We were asked recently why we don’t write more reviews of American cars. Although we have reviewed several cars with foreign nameplates made in the United States – like the Mercedes M-Class, Toyota Camry and BMW X5 – this month we take a look at two American models manufactured in Michigan.
We recently borrowed two Michigan-made cars from the press pool: the Dodge Avenger Mainstreet and the Ford Mustang V-6 Coupe.
Of course, we should note that Chrysler, manufacturer of the Dodge, is now owned by Fiat, but it is good to know that this company is back on its feet again and producing nice cars.
Ford is independent, as it always has been, having weathered the recent economic difficulties in good shape. The company is now releasing a range of traditional and new-technology vehicles.
Although both cars we drove benefit from recent improvements in fuel efficiency (31 mpg on the highway and more than 20 in mixed use) and are similar in size, they really are intended for – and appeal to – different demographics.
Despite its fearsome name, the Dodge Avenger is a mid-level version of Chrysler’s take on the affordable four-door sedan. It carries some of the brawny design highlights of its big brothers but its base price is a family-friendly $21,245, with a lot of legroom in the backseat.
We were particularly impressed by the car’s precise steering and balanced handling. When we did a test run of a route along Skyline Drive that we laid out for our sports-car club, this big, comfortable sedan was able to take the turns as quickly and securely as our Austin Healey. We often think of good handling as a feature for high-performance driving, but don’t ever forget that handling is what keeps your passengers comfortable in routine driving – and keeps you out of trouble when trouble occurs on the road.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing particularly exciting about the Avenger. The only interesting design feature is the display of well-designed gauges. Nothing else in the interior trim, upholstery or exterior lines is going to inspire much love. But then again, how often do drivers single out the design of their Toyota, Honda or Nissan family car for praise? Reliability, comfort and a reasonable price are what appeals in this market category.
Mustang V-6 Coupe
By contrast, the Mustang, designed to be looked at, is reminiscent of the 1960s Mustangs we see stabled in the Los Altos High School parking lot. At the same time, it has the slightly menacing presence of a 21st-century high-performance sport coupe.
The 305 horses hiding in the V-6 engine are raring to give the driver a bit of sound and acceleration fury when under way. The handling and brake performance are more than up to reining in that horsepower, and the fun of working up and down through the six-speed manual transmission completes this sporty package.
Pricing is reasonable. With the bigger engine, but basic equipment similar to that of the Avenger, the car stickers at just under $26,000. Adding all the electronic equipment (navigation system, back-up camera, MP3, etc.) – plus some high-performance modifications and the cosmetic touches – brings our test car price up to $32,000.
We enjoyed driving the Mustang in the hills but weren’t happy with the limited visibility from the driver’s seat. While the car’s high beltline looks cool from the outside as it goes by, it is a real drawback when negotiating tight spaces. Making a U-turn on Main Street through the construction pylons, then getting through the parking plazas at noon with cement mixers double-parked near the construction sites, was not fun. We were never very sure of how much clearance we had on the sides and at the back.
We could live with either of these cars, and we all can take pride that their designers and engineers remain gainfully employed here in the U.S. Both vehicles, however, are going to encounter stiff competition from the foreign-based brands in their market niches.
Just the facts
Dodge Avenger Mainstreet
Vehicle: Midsize four-door sedan, front engine, front drive
Engine: 2.4-liter I4 with 173 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque (also available with a 3.6-liter V-6, 283 horsepower with 260 pound-feet of torque)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Length: 193 inches
Weight: 3,394 pounds
Rear legroom: 36.3 inches
Luggage capacity: 13.5 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 20 mpg city/31 highway
Base price: $21,245
Price as tested: $22,680
Ford Mustang V-6 Coupe
Vehicle: Two-door sports coupe, front engine, rear drive
Engine: 3.7-liter, four-valve V-6 with 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Length: 188.1 inches
Weight: 3,470 pounds
Rear legroom: 29.8 inches
Luggage capacity: 13.4 cubic feet
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city/31 highway
Base price: $25,845
Price as tested: $31,960