Extensively revised for 2015, Dodge Charger is America’s four-door muscle car, full of presence and in some cases fury. It looks mean but rides well, is quite practical from a room and capacity standpoint, and can be had with all-wheel drive or packing a knock-out punch.
Though trimmed and slimmed around the edges and as distinctive and threatening as always, the 2015 Charger is no lighter or smaller than the outgoing version. Almost all the exterior is new for 2015 yet recognition is still immediate, day or night. No posers here, all the scoops, ducts, vents and spoilers on the performance models are fully functional.
Charger will carry four adults comfortably and child-seat in between without effort, and there’s generous trunk to bring everything with you; unlike some sedans the rear seats fold for big-screen television load space. Unless you have a very small garage Charger can cover all your family driver needs.
Entertainment options include 276-watt Alpine, 552-watt 10-speaker Beats Audio, and 900-watt 19-speaker harman/kardon sound systems. Configurable driver displays and the Uconnect infotainment system have an excellent blend of conventional and touch-screen controls.
With about 300 horsepower and an 8-speed transmission the standard V6 Charger offers brisk acceleration and 30-plus mpg road-tripping. All-wheel drive is available for better inclement weather propulsion.
The 2015 Charger lineup includes three V8 Hemi engines across five models, all with appropriately authoritative exhaust notes and generous torque. They include the torquey 370-hp 5.7-liter, the bigger-is-better 485-hp 6.4-liter Hemi and a new supercharged 6.2-liter V8 with 707 horsepower. If descriptors like lunatic fringe or mental fit you and you don’t mind new rear tires at every oil change, Dodge has your four-door.
Dynamic performance is very good with a controlled ride and little body lean in corners or heavy braking. Brakes are appropriately good across a lineup in which top speeds vary by 85 mph or so. Precise, fast electric-assist steering varies effort automatically and you can choose the baseline.
Regardless of engine, Charger feels solid, substantial and well put together. Big bumps don’t crash through, annoying roads don’t rattle the trim and we’d say the finishes match the class, but Charger’s almost in a class of one.
Beyond the bodywork, interior updates and Hellcat model, the 2015 Charger now has seven airbags and a suite of safety features that can help cover-up inattentive driving, including lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and forward collision warning and mitigation braking.
Although there are a few rear-drive sedans in Charger’s price range, most tend to have more luxury, less power, a higher price or all three. But Charger will be cross-shopped more with things like the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger than the likes of Cadillac CTS or Lexus GS, and a 707-hp Hellcat costs tens of thousands less than a BMW M5, Audi RS7 or Mercedes E AMG.
The only direct Charger competitors are the Chrysler 300 and the Chevrolet SS. The 300 offers similar power choices and is more formal than Charger. SS is offered only with a 415-hp V8, priced between a 485-hp Charger R/T Scat Pack and SRT392. In its favor, the SS will offer a manual transmission choice and is lighter than comparable Chargers.
Tail corners lacking the old Charger’s angular edges appear much sleeker and house tailpipes further inboard. They also let following traffic see plenty of tire tread, tow visual exclamation points for the badge on the tail. The arched trunk is often topped by a spoiler, size commensurate with speed, the R/T’s lip not as pronounced as an SRT’s raised-sides unit needed to balance the front and keep it on the ground at three miles-a-minute. With the license plate in the bumper we couldn’t find anything to grasp to close the trunk without risking scratching it except the pull-handle on the inside edge.
The LED taillights now use a tube design that appears a single wrap-around tube of red light rather than a series of red dots resembling gridlock on a traffic map. LED turn and brake lights are attention-getting without being as dazzling as some.
SRT models use a unique front bumper with smaller upper grille and much larger lower grille, hence the missing cross-hair. The hood’s forward-facing duct scoops cool air in, while the Hellcat’s vents adjacent that scoop pull hot air out. The small slots behind the rear wheels are functional and let air out of the rear wheel wells.
Wheel finishes vary considerably, most of the V8 cars running on 20s. There are plenty of bright colors but to our eyes a Jazz Blue Pearl exterior with bronze finish wheels and a light caramel leather interior was the most striking: Complementary, elegant and not what you expect to go by in a cloud of tire smoke.
Charger offers full-size room, plenty of features and a good dose of practicality whether defined as flexible cargo space, a text-messaging assistant or something in between.
Finishes and materials are typical for the class, with soft-edge controls and soft-edge panels waist-high and up, with hard plastic lower doors and scuff panels for easy cleaning. However, the leather/suede upholstery on Road & Track and up is better than the average $36,000 car and the Hellcat’s aluminum trim stands out. All the trim we saw was matte-finish so glare was never an issue.
