Dodge Charger is an American muscle car, pumped, powerful, and full of swagger that takes you straight back to the wildly optimistic American sedans of the '60s.
At the same time, it's handsomely designed and has world-class fit and finish. From crankshaft to door handles, everything operates with fine precision and the promise of long-lasting service. Ride quality is very good, and the solid structure soaks up road surface irregularities. Yet the steering is lively and communicative, keeping you in direct touch with the road, and braking performance is exemplary. A full-size, four-door sedan, Charger is a roomy five-seat hauler.
Like any serious performance sedan, Charger is rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available for winter traction. V6 and V8 engines are available.
For 2013, a new cold-air induction system and sport-tuned exhaust boot the standard 3.6-liter V6 up to 300 horsepower with certain option packages. The 292-horsepower version is still standard and, realistically, that's plenty for most drivers. The V6 Charger with 8-speed automatic delivers best-in-class fuel economy: up to 19/31 mpg City/Highway in the EPA estimate.
Even with the 370-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and optional all-wheel drive, the Charger is a full-size family sedan with both strong performance and surprisingly thrifty EPA fuel economy, with an EPA-estimated 15/23 mpg City/Highway.
At the top end, the super-performance 2013 Charger SRT8 benefits from the addition of launch control and three driver-selectable modes for its adaptive damping suspension.
From the outside, the 2013 Charger looks a lot like an older rendering of the American sedan, but that appearance is misleading. The retro look is a self-confident exercise in sinuous American styling. The reborn Charger has been around since 2006. Model year 2011 brought a fresh new look that we like even better than the 2006-10 edition. The original Dodge Charger was launched as a 1966 model. General Lee was a '69.
The interior, however, is anything but old style. It's richly furnished with cutting-edge conveniences, advanced technology and the no-nonsense functionalism buyers demand. A first-rate, 8.4-inch touch-screen navigation system is coupled with a rearview camera and ancillary controls for climate and audio. The navigation system is sensationally intuitive, transparent, and pleasing to use, among the best we've seen. It's very easy to read and very easy to understand. Underscoring this user-friendliness, the audio controls for volume and tuning are accomplished with old-fashioned, practical radial knobs, easy to operate while driving on rough roads. And following through, each of these knobs is furnished with a nice rubber feel as you make your one-touch adjustments.
Dodge Charger is a classic combination: a full-size Detroit sedan with strong performance and unmistakable American looks, selling at an attractive price. Compared with the full-size Dodge sedan of 20 or 30 years ago, a new Charger will reward the owner with exciting styling, world-class engineering and impressive value. You no longer have to buy American because it's patriotic. With cars like this, you buy American because it's smart.
Dodge Charger SE ($25,995); Charger SXT ($28,995); Charger R/T ($29,995); Charger SRT8 ($46,250)
This latest-generation Dodge Charger is immediately recognizable. The front says it's a Dodge, even though its design theme began life on the 1960 Chrysler 300 and was most recently revived on the 1994 Dodge Ram pickup truck. It's been a Dodge exclusive since then, and while the current Ram and Charger could not be more different, the aggressive, muscular cruciform grille suits both perfectly. Achieving that kind of unmistakable model-line identity is no small achievement.
In like manner, the tail of the Charger uses the same array of full-width taillamps made famous on the Charger in the '60s. It's a handsome look that is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with historic Dodge styling cues. The Charger expresses pride in where Dodge, Chrysler Corporation, and for that matter, all American cars have been during the last few turbulent decades.
The body of the second-generation modern Charger is crisply styled throughout. It is considerably edgier and more muscular than its immediate predecessor, which had great promise but was, by comparison, a bit of a lump. Along the sides of the car are slanting, angular indentations that echo similar features of the 1968-70 Charger as well as the racy, rear-facing engine-room vents made so famous on the all-conquering Dodge Viper supercar. In the Charger, these are unmistakably bad looking in all of the right street-savvy ways.
Continuing this street look, in profile, the car's dramatically low roofline tapers downward rapidly at the car's mid-point. In combination with its high waistline and compressed greenhouse, the car expresses a secretive, almost hot-rod chopped appearance. Occupants seem to peer outward from sinister gun slit-like windows. Yet for all of its hunched-over appearance, the occupants' outward visibility is quite good enough.
When the Charger's dynamic outward appearance is combined with its strong performance, this is an American muscle sedan with the credentials to appeal to a broad range of tastes.
Examining the Charger's interior, we started in the back seat to investigate just how limited seating room might be underneath this low roofline. Inevitably, tall backseat passengers will have to scrunch down a little, though moderately tall riders will be just fine. The rear cabin is comfortable and roomy without being huge. The top of the backlight has multi-linear applique black stripes, providing a bit of shade from the sun and simultaneously creating the impression from outside that the rear window is even lower and more hooded.
The rear seat is firm and supportive, with a fairly hard back-cushion. A central pull-down elbow rest contains two cup holders and a stowage compartment. Dual rear-seat climate vents are provided, together with a 12-volt outlet and (optional) rear seat heaters. Deluxe.
