In this specific context you’d use ‘Bauer’ (farmer) or ‘Affe’ (monkey), depending on whether you refer to a lack of finely honed taste or to brash posing habits.

    2. Chryslers in general attract a very peculiar clientele here in Germany – people who value the combination of (literally) ‘a lot of car for the money’ and the non-conformist, false glamorous flair of these vehicles.

      Cases in point: When I was a child, neighbours of ours – who’d recently moved to the Rhine-Main region from Eastern Germany – proudly owned a LeBaron, to which they referred as ‘der Baron’. I believe it cost about half the price of a BMW 3 series or Audi convertible at the time.

      Then there’s the owner of an apparel store near or current home. He dresses like the lead singer of a Scorpions cover band, acts very much the ageing outlaw (his favourite word being ‘Scheiße’) and drives around in a rattly old Sebring convertible that perfectly complements the paunch underneath those black slim-fit shirts. His rubbish car is particularly amusing, given his wife is an exceedingly wealthy businesswoman – who limits her personal rockstar’s budget, however, given he’s been rather too keen on giving in to temptation in the past.

    3. Christopher – your description of the Sebring owner with the exceedingly wealthy wife sounds like the set-up for an – as yet unwritten – Jan Fabel Krimi. Blood and guts to follow in short order…

      I’ve not let fiction distort my largely positive impression of Hamburg – everyone knows that Heringsdorf is the murder capital of Germany. I only hope Craig Russell’s researches on the Hamburg stories are better than the Glasgow-based Lennox novels, which are riddled with anachronisms and geographical inaccuracies.

  10. The unrelated 1994-2000 Dodge Avenger Coupe is rather a good-looking thing, in a Honda-ish way:

    1. yeah, because it’s a Mitsubishi underneath. I see more Mazda MX-6 myself, though I see how the stance is similar to the sixth gen Accord coupe.

  11. The 2011-2014 are amazing. Tf are y’all going on about. A 2011 as my daily and it hasn’t seen a repair shop in almost 80k miles.

  12. So let’s see. A person from a small town or rural setting who drives a US muscle car or truck is an oaf. Farmers have poor taste, hence are to be sneered at. People who express a non-approved style are monkeys. Where is this going?

    Speaking of farmers, there is an expectation that from November it’ll be difficult to get much from the farm, let alone worry about the taste or matters taste in general. Now may just be a good time to show farmers a lot of deference and much respect. Just sayin’

  13. Along the same lines as the larger 300 / Charger, would the Avenger (and Sebring / 200) have benefited from instead being derived from a W203-based rear-wheel drive platform in place of the JS named version of the Mitsubishi GS platform?

    1. Perhaps, but it seems backwards that FWD ‘pioneering’ Chrysler would let its main family sedan become RWD when all prominent rivals were FWD. Basing it on the Lancer architecture did limit its size, it seems, as the Avenger/Sebring were about 5 inches shorter than the newly embiggened Accord gen 8 for North America. I do wonder why they didn’t just further develop the earlier Cloud Car platform or try and use a small version of the LH platform, but then again I suppose those are just fruitless speculations given that Daimler was prominently in the picture.

  14. I love my 2011 dodge avenger it’s design it’s style and everything about it I think you people are a bunch of haters

    1. Or we are right and you are deluded. Have you tried driving a better car, like a Honda, any Honda: or a Toyota, any Toyota? I’d rather have a 100,000 mile Camry or Accord than drive another Avenger, even a zero mile one.

    2. Tengo uno 2008 y no me ha dado ningún tipo de problema y en la carretera se mueve como todo un galan,como dice el dicho “para los gustos los colores” ni lo cambiaría por ningún otro.

      Quick translation:

      “I have one 2008 and it has not given me any kind of problem and on the road it moves like a galan, as the saying goes “for the tastes the colours” nor would I change it for any other”.

  15. I wonder whether the designers were deluded… There doesn’t seem to be a concept for the Avenger, but the Sebring was preceded by this:

    I have a strong feeling that it was a way for the designers to show their bosses a thing or two, or at least just to let the public know that Highland Park still possessed the creative spark that spawned the Viper, Prowler, the affordable Neon, etc. And also the nous to design truly world class premium vehicles.

    But there is no way that a car that looks anything like this was going to be cheap enough to produce to be able to compete in the marketplace against Camrys, Accords, Mondeos, etc. It starts with obvious RWD proportions, and follows through unusually thoroughly for a one-off concept with an impeccable level of fit and finish at the detail level, including all the requisite cut and shut lines and most of the bits that would make this dream car mechanically feasible and legally drivable (one may suppose those side mirrors are a touch on the small side, such is poetic license).

    In some alternate reality, such a jewel-like thing would have placed the storied American brand to the north of the Stuttgart taxi cab line in terms of outright finery. Certainly this would never be permitted to advance beyond the one-off stage. And to top it all off, isn’t that grille hewing toward the Swabian parent’s remit a bit closely? In some alternate universe where premium sedans still come from America, the cream of the D-segment wears a Pentastar.

    I guess we saw similar flights of fantasy (delusions?) around this time from GM and Ford (Sixteen, Forty Nine) . The designers must have known that they were going to be charged with applying the theme represented here to the Lancer platform (and tooling), and that the inevitable let down was never going to even approach what the concept successfully evoked (IMO). Which makes me wonder why this ever happened, as absolutely nothing about this concept translated well to the Sebring, and IMO the Avenger wasn’t even trying.

    And BTW recall that the similarly themed, but very real and quite premium Crossfire is sort of an odd duck, certainly not bereft of visually interesting points if not quite the aspirational . This and that together… Imagine being conditioned to regard such a thing as aspirational. I find it looks better the more I stare at it, and it’s aged remarkably well, but remains like the Crossfire or the aforementioned GM and Ford concepts, quite surreal, from a reality that never was. Oh and that name Airflyte… it’s not “Airflow” but rather taken directly from the history of another brand which fell into the Chrysler stable: Nash! OK, so are we still on planet earth?

    Note that from the rear, the Airflyte concept is quite, um hunch-backed… (See the Crossfire).

    And taking all of this in, given the fact that only a few of us have anything nice to say about the actual production result of all this intense dreaming (i.e. Avenger/Sebring)… What on earth were the designers thinking?

    1. It’s a kind of hatchback, but not as we know it.

      Was that black plastic cheater panel in the corner of the DLO really necessary? I too find the “Atlantic” quote in the split rear screen to be a bit of a non-sequiter, speaking of which, how on earth did the bonnet strakes of all things actually make it to production (on three vehicles: Sebring, Aspen, Crossfire).

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