SCOTTSDALE, AZ – It happens to everyone. Often times, quite innocently.

When conversing with a member of the opposite sex, your eyes are drawn – fleetingly but instinctively – to a part of that person that is not speaking.

The ’08 Dodge Avenger evokes the same behavior.

The beholder’s gaze is immediately diverted past its bold grille and dramatic roofline to the distinctive contours that arch over its rear door handles.

Fortunately, it is still politically correct to stare at a car.

Inspired by similar lines on the Avenger’s big brother, the Dodge Charger, these sharply defined curves suggest muscular haunches that are coiled and ready to strike.

However, the Avenger’s thrust comes from the front, which denotes a delicious irony.

The Avenger never delivers on the promise of performance made by its aggressive styling, a ruse only enhanced by a sporty interior and the RT model’s menacing exhaust tone, which is channeled through dual chrome tips.

The car’s top-line 235-hp 3.5L V-6 offers tepid throttle response and uninspiring acceleration from a standing start. In short, it looks faster than it is.

And that is the delicious part.

The Avenger is a mainstream sedan with attitude – unabashed, confident and slightly sinister American attitude with available 18-in. chrome-clad wheels. For less than $19,000.

Ford Motor Co. gets credit for restoring Yankee pride in the excitement-starved sedan segment with last year’s launch of the Ford Fusion. And Chrysler Group took a step in this direction with the blingy ’07 Chrysler Sebring.

But Avenger goes all the way.

Chrysler took heat because its redesigned Sebring is not the “baby 300” market observers expected. The auto maker blames the inherent proportions of Sebring’s front-wheel-drive architecture.

The Avenger, however, succeeds as a “baby Charger.” Its pronounced wheel arches and that captivating curve cutting into the rear doors mitigate the dowdiness that comes with the requisite overhangs of FWD architectures.

And while the powertrain’s relative shortcomings only fuel aspirations for a future SRT edition (likely with all-wheel-drive), it will not disappoint as a daily driver. According to the latest fuel economy rating system, Chrysler promises the V-6 will deliver 16 mpg (14.7L/100 km) in the city and 26 mpg (9L/100 km) on the highway.

The base 2.4L I-4 World Engine is rated at 21 mpg (11.2L/100 km) and 30 mpg (7.8L/100 km), while the mid-range E85-compatible 2.7L V-6 offers 19 mpg (12.4L/100 km) and 27 mpg (8.7L/100 km).

For a performance-oriented feel, the 3.5L V-6 boasts Chrysler’s Auto Stick manual-mode feature that affords ready access to satisfying mid-range torque through a new 6-speed automatic transmission. Peak torque of 232 lb-ft. (315 Nm) is available at 4,000 rpm.

The only real compromises are in the vehicle’s interior. While roomy and outfitted with comfortable, supportive seating, many touch points are second-rate. Window switches are loud and directional rear-seat light-emitting diode dome lights – while an inspired feature – are wobbly and portend durability problems.

But with the swagger this car shows on the road, there is no need for an Avenger owner to look away in shame when the valet asks, “Which car is yours?” Stare ‘em straight in the eye and say, “The Avenger.”

emayne@wardsauto.com