In years past, “R/T” was just a Dodge trim level. But under a new, more serious Chrysler regime, vehicles must earn the designation.

“From now on it has to mean something,” Dodge President and CEO Ralph Gilles tells Ward’s.

In the case of the ’12 Dodge Avenger R/T that bows this week at the New York auto show, it means stiffer and sportier.

Chrysler says the midsize car benefits from exclusive suspension tuning that bolsters roll stiffness 18% and increases front and rear spring rates 17% and 12%, respectively.

Damping rates are hiked 17% at the front struts and nearly 20% at the rear, where the stabilizer bar is beefed up to 0.9 in (21 mm and 0.7 in. (19 mm).

Factor in the best-in-class 283-hp Pentastar V-6, one of Ward’s 10 Best Engines for 2011, and the Avenger R/T “makes driving a midsize car a really fun, engaging experience,” Gilles says in a statement.

The seats are made with Aunde-brand fabric, which is “a specialist in flock and spun-dried, air-tectured polyster yarns,” the auto maker says.

The front-seat head restraints boast an R/T graphic stitched in red. Other standard-equipment interior features include:

  • Leather-trimmed bolsters.
  • SRT-inspired brake and accelerator pedals.
  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel with red stitching.
  • Boston Acoustics sound system.
  • Unique gauge cluster with center-mounted tachometer emblazoned with the R/T graphic.

The exterior boasts 18-in. aluminum painted wheels, a body-color grille and “war paint” R/T decals on the front quarter panels.

“It’s a vehicle that is ready to earn its stripes as part of the Dodge performance family of vehicles,” Gilles says.

The R/T, which stands for Road and Track, joins the other Avenger trims – Express, Mainstreet, Heat and Lux – beginning in the year’s third-quarter.