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The Carchive: The ’96 Dodge Avenger

Chris Haining August 12, 2016 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 11 Comments

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It’s time to pitch the leaky, torn canvas tent of wisdom on the edge of the dark forest of Motoring history, and wait to see whatever tattered relics are blown out by the breeze of rediscovery. Welcome back to The Carchive

Why, you might ask, am I bothering to cover the Dodge Avenger of all things, when the Carchive boasts such a richness of older, more interesting cars to choose from? Well, I was idly reading this brochure recently, as is my wont, when I noticed that it was published exactly twenty-one years ago this month.

My mind was made up. Ladies and Gentlemen; the Dodge Avenger.

Readers in hope of brochure legibility can find it by clicking each of the views in turn.

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“This car has attitude with a capital A”

Are there any other words with a capital “A” that could accurately describe the Avenger, I wonder?

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“Attitude. It’s the mark of a maverick. The sign of an independent thinker who has enough confidence to walk the edge without ever looking down.”

Just what the hell does any of that mean, and how, exactly, does it relate to a compact coupé based heavily on the Mitsubishi Galant? The Avenger was never really the most exciting of recipes, essentially a bigger, heavier Eagle Talon or Mitsubishi Eclipse.

I should be honest, here. I actually always rather liked the Avenger. Not for what it was, of course – for how it looked.  When I first became aware of its existence as a  fourteen-year-old I was both geographically and socially very unlikely to make contact with the Avenger in anything like a real-world scenario, all I had was pictures in the Daily Express World Car guide to go on. And I thought it was pretty cool, though this was probably because we had a bit of a coupé drought in England at the time.

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“Equipping your all-new Avenger is simple… It has one of the smallest option lists around”

One thing is certain – Few cars had such a gulf between the visual appeal of its entry level model and the high spec versions as the Avenger. Shown of the sports accents and five-spoke alloys of the ES, the base 21A preferred equipment package made the Avenger look like rental car even if it wasn’t. It probably was, though.

The Avenger was supposed to be the sporty one, it’s Chrysler Sebring Coupe sister was meant to be the luxe version. It was the latter that was most abundantly clad with tacked-on garnish towards the end of its sales career.

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“Traditionally, sport coupés cater to the whims of front seat occupants while ignoring the comfort of those brave enough to travel in the rear.”

The unremittingly grey, plastic interior of the Avenger made a nice change. Now, four people could inhale gently toxic fumes as the interior slowly decomposed in comfort while luxuriating on thin, slippery leather, but this was still an era when you had to remember to tick for a cassette or CD player to augment the standard-fit FM radio. A/C was firmly on the option list, as was ABS.

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“…Dodge Avenger. A sleek, front-wheel-drive sport coupe that defies its traditional classification by providing a unique blend of attributes usually considered mutually exclusive.”

Hmm.  They say Sport Coupe, but the lack of a manual gearbox apart from with the 140-horse entry-level 2.0 straight four would seem to counter that claim. There was a V6, a 163hp 2.5 with a strong Japanese accent, but it was saddled with a four-speed slushbox.

There’s bound to be somebody reading this who can attest to the Avenger being a fun-driving, sport-handling coupé par excellence. Feel free to voice your commendations in the comments.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photograhed by me. Copyright remains property of Chrysler. Or Fiat. Or possibly Mitsubishi)

  • GTXcellent

    Oh man, what a step back in time! My mother bought a brand new 1995 Dodge Avenger! Sadly it was not an ES, but it wasn’t a bad car either. She had been driving an ’84 Delta 88 since new and decided that since her oldest (me) was out of the house and her youngest just about, it was time to buy something sporty. And really, compared to that Oldsmobile, and my dad’s ’91 Suburban, it was a technological leap forward. It was pretty snappy for only 140 hp. It was rev limited to 116mph (and like a young, dumb idiot I took it there many times).

    She hated the car about a month after buying it, and 2 years later gave it to my brother. He drove it for about 8 years and then gave it to us as a commuter car. Almost all of the interior plastic was brittle and broken. Window switches quit working. It was impossible to find 14″ tires, so I found a set of 15″ rims and tires from an Eclipse. MiSSus GTXcellent drove it for awhile as it got considerably better mileage than her Jeep. We then gave it to her nephew who drove it for a month and the timing belt broke.

  • Moparmann

    I looked at these when they came out, and to me, it was just like trying to strike a wooden match (for those of us who can remember them!) it ALMOST lit off, but just didn’t quite light my fire. 🙂

  • Alff

    So the Avenger was a latter-day Maverick. Yeah, I can see that.

    I felt the same way about these as I did the MX6. I wanted to like both more than I did.

  • memikeyounot

    I never paid much attention to Chrysler products in those days except for the Sebring convertible I bought in 1998 (a 1997, rental return). But I hadn’t paid much attention to how much it looks like the Dodge Neon coupe, or vice versa.

  • bhave242

    Ha, this requires my first comment. My first NEW car out of college was a 96 (US) Avenger – with a manual (and hence the small 4-cyl) but well optioned. It had the turning circle of a nuclear submarine and accelerated like a Vespa, but it was mine and I loved it. In retrospect it was a good car to me, held up well to Chicago winters and San Francisco abuse, and was generally reliable. I never loved it like I loved my 75 and 77 Sciroccos, was not as fun as my 85 MR2, but the 5-speed made it ‘fun enough’. A new alternator and routine maintenance were all I needed to put into it for 140k miles, I think I got off pretty lucky!

  • Rover 1

    That’s not an Avenger made by a Chrysler Corp division

    This will always be THE Avenger.
    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e8/Hillman_Avenger_1600_GLS_(16951313606).jpg

    • crank_case

      My Dad had a three door, still remember ending up face planting on the pavement as a kid due to tripping on non-inertia reel seatbelts (or maybe they were just broke, I’m not sure).

  • ptschett

    The automatic had short gearing though. A friend had a V6 Sebring in college, which he drove rather maniacally; I remember riding along, looking over at the tach and wondering if it wasn’t actually in 3rd, because the engine was going 3000 RPM at 70-ish MPH (where I was used to my 4.6L V8 Thunderbird’s 2000-ish RPM at a similar speed.)

  • Tomsk

    These were (and still are) really handsome cars, if you ask me. One with a full AWD Eclipse GS-T/Talon TSi drivetrain swap would be a fun sleeper.

  • This to me, is one of the best examples of ’90s Chrysler’s preponderance to build cars that looked really attractive, but didn’t live up to the appearance as time went on. Some may disagree, but I was really disappointed to find out at some point that this was not a sports car.

    And that the Stealth was a Mitsubishi product.

  • Worse piece of shit I ever owned. Never own another Mopar, ever