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Americans unmask a versatile Avenger

The mid-sized Avenger was shown for the first time as a motor show concept in Paris last September, and has been fast-tracked into the Chrysler family for the back end of 2007.

It will reach American showrooms by the middle of the year, and the first cars will be on a boat, from Sterling Heights in Michigan, by September.

It will run up against a wide range of rivals, including the Mazda 6 and Toyota Camry, but Chrysler Group Australia is confident that its bold look and keen pricing will have a strong impact.

There will be three engine and transmission choices, and two specification levels, in the Avenger sedan.

"There is increasing desire for people to get something in the mid-sized class. Avenger will be a strong contender. Our biggest issue will be supply," says Chrysler's Australian manager of marketing and product strategy man, Mike Ross.

The Avenger picks up the same "butch" look used throughout the latest Dodge line-up and will sit comfortably alongside the smaller Caliber in Australia.

Avenger is also the nameplate Dodge will use for its US NASCAR racers this season, taking over from the Charger.

It might be the same size as the Camry, but the approach could not be more different.

The American car is driven by its looks and, judging by a preview car at the Detroit show, will struggle to match the cabin quality of Japanese imports and even the locally made Camry.

But Mike Ross is confident it will do well. "This car has the look of the Challenger. With the Dodge heritage in Australia, we've got a lot of positive feedback," he says.

"It has the potential, with its size and style, to bring people to the brand.

"It's the same as Caliber, bringing people who would not have considered the Chrysler brand. Styling is always one of the key selling points. It is very aggressively styled."

The Avenger is only available as a four-door sedan, but there will be plenty of other choices: there are three engines, three transmissions and three trim levels.

Motors are a 2.5-litre petrol four, a 2.7-litre petrol V6 and a 2-litre diesel four; gearboxes are a five-speed manual or automatic, with a six-speed self-shifter in the V6, and two specification levels.

But Australia will get only the front-drive Avenger, not the all-wheel-drive model sold in the US.

Chrysler's signature "surprise and delight" focus is provided in the Avenger by a "chill zone" which houses heated and cooled cupholders.

The plan for Australia is to sell about 200 cars a month; first deliveries will be in September, with solid potential in the diesel model. But the crucial price points have not been decided.

Mike Ross denies the Avenger will steal sales from the Chrysler Sebring, which will arrive slightly earlier this year.

"The Sebring is more upscale, but the Avenger will have a better price point. It obviously has very different styling and should appeal to a greater market, which could make it our best seller," Ross says.