Thumbs Up: What’s not to like about a big American sedan with a Hemi V8, especially one with reasonable fuel economy?
Thumbs Down: Interior design hasn’t aged as well as the exterior.
Buy This Car If: You want a RWD American sedan and can find one; Charger R/Ts are now limited to existing dealer inventory and fleet sales until the new model is released.
There are things in life that, as a man, you just inherently understand. Maybe it’s how to use a torque wrench, or hunt with a bow and arrow, or properly grip a Colt Model 1911 to prevent hammer bite. Almost certainly, it’s that the combination of a big motor in a roomy American sedan makes for serious entertainment behind the wheel. While not ideal for strafing canyons or lapping a tight road course, the Charger just feels right when the light goes green and you drop the hammer, accompanied by the primordial growl of an angry Hemi V8. These are the among things that make civilized life worth living for those of us with a Y chromosome.
The current Dodge Charger has been around since 2005, and in a lot of positive ways it seems like even longer than that. Their design is classic, and has managed to stay contemporary when so many other sedans have begun to look dated. Chargers have become a staple of law enforcement and rental car fleets, so you tend to see them everywhere (and not always under the best of circumstances). Based on Chrylser’s LX platform (shared with the Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Challenger), the new Charger replaced the utterly forgettable Dodge Intrepid in Chrysler’s lineup. It’s also a reminder of happier times with then-parent Daimler; the Charger uses suspension components borrowed from earlier Mercedes E and S class sedans, as well as a Mercedes sourced five speed automatic transmission. It’s available in a mind boggling array of versions, including four motor options and two drivetrain options. Let’s make things simple, though: the base and mid level Chargers, equipped with anemic motors producing 178 horsepower (from the 2.7 liter V6) and 250 horsepower (from the 3.5 liter V6), can be overlooked. If you’re shopping for a Charger, it comes down to this: do you want rear wheel drive or all wheel drive, and which Hemi motor do you want? If 368 horsepower in stock trim is good enough for you, then it’s the Charger R/T you need. If you require 425 ponies from your Hemi, then you’ll need to check the box by the Charger SRT8.
The tester I drove was painted in Dodge’s optional TorRed, which is as subtle as lighting your barbecue grill with a napalm-fueled airstrike. It’s bright, really bright, and guaranteed to draw attention to you and your car. In the case of the Charger R/T, this isn’t necessarily a good thing unless you can keep your foot from mashing the fun pedal with too much enthusiasm. The Charger R/T is an easy car to drive fast, especially in a straight line. My tester came with the Customer Preferred Package 29R, which included 20” wheels and tires, the upgraded stereo with Boston Acoustics speakers, R/T badging and trim, performance seating, performance steering and performance suspension. The Super Track Pack option added summer only performance tires, a 3.06 axle ratio, heavy duty four wheel disc brakes (with ABS, of course) and an even stiffer suspension. The tester also had the sunroof, HID headlights and nav system options, so it was very well equipped. The sticker price was five dollars shy of $40,000.
The Charger R/T surprised me in a few areas. First, the suspension was necessarily stiff, but not punishing. Make no mistake about it: you will feel it when you go over a set of railroad tracks or drive a particularly bumpy road. Still, the ride quality was never unpleasant, even after spending a few hours behind the wheel. I wouldn’t call the Charger R/T a good choice for track days (the steering is a bit vague and it’s got quite a bit of mass to accelerate, turn and stop), but it will suffer the occasional high performance driving event in a manner competitive with other cars of its size. Kudos to Dodge for a job well done on both ride comfort and handling, and lets hope the new Charger raises the bar even more (and improves steering feel).
My next surprise was fuel mileage. I’m a “spirited” driver, who doesn’t hesitate to accelerate briskly when pulling on the highway or leaving a red light. In a reasonable mix of city and highway driving, the Charger R/T got 19.9 miles per gallon; while this isn’t going to garner any praise from the Greens, it did impress me, given how often the accelerator met the firewall. It’s not unreasonable to expect 22 mpg combined if you drive in a more sedate manner. How does the Charger achieve such reasonable mileage? Via Chrysler’s “Multi Displacement System”, which shuts off the fuel to four of eight cylinders when power isn’t needed. The system worked flawlessly, and you could only tell it was active by the “Eco” message on the Charger’s information system display.
The Charger R/T’s interior was comfortable enough, but it isn’t aging gracefully. There’s a huge expanse of plastic up front, due in part to the Charger’s steeply raked windshield. Dash materials that may have looked contemporary in 2005 now just look downscale, especially the hard plastic surrounding the instruments. Brushed aluminum trim helps to add visual appeal, but new materials for the dash and instruments will go a long way towards giving a more contemporary feel. The seats were comfortable and supportive (even for spirited driving), but I’d suggest that Dodge continue the suede inserts to the bottom edge of the seat. The current seat’s leather panel had a nasty tendency to stick to flesh if the driver or passenger was wearing shorts, a common occurrence in Florida. There’s a lot of glass in this car, so if you live in a hot climate, window tinting will be a necessity, not a luxury.
Dodge claims 0 to 60 times of just under 6 seconds for the variable valve timing equipped 5.7 liter Hemi motor, and I see no reason to disagree. Quiet at idle, the V8 emits a satisfying growl if you put your foot to the floorboard. All speed traction control comes standard, but can be disabled if the driver decides to shed some unwanted pounds of tread from the rear tires. You can’t own a car like this without doing the occasional burnout.
How would I spec out a Charger R/T if I was shopping for one? First, it would have to be black (at least until they invent a darker color), because you’d be amazed at how many drivers graciously yield the left lane when a black Charger tucks in behind them. It would have to have the 29R Option Package for the sport seats, steering and suspension alone, and the Super Track Pak option is another must-have for the upgraded brakes and buttoned-down suspension. I’d skip the sunroof, HID lights and nav system, which would put me out the door at a sticker price of $37,185.00, on par with the new Taurus SHO (which has AWD, but only comes in V6 EcoBoost flavor). Given the recent demise of the Pontiac G8, the Charger and Chrysler 300 soldier on as the last remaining full size, RWD American V8 sedan with sporting intentions. Sure, there’s the Cadillac STS, but you can buy two Chargers for the price of the Caddy. If Chrysler addresses the (minor) flaws in the current car, they’re sure to have another winner on their hands when the 2011 Charger hits the road. I can’t wait to drive it.