Our test car featured two-tone black and Radar Red Nappa leather upholstery. The front-seat display is mildly spartan, but not in the sense of being cold or under-supplied. Rather, the instrumentation has attractive, classy white-on-black dials. The display itself, uncomplicated and straightforward, is simple modern.
The dashboard has a sleek, scooped-out titanium-look central motif. (It's actually a distinctive shade of silver fans of older Dodges and Chryslers will fondly remember.) Below the tachometer (which has no redline because automatic shifting prevents over-revving) and speedometer are a water temperature gauge and a fuel gauge. Also included in the instrumentation is a compass and an exterior temperature readout.
Between these instruments, an Info board delivers a list of performance parameters, including coolant temperature, oil temperature, oil pressure, transmission temperature, engine hours, tire pressure and several measures of instant and trip fuel mileage. Our one complaint here was that gaining access to this Info board's numerous categories of data was confusing and took some non-intuitive hunting around.
The navi screen, by contrast, was excellent, intuitive, and immediately accessible. Navigation is by simple plan view. The screen is bright, easily read and devoid of complex graphics. Its touch-screen offers Radio, Controls, Climate, Navigation, Phone and More, the latter signifying SiriusXM Travel Link and a Settings inventory. The system was upgraded last year (for 2102), with hands-free texting, voice commands for Garmin navigation, SiriusXM Traffic, and full iPod control features. Chrysler and Dodge have one of the best navigation systems currently available.
On the steering wheel are controls for the Info board, voice activation and cruise control. On the rear of the steering wheel, where the paddle shifters would be on the R/T Road & Track and SRT8 models, we found a complex set of six different touch buttons. These were designed for manipulating radio volume, selecting stations, bands and pre-selects, but they were a classic instance of too much of a good thing. Mastering which of these buttons controlled what functions, and using the buttons efficiently for their intended purpose would take some serious concentration.
In place of paddle shifters, our test car had a sequential 5-speed manu-matic shifter: It operated independently or could be manually selected. The system had a nice provision whereby if you wanted to cancel manual shifting and return to automatic, you simply push the lever to the right for about one second. Immediately, the transmission returns to selecting its own gears. The manual selector delivered fast, positive manual shifts. Excellent.
In the center console, our test car had two heated-or-cooled cupholders, a deluxe touch.
The stark four-letter badges on the car's sides say, Hemi. Not a lot more need be said. This is a serious American V8, with torque and horsepower enough to pin you back in your seat or, just as surely, enough poise to potter along as complacently as you like.
And because this is a fully self-confident powerplant, Dodge sees no need to hype it with a sudden, falsely energetic throttle pedal. Throttle response is immediate and proportional, allowing smooth, forceful acceleration.
Dodge's Fuel-Saver Technology cancels four cylinders when they aren't needed, also eliminating needless fuel flow when decelerating. In our AWD test car, EPA-rated City fuel mileage, at 15 mpg, is as meager as would be expected in a big V8. But the Charger's 23 mpg Highway fuel consumption is good, considering that this is nearly six liter's worth of Hemi.
All-wheel drive is always a useful thing to have aboard, delivering massively better traction and dynamic balance in almost any driving. And the minute you begin driving the Charger R/T Plus AWD, it's clear that this car is a complete break from the Dodges of decades ago.
All AWD Chargers come with a touring suspension, rather than the performance suspension found on models with the Hemi and RWD. Yet our test car proved a remarkably stable, grippy driver. There was only moderate lean, squat or dive during cornering, acceleration or braking. Pushed hard on dry pavement, the all-wheel drive always gives you just a little more cornering grip than you expect.
Ride quality is very good, and the car's solid structure soaks up road surface irregularities with ease. Yet as relatively compliant as the ride is, steering is lively and communicative, keeping you in direct touch with the road. The thick, sturdy leather-wrapped steering wheel underscores the well-developed solidity of the car. With its variable-assist electronic steering, the driver is encouraged to think of this Charger as not nearly as large and cumbersome as outward appearances may suggest. Despite its dimensions, this is a crisp, sporty muscle sedan. It incites confidence and enjoyable driving.
Braking performance is exemplary. The R/T Road & Track model boasts bigger, more forceful Brembo disc brakes, good for reducing fade when driving on a race track and repeatedly hammering the brakes. AWD and Hemi models come with 13.6-inch vented front discs and 12.6-inch vented rear discs. (In non-AWD V6 models, the standard front and rear brake rotors are both 12.6 inches.) The 13.6-inch brakes provided massive, balanced non-skid stopping power, especially in combination with the multiple electronic brake-assist technologies of rain brake support, ready alert braking, electronic stability control, all-speed traction control and hill-start assist.
The Charger SRT8 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in the high 4-second range and can cover the standing quarter-mile in the high 12-second range. Top speed is 175 mph, according to Dodge. The SRT8 can brake from 60-0 mph in 120 feet.
The 2013 Dodge Charger is a dynamic, forceful road car that starts, stops and corners with poise. If Dodge had come anywhere near to this kind of Charger years ago, the company would have been every buyer's hero. This is an American sedan to be proud of.
Ted West filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report. John F. Katz also contributed.