A range of V6 and V8 models is available, however, and even the sub-$25,000 Charger SE feels sporty and entertaining. All of these cars are comfortable cruisers, offering drivers a comfortable haven from traffic and bumpy freeways.
The Charger illustrates just how multi-talented and accomplished today's high-performance cars are compared to the uni-dimensional hot rods of yesteryear. The Charger has all the pavement-ripping, gut-thumping power of the old muscle cars, but it's packaged with modern creature comforts and tempered by handling competency. Put another way, it rides, turns and stops as well as it goes.
The Dodge Charger is fun to drive and enjoyable for just cruising along. It's perfectly in its element when making time on a freeway. Granted, this is no sporty, svelte coupe. It's a big, heavy, full-size sedan measuring more than 16 feet in length and tipping the scales near two tons, but it is responsive and entertaining. The 3.5-liter V6 is entirely adequate, while the V8s generate thrilling acceleration performance and make all the right noises.
Now in its second model year, the Charger lineup expands for 2007 with the availability of all-wheel drive. Ordering your SXT or R/T with all-wheel drive should add greatly to your Charger's ability to handle winter weather as well as enhancing its stability on wet roads. Other new options packages are available for 2007 as well.
Dodge Charger SE ($22,800); Charger SXT ($25,905); Charger SXT AWD ($28,155); Charger R/T ($30,215); Charger R/T AWD ($32,215); Charger Daytona R/T ($32,715); Charger SRT8 ($35,920)
And for good reason. The same design team that parented the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum birthed this new Charger. The Charger is built on the same platform as those two, but is three inches longer overall. The Charger reportedly was planned all along to be a sedan version of the Magnum.
With this legacy, it's no surprise that there is an uprightness to the Charger's silhouette, regardless of viewing angle. The front end tilts forward as if it's leaning into the wind, specifically to recall the brutish, pre-aero-age styling of its muscle car era namesake.
Dominating the front of the car are the trademark Dodge crosshairs, chromed on the SXT and R/T, body-color in the SE and SRT8 and flat black on the Daytona. Compound halogen headlights peer out under hooded, almost scowling brows. A thin, trifurcated air intake slices across the lower portion of the front bumper. Daytona and SRT8 wear a flat-black chin spoiler. Fog lamps on the SXT and higher models fill small, sculpted insets at the lower corners.
From the side, the demi-fastback roofline and glasshouse look more grafted onto the somewhat fulsome body than a natural extension of the overall styling theme, very much as if the designer were trying to make a sedan look like a coupe. The beltline arcs softly back from a slight droop over the headlights to about midway in the rear side window, then kicks up over the rear quarter panel, visually bulking up the car's already hefty haunches.
The rear perspective shows a tall, almost vertical backside, with large taillights draped over the upper corners. A modest, Kamm-like lip stretches across the trailing edge of an expansive trunk lid, atop which sits a lift-suppressing spoiler on the Daytona and SRT8. A recess in the bumper holds the license plate. On the SE and SXT a single exhaust tip exits beneath the right-hand side, while the V8-powered models sport chrome-tipped, muscle car-idiom, dual exhausts.
The Charger's styling is loosely reflected on NASCAR's Nextel Cup cars, primarily seen in the crosshair grille and the painted-on taillights.
The instrument cluster arrangement is pleasantly informative. The big round speedometer and tachometer share the top half of the steering wheel opening, with fuel and coolant temperature gauges down in the left and right corners. Air conditioning registers fill the top of the center stack, above the stereo/navigation display, with the climate control panel properly positioned beneath that, all intuitively arrayed and outfitted and within easy reach of the driver and front seat passenger. Models without the navigation display have a small cubby below the air conditioning controls.
Steering column stalks are imported from the Mercedes-Benz parts bin, including their awkward positioning. The more frequently used, heavily end-weighted turn-signal stalk/washer lever droops down somewhere around the 8 o'clock position, while the cruise control sits up around 10 o'clock. The headlight switch and dash light rheostat are located in the dash next to the driver's door, with the remote trunk release below. Outside mirrors are adjusted with a joystick in the door armrest. The power seat adjustments are located on the outboard side of the seat bottom and operate intuitively. Large, six-way adjustable, rectangular ventilation registers fill in each end of the dash.
The fabric-covered seats that come standard are comfortable, with adequate thigh support and side bolstering. Stepping up to the performance seats in the option packages gets more pronounced bolsters, which is good for those rare times when a twisty two-lane beckons, but not as good for climbing in and out of the car every day. And, of course, the top grade, suede-trimmed and embroidered seats in the Daytona nicely complement the boy-racer graphics of the exterior. Thanks to the sedan-spec wheelbase, there's plenty of rear seat room, too, even with front seats at their rearmost positions. No head restraint for the rear center seat is provided, however, making this car better for four adults than five.
