When I made a career decision to transplant to New York City last January, insane rent and other cost of living factors forced me to give up one of the things I loved most about living in the middle of nowhere: Owning a car. Garage parking alone costs about two times the rent of my college apartment per month in New York and, considering the abundance of cheap public transportation, ditching the wheels was a no-brainer. It was just part of the give-and-take that comes when choosing to live in a place where your life and livelihood can easily co-exist within a 30-city block radius.
So, when the folks at Dodge invited me, a car-less urban dweller, to take a 2011 Avenger R/T for a spin around NYC and Westchester County, I jumped at the chance. In the past year I’ve only been behind the wheel of a car a dozen or so times. My right foot has been itchy for the pedal since my week-long January road trip from Chicago to New Orleans in the Chrysler 200. Plus, what man can call himself a man without taking the simple joy in learning the ergonomics of a car’s steering wheel or committing the slightest nuances of an accelerator to muscle memory?
O.K., honestly, I had no interest in testing and critiquing the minutiae of the vechicle’s engineering. We’ll leave that job to the experts at Consumer Reports and Car and Driver. Rather, it was something more esoteric than just a chance to kick the tires on a brand new mid-size sedan: It was an opportunity to navigate the urban traffic jams I’ve spent the last year avoiding by jumping on a subway; a reason to become ensnarled in Manhattan’s seemingly third-world gridlock that I’ve only gawked at as a pedestrian without much thought.
And that’s exactly how the day started: In maddening bumper-to-bumper traffic on Manhattan’s East Side. Driving through the city at high noon might as well be an obstacle course: Cabs swerve and change lanes without signaling like New Delhi rickshaws; delivery trucks stop short to double — and sometimes triple — park in the middle of a traffic lane; herds of clueless tourists are so busy looking up that they forget to notice the “Walk” light is now a firm, orange “Don’t Walk”; pot holes go unnoticed up until the moment the front wheel kerplunks into the enemy trench. To label such damning driving conditions “Darwinian” is a compliment.
My first and most immediate observation was just how well the Avenger R/T handled in the city. In previous years, this was a huge deal breaker for the Dodge Avenger. Last year Consumer Reports said the 2010 Avenger’s handling was “competent, but nothing special.” It’s a whole different ball game with the 2011 Avenger R/T. Dodge’s engineers went back to the drawing board for the new Avenger R/T, completely overhauling the vehicle’s suspension. The nitty-gritty specs include major increases in the front and back spring and damper rate (17% increase in spring rate in the front, with a 15% improvement in damper rate; 12% spring rate increase in the back with a 20% increase in damping rate). Overall, we’re talking about an 18% increase in stiffness. One might not notice these tweaks when pulling out of a driveway, but it’s an improvement that screams for attention when strong-arming around a stopped UPS truck and a cab that just pulled over to squeeze through a yellow light on Second Avenue.
Traffic opened up as I headed north through the Bronx and Yonkers on the Major Deegan Expressway. This is where the Avenger’s 3.6-liter V-6 engine made the hairs on the back of my neck prickly. Remember, I’m not someone who gets behind the wheel of a car everyday, so I was easily impressed and excited by the skip in the Avenger R/T’s step. The moment was just about as good as it gets when driving: Just as I passed under the Cross-Bronx, two lanes of traffic cleared. Cha-Ching. It was an all-clear to apply pressure to the accelerator, like opening the gate at Churchhill Downs so that all 283 horsies under the hood can finally thunder to life. What made the pick-up on the open highway even better was the aforementioned enhancements to the car’s suspension. Unlike the go-kart feel of a four-cylinder sedan with a wobbly suspension (I’ve spent almost my entire life driving just that type of car), the V-6 literally felt glued to the road. To an amatuer like myself, there was almost no noticeable body roll at cruising speed between 60 and 75 m.p.h. Better yet was the absence of road noise. Even on a blustery April afternoon, you could still hear a pin drop in the interior, even while hitting the throttle. This made bumping to Kid Cudi on the Boston Acoustics all the more enjoyable while cruising past White Plains on I-287.
This probably was the point where I should probably mention the looks department. And it ain’t that shabby. Dodge produces five different trim lines for the Avenger: the Express, Mainstreet, Heat, R/T and Lux. The Avenger R/T stands out from the pack as the sportiest of the bunch. The exterior boasts black headlamp backgrounds, Dodge’s signature grille, 18-inch wheels, and, for vanity sake, a spoiler. The model I drove included a rather seductive red stitching on the inside and a sleek dash panel (pictured above). The passenger side includes ample leg room (pretty sure a linebacker could comfortably ride shot-gun) and an oversized dash with gracious curves. The 2012 models will start production in July and be in dealerships in the fall.
My final destination before doubling back into the city was Bedford, New York. It’s an egregious cliche, but the pastoral quiet of Westchester County’s horse country was an all-too welcome relief from urban ennui. It’s the kind of driving I’m used to; the kind of driving I grew up with: tight turns on snaking, tree-lined roads; glimpsing in the rear view mirror to briefly soak in the view of a passing farm; staying on alert for wildlife jumping out of the woods into the path of your car (hey, it beats nearly running over an overeager French tourist jumping out in traffic on Broadway). Just by being there on a weekday afternoon, among fresh air and soon-to-be bushy oak trees, I knew I was making an entire office of colleagues jealous. And, there’s nothing that can take away the euphoria of momentary escape, especially when it’s packaged with the fun of skipping out of work for the afternoon.
But there’s work to be done; BroBible posts aren’t going to write themselves, so I headed back, this time along the Saw Mill Parkway and down Henry Hudson, inching toward the skyline like a deer drawn to a salt lick.
For most people who live in a place where getting from Point A to Point B involves driving (easily 85% of the United States, perhaps more), it’s easy to take the fundamental fun of operating a motor vehicle for granted. It’s simply a part of everyday life. For this car-less urban dweller who still loves the open road, an afternoon in the saddle of the Avenger was more than that; it was the feeling of being in absolute control of where you’re going. And that’s not something one experiences when sandwiched like a sardine on the Q train every afternoon.
In accordance with the FTC Guidelines, we are disclosing that our time and travel has been compensated by Chrysler Corp. for our participation in the Dodge Avenger Ride & Drive. Although we have a material connection to Chrysler Corp., any publicly stated opinions of Chrysler Corp. and their products remain our own.
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