The model line ranges from the sporty and entertaining 2.7-liter Charger SE to the 425-hp SRT8. Between them are 3.5-liter V6 and 5.7-liter V8 models. The 3.5-liter V6 delivers entirely adequate performance for the mid-grade SXT model, while the V8s generate thrilling acceleration performance and make all the right noises.
All-wheel drive is available for all-weather capability.
The Charger illustrates just how multi-talented and accomplished today's high-performance cars are compared to the unidimensional 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 Charger is fun to drive and enjoyable for just cruising along. It's perfectly in its element when making time on a freeway. It is a big, heavy, full-size sedan measuring more than 16 feet in length and tipping the scales near two tons, but it's responsive and entertaining.
For 2008, the Charger gets minor interior design changes and two new entertainment options. Newly available are Sirius Backseat TV for the rear entertainment system, and Dodge's MyGig, a 20 gigabyte hard drive that holds songs, pictures, and navigation system map information. The interior changes include a new instrument panel and center console, as well as upgraded soft-touch surfaces on the arm rests, center console and door trim. Dodge's UConnect hands-free cell-phone link is also upgraded with integrated iPod interface.
The Dodge Charger was launched as a 2006 model in the spring of 2005.
Dodge Charger SE ($21,675); Charger SXT ($25,685); Charger SXT AWD ($28,035); Charger R/T ($30,755); Charger R/T AWD ($32,855); Charger R/T Daytona ($30,755); Charger SRT8 ($36,155)
The same design team that parented the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum birthed the Charger. The Charger is built on the same platform as those two, but is three inches longer overall.
With this legacy, the upright silhouette comes as no surprise. 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. The 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, as if the designer were trying to make a sedan look like a coupe. The beltline arcs softly back from the headlights, where it droops slightly, to about the midpoint of 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 instrument cluster arrangement, which is slightly redesigned for 2008, 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. The climate controls are conveniently positioned beneath the radio and are easy to operate.
The cruise control stalk has been moved from the 10 o'clock to the 4 o'clock position for 2008, making it more intuitive to use and eliminating the annoying tendency to hit the cruise stalk when signaling a turn.
The standard fabric-covered seats 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 the 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 a bit compromised by safety measures and styling dictates. The thick front pillars are designed to meet roll-over standards, which makes checking for pedestrians and crossing traffic difficult at times. 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 way back. The rear pillars are also fat, and require careful checking during lane changes; they also provide great hiding places for pacing patrol cars. In addition, the front of the roof juts out far in front of the seating position, so it can block your view of stoplights if you get too close.
The rear 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. For 2008, the system adds available Sirius Backseat TV with three child-oriented channels, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Two headsets are provided, so children in the back can watch the screen, while front occupants can listen to the radio.
Also available for 2008 is Dodge's MyGig radio in two iterations: the MyGig Entertainment System and the MyGig Multimedia Infotainment System. Both have 20 gigabytes of hard drive space, but the Multimedia option includes a navigation system with real-time traffic and voice activation.
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 part of the front center console is large enough for coins and the like. Above it is a small, fold-down drawer where the Smokers Group ashtray would be, and next to that is a power point that would hold the lighter. Two cup holders sit in front of the console bin, and another pair can be found in the forward end of the rear seat center armrest. All four doors have good-sized map pockets, though the front seatbacks lack pouches for reading materials and headsets. The glove box is roomier than many.
The trunk is large. Loading items into the trunk is aided by a comfortably low lift-over height, at 30 inches. The trunk opening is shaped such
The 5.7-liter V8 features Dodge's Multi-Displacement System that conserves fuel by shutting down four cylinders when they're not needed to maintain the car's momentum. The system is can't be felt, but it can be monitored. For 2008, Dodge has added a Fuel Saver Mode display that indicates when four cylinders have been shut down.
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 SXT model 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 recalibrated steering that comes with the Road/Track package offers better steering feel across the speed range. Some drivers may find the rumbling exhaust note of the Road/Track tiresome over long distances, though. The SRT8's lowered ride height calls for care when parking to avoid scraping the front fascia scrape; it can drag on sharp pavement transitions.
We drove a Charger along winding, two-lane back roads in southern Virginia then at Virginia International Raceway near Danville. The Charger is moderately nose-heavy and will understeer a bit when turning into corners before the electronic stability program steps in; the program's threshold seems set high enough to allow altering the line through a corner with deft throttle application.
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 they 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 (unless you shift sooner, of course). 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 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 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. The availability of all-wheel drive is a bonus for customers in the north, and the range of engines and suspension setups allows buyers 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, and correspondent Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.