Visibility from the driver's seat is good, but suffers a bit from safety measures and styling dictates. A-pillars designed to meet roll-over standards are thick, which makes checking for pedestrians and crossing traffic becomes more difficult. The view through the inside rearview mirror quickly puts to rest any lingering illusions about the Charger being a coupe; the rear window is a long ways back. And the C-pillars are also fat, and require careful checking during lane changes; they also provide great hiding places for pacing patrol cars. (The A-pillars are the posts between the windshield and front side windows: the C-pillars are the posts between the rear windscreen and rear side windows.)
The entertainment system installation takes a novel, but extremely well-integrated approach. The screen hides beneath a cover on the front center console when not in use, then pivots up between the front seats for viewing. The interface, for DVD and input and output jacks, is incorporated into the rear of the console beneath the screen and above the rear seat ventilation registers. Without the entertainment system, the center console functions as a traditional storage bin.
All four doors have good-sized map pockets, although front seatbacks are bare of any pouches for reading materials and headsets. Outside door handles are the flip-up, top-hinged, flush mounted variety, but operate sufficiently friendly to pose no major threats to fingernails. Inside door pulls are full rounds, making for confident shutting. Latch handles are large levers in large, concave circles, leaving plenty of room for even gloved hands. The glove box is roomier than many.
A small, horizontal storage bin occupies the lower portion of the center stack, and there's a similar, longitudinal slot in the console to the right of the shift gate. A bin in the forward-most p
The V8s feature a multi-displacement system that conserves fuel by shutting down four cylinders when they're not needed to maintain the car's momentum, is invisible; we knew it was there and were looking for it, and we never felt the slightest trace. The 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that comes in the R/T is rated at 340 horsepower.
All of the Chargers are good cruisers, comfortable motoring along at 70-80 mph. The Charger is quiet at that speed, with little wind or road noise. The 3.5-liter SE felt perfectly in its element on the bumpy highways between Detroit and Michigan International Raceway. Steering in the SE and SXT models we drove seemed a bit over-assisted at times, and could have used more on-center feel. The re-geared setup that comes with the Road/Track Performance Group delivers better steering feel across the speed range. We're not sure how tiring the rumbling exhaust with the Road/Track setup might be over long distances at constant speeds, however.
Around town, the SRT8 scrapes like a Corvette in deep gutters and other sharp transitions. Extra care has to be taken when parking not to scrape on those concrete stops they put out to keep people from pulling over the sidewalk; this is exacerbated by the significant length of the Charger because you're trying to get the rear of the car out of the traffic. The front spoiler is high enough that it's usually not a problem but beware high curbs.
The Charger handled well along the winding, two-lane back roads around Virginia International Raceway in southern Virginia even when carrying speeds substantially in excess of the posted limits. Indeed, we were grateful for a properly placed dead pedal to brace ourselves while exploring those roads. The Charger is moderately nose-heavy and will plow, or understeer, momentarily before the electronic stability program steps in; this means the program's threshold is set high enough that better drivers can alter their line through a corner with deft throttle application; drive too hard and you'll become aware you're pushing the envelope.
The Performance Group comes with fatter, stickier tires (P235/55R18 Michelin MXM4s) and suspension tweaks that combine to reduce body lean in corners and quicken turn-in response. A price is paid, however, as the sportier suspension and tire combination resonates more over broken pavement, not harshly, but noticeably. The tires that come standard on the R/T and optional on the SXT are neither as wide nor as grippy, but offer a quieter ride.
The AutoStick transmission works equally well in either Automatic or Manual mode. In Automatic mode, full throttle upshifts wait until redline and downshifts for passing are executed with minimal delay. In Manual mode, the transmission holds a gear to red line before shifting up a gear (unless you shift sooner, of course), which then becomes the selected gear. Only by tromping the gas in manual mode can you force a downshift, and then only for as long as the pedal is held to the floor; ease up ever so slightly, and the higher gear takes back over, and somewhat abruptly.
The Charger's brake hardware is shared with Mercedes-Benz, but the software code for the stability program, brake assist and traction control systems is written by and for Dodge. Mercedes engineers could learn something from Dodge. Pedal feel is firm, braking is reassuringly linear and there's no perceived interference from the electronic watchdogs, yielding smooth, controlled stops. We haven't always been able to say the same the same thing about the braking characteristics on some of the Mercedes models.
The Dodge Charger delivers pony car excitement and style and recalls a bygone era, all while providing the roomy accommodations of a full-size car. A range of engines and suspension setups allows the buyer to choose between fast and comfortable models.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from North Carolina and southern Virginia; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Michigan.