I've had a 94 Honda Accord.. A 92 Chevy Camaro.. A 95 Honda Prelude, and still own a 97 Eclipse GT.
However my 96 Avenger ES has surprised me more than any other vehicle in that list. When I first saw the car, I just figured it was one of those cars that looked sporty, but didn't really have the power to back it up. I was wrong. When I popped the hood, I saw a quick looking engine, but still had my doubts about its power.
After taking it for a test drive, I was convinced, this was a true sports car. The car isn't whiplash quick from sit-still, but is still not bad. The true speed can be felt in 3rd and 4th gear. In fact it was so quick, I wondered to myself, why I never heard much about this vehicle before then.
I've had a lot of fun driving this car. I usually drive it one week and my Eclipse the next (only because the Eclipse is convertible though). Even though the two vehicles are cousins in some aspects, the Avenger automatic will easily take my manual Eclipse.
The body is quite sporty, but yet still roomy with a rear seat, and has enough trunk space for a two 12 inch sub enclosure, with a lot of space left.
The stock stereo isn't all that bad, but the new Alpine head unit looked so much better. If you're a sound fanatic, believe me when I say, you can throw in a lot of serious speakers. I have 8 inch Polk Monos with matching 2 inch tweeters in doors. 6 inch Infinitys along with 6X8 Alpine X-series in rear. Two Alpine X-series 400 and 600 watt amps powering speakers and two 12 inch JL Audios in enclosures. The sound is crispy clear loud, and produces serious hard-hitting bass. I've gotten better sound in this car than any other car I've owned.
The handling is fair at best. The car feels a little on the heavy side. With such a powerful engine, I could only imagine lighter weight.
The seats are comfortable and sporty as well. I drive a 280 mile round trip once every 2 months, and I've never been worn out from it. Despite being a sports car, the cockpit has a slight luxurious look to it.
My Avenger is dark green, which I do not particularly like, however it doesn't look bad on this car, especially when you put dark headlight covers on in the daytime. I get a lot of looks.
Also as myself, a lot of people are surprised by its powerful acceleration.
The only disturbing noise, which I will fix soon, is the rattling of the sunroof, when I have subs kicking at a loud level. The car is otherwise, quiet. At around 60+ mph, engine produces a nice deep hum, which I like.
After a lot of research, these are the other vehicles you'll have no problem with if you're into that street-racing, show off kind of thing (shame on us).
1) Acura Integra (non-turbo)
2) Honda Accord 4 cylinder, and VTEC
3) Mitsubishi Eclipse GS, GT, Spyder
4) Toyota MR2 (non-turbo)
5) Toyota Celica GT
6) Honda Civic
7) Mazda Miata MX-5, M-series
8) Chevy Camaro
9) Nissan 200SX
10) Nissan 280ZX
1) Honda Prelude V-Tech
2) Chevy Z-28
3) Mazda RX-7 (non-turbo)
The good thing as far as performance goes, is all the aftermarket parts you can install. A simple stronger flowing exhaust muffler for around $50-$80 can add 8-12 more horses. I installed a ($200) K&N cold intake and got a very noticeable extra 15+ HP. Also, as cheesy and cheap as those so-called performance chips may sound, they do work. They're easy to install, and I noticed a surprising difference (cheap mod at $20-$30). Without any modifications though, the Dodge Avenger has strong acceleration and pep.
If you're going to dress up the exterior, there are at least 3 different body-kits available for <$600, and as cheap as $250. I haven't yet purchased one, but may soon. The body is stylish and sporty enough, but a set of dark headlight covers ($40) makes this car look so much more aggressive and sporty (try it).
You can also purchase imitation Xenon bulbs from almost anywhere, but be warned. Even though they're DOT approved, they get too hot, and a little too bright for on-coming traffic, and that's on low-beam. I had success in my Eclipse, but have recently went back to stock bulbs in the Avenger.
Do NOT replace your gauge with those cheap $20 reverse colored gauges you see on eBay. I've tried twice, but they seem to fade and flash drastically when my stereo is pumping. I later learned that the cheaper versions simply do not work great on Dodge, GM or Ford cars, for whatever reason. The good news is, at accessoriesgiant.com, you can order some much more professional gauges that work perfectly, and does not dim or flash when playing music. My gauge color (blue) matches my Alpine perfectly. I heard that JDM will be releasing headlight and tail-lights soon!!!
Overall, the car is reliable, comfortable, even on trips, and quick. Unless I've just been lucky, it hasn't been to the shop more than twice. The brakes do wear out rather soon though, and apparently that's a problem with a lot of these models. Otherwise, you can't go wrong with this vehicle!
It has head-turning looks. It's sleek. Sits low to the ground, and has the power to satisfy anyone that hasn't owned a Vette or Porsche... Highly recommendable sportster!!