The most significant part of the Jeep Avenger isn’t really part of the car at all. It’s a little sticker in the top right corner of the rear windscreen - a yellow roundall that marks this out as 2023’s European Car of the Year.
I remember when this was first announced. Eyebrows were raised in some quarters. Really? That?
This wasn’t due to any particular ill will towards the Jeep brand, and from most quarters, I should think, had nothing to do with the car itself being a load of rubbish. It just seemed surprising - the little Avenger never struck as a genuine game-changer, but is there more to it than meets the eye?
The Euro COTY verdict takes input from 59 journalists from 12 different countries, so it’s not like the winner is just picked out of the hat. There must be something to the gong - to find out what, we spent a week with one. And if there’s one thing the Avenger needs commending for, it’s all the Easter Eggs it’s packing.
No, not the chocolate kind - we’re talking about hidden references. There’s a little seven-slot grille motif in the style of the original Willys Jeep which is dotted all around the car - on each of the wheels and neatly embedded in the lower front grille - a ladybird moulded into the roof rails and stepping inside, there’s the silhouette of a child looking up through a telescope.
These may seem like pointless fripperies, but with so many mainstream cars becoming about as exciting and adventurous as a daytime television show about property development, they’re welcome injections of fun.
The same goes for the lovely, chunky-looking dashboard finished in yellow, although unfortunately, you only get that with a very particular (and expensive) combination of choices in the configurator. The design itself is attractive, minimalistic, and well laid out, and there’s even - gasps - a row of physical climate controls. Everything feels nice and sturdy, and in a lot of places, a touch premium.
Perhaps the best bit of all is the cubby hole lid (yes, really), which is magnetic and made up of three bits, so you can choose exactly how open you want it to be. Neat!
You can have the Avenger from £23,335 with a 1.2-litre inline-three engine used in myriad other Stellantis products, or a hybrid, but this one’s the £35,645 EV. That means you get a single front axle-mounted motor putting out 152bhp and 192lb ft, which makes the leisurely acceleration that nonetheless gets you up to speed at a perfectly acceptable rate.
Refinement is decent, with a well-insulated cabin doing a fine job of filtering out excess wind and road noise that doesn’t have the benefit of an engine drone to drown it out, and the ride is cossetting once the speeds increase, and perhaps a tiny bit too firm when you’re bimbling around and going over speedbumps and potholes.
I don’t think anyone’s expecting the Avenger to be a corner-carving weapon, but it makes a decent fist of dynamic driving. There’s not a lot of body roll, the steering is well-weighted and reasonably natural-feeling, and there’s more than enough grip and traction from the front axle.
It helps that the Avenger is, as far as EVs go, reasonably light, tipping the scales at around 1,600kg. And, of course, a lot of that weight is in the 50.8kWh battery pack, which sits fairly low in the car’s structure.
Low weight also means reasonably good efficiency - it’s nice to be in an EV that doesn’t make it a Herculean effort to extract anything more than three miles per kWh. As it is, in ideal conditions hovering around four miles per kWh is doable, and although that’ll mean the 249-mile range remains a distant dream, you might well nudge 200. The recharge rate of 100kW is decent, meanwhile, but a lot of rivals are managing more like 150kW.
Just as I can’t anticipate anyone slinging their Avengers down a twisty road, nor can I imagine many doing any serious off-roading. An all-wheel drive 4xe is likely on the way, and is the one to go for if engaging in such activities, but as it is, there’s a decent bit of ground clearance and some tough-looking wheel arch cladding on all Avenger variants. So if nothing else, you can look like you’re going to go off-road.
In terms of practicality, the Avenger does OK. The boot space is by no means massive at 355 litres, but then again, there’s 45 litres more here than you get in a Vauxhall Mokka Electric, which is much the same underneath.
The Fiat 600e uses all the same bits, as well, and so do various other Stellantis models. The Avenger, though, has its own appeal. It’s a really likeable car and does enough with familiar ingredients to carve out its own personality. This is easier said than done in today’s automotive landscape, even if some elements (indicators that sound like a drumbeat, anyone?) might be a stretch too far for some.
The European Car of the Year verdict still leaves me scratching my head just a little bit - maybe the Avenger coming out on top is more of an indictment of the general blandness in the industry right now. But if the Avenger’s able to stand out, then it’s definitely worthy of your attention.