What is it?
Right now, the Chrysler Group doesn't offer a family car in Europe's traditional Mondeo-dominated D-segment – by this time in 2008, it will have two of them - and the Dodge Avenger is the first.
This new Avenger is part of Dodge's 21st-century product offensive, and as far as its looks go, offensive is the right word. Its cross-hair grille, jutting front bumper, pumped-up shoulders and large bootlid spoiler combine to create an aggressive impression when you first see this thing. You certainly wouldn't confuse it for a Kia Magentis.
And that's exactly the point. Dodge is now DaimlerChrysler's value brand, and its new Avenger isn't going after the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra. Instead, it's aiming for the Skoda Superbs, Toyota Avensises and Hyundai Sonatas of this world. Dodge insists that, when you adjust for specification, the Avenger is up to 14 per cent cheaper than those rivals. This one, the entry-level oil-burner, costs less than a Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi Sport.
What’s it like?
You're certainly getting plenty of car for your money. There's enough room here for four six-feet-tall adults in comfort, and it's got a proper 438-litre boot that you can expand by folding the rear seats, and quite neatly, the front passenger seat, totally flat.
Under the bonnet of this particular Avenger is Volkswagen's 2.0-litre common rail diesel, which produces a useful 138bhp and 229lb ft of torque, and drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. At each corner you'll find a disc brake and an independently-suspended wheel (struts up front, a multi-link arrangement out back). It all sounds promisingly European.
It drives acceptably, too. Engine refinement is decent, performance is okay, and while the chassis is a little over-sprung and under-damped, everything else – barring some appallingly thin and flimsy dash plastics – isn't too bad.
Should I buy one?
The problem for Dodge is that this class is long-established and, even at the cheap end, packed with good cars. The Avenger's different, sure, but a Skoda Superb is more spacious, a Toyota Avensis is better built, and a Mazda 6 is a better drive.
Not bad ain't really good enough for the Avenger. It’s not the worst new family saloon you could buy; it's just not quite far enough from it to be worth serious consideration.