Front seats are thick and well off the floor, with plenty of room for broad shoulders or hips; since the seats are relatively high, tall types will want to try on a moonroof-equipped model with the same seats to ensure they fit comfortably. Unlike some sport sedans, Charger’s sport seats don’t assume everyone has a 30-inch waist, yet those who do don’t flop about. All Chargers have a tilt/telescoping steering column and power driver seat; some have adjustable pedals as well, so it’s no trouble finding a good driving position.
Rear seats are similarly plump, with generous leg and spread-out room. Tall types don’t do so well back here because of the sloping roof and rear window above. There are three integral headrests and the seat folds wide-side behind the driver in case the substantial 16-cubic-foot trunk isn’t big enough. Some of those cubes may be consumed with optional stereo subwoofers but they’re placed to the sides out of the way.
Cabin storage is bit above for par for a loaded rear-wheel-drive sedan, and this being a Chrysler product you have to hunt down the easter egg design touches. Many inputs and charge points are out of sight but cables can be run without being pinched or tethered in one groove.
The instrument panel is angled lightly toward the driver, with generous vents around the nav screen and instruments in a dog-bone surround. Analog speedometer and rev counter frame a configurable 7-inch color display capable of imparting hundreds of bits of information, all controlled through left-spoke thumb controls. Those are larger than average and workable in gloves better than you’d expect for 16 buttons (plus horn) on the front of the wheel. There are also radio controls on the back sides adjacent the shift paddles (bigger on SRT), so even a top texter or Morse-coder could literally have their hands full.
Stalks handle the major driving driving controls. Lights are left, with independent adjustment for dash and cabin lighting. Drive mode and safety system switches, to turn off lane-keeping assist in a construction detour, for example, are framed by volume and tuning knobs, climate control below. The inverted golf putter shifter is far better than earlier iterations. Every Charger uses push-button start and some will find keeping key in pocket less than ideal in the sport seats.
Dodge’s corporate Uconnect system and 8.4-inch touchscreen remains one of the easier, more intuitive arrangements. The list of functions is daunting but using it is not: It even allows you to engage seat heat/cooling or steering wheel before agreeing to disclaimers. Everything we sampled worked as expected (plan on a month exploring the choices) and if anything’s missing it wasn’t obvious to us.
Charger is a big, none-to-light sedan that feels it: Solid, stable, and quiet until you give a Hemi the boot.
The standard 292 horsepower multiplied by an 8-speed automatic are more than adequate propulsion for cross-country drives or putting around the city. Both are smooth, unobtrusive and excel at highway fuel economy: We’ve recorded 32 mpg, and in town the weight will show with values in the high teens.
The V6 is the only engine offered with all-wheel drive, a new system that runs as rear-drive unless needed, to improve highway economy. Operation is completely automatic and transparent, simply select D and go. However, do remember all-wheel drive does not improve braking or cornering nor repeal the laws of physics.
Most Charger models, not necessarily sales, come with a V8; it’s the sound and effortless thrust many expect from this mean-looking four-door. The standard 5.7-liter Hemi delivers 370 horses and 395 lb-ft of torque, the latter the greater, more useful gain over the V6. Now coupled to an 8-speed automatic EPA ratings are up to 16/25 mpg, with our experience 26 on the highway, half that in town. Big, fast and heavy have a price.
Despite the power the 5.7 is easy to drive at moderate speeds, with linear power build-up. Under low-load conditions it shuts off half the cylinders, which like the V6’s all-wheel drive is done automatically and most drivers will never notice. Mash the pedal and the gearbox quickly gets the most of Hemi power, dispatching slower vehicles easily in passing zones. The Road & Track R/T’s shorter axle ratio makes it slightly livelier than the R/T.
Charger’s solid structure shrugs off bumps and induces no fatigue. Ride quality varies by model in subtle steps, the R/T Road & Track’s fairly firm suspension remains compliant enough for sub-par roads, though you may prefer the regular R/T if that’s all you drive on. R/T Road & Track stays nearly flat even when braking, accelerating or cornering hard, and it does well at all those dynamics. While the SRT models have firmer suspension calibration and stiffer tires, they also have three-step adjustable damping so ride quality remains intact, greater stick and damping available for good roads and higher speeds.
Electric-assist steering allows less effort for low-speed maneuvering and more at highway speeds, and you can vary the effort to your liking in three steps. Meaty steering wheels deliver quick response and a commendable 38-foot turning circle, and haven’t given up much, if any, precision to previous Charger steering.
Scat Pack ups the ante with a 485-horse 6.4-liter Hemi, ducted hood, more aggressive bodywork, wider wheels and Brembo four-piston front brakes. It’s very probably the fastest full-size four-door near its $40,000 price. It’s hilarious good fun, as linear and controlled as an R/T only faster and noisier.
Then there are the big boys from SRT. The 392 runs the same (391 cubic-inch) 485-horspower 6.4 as the Scat Pack but adds massive six-piston Brembo brakes, wider-yet forged wheels and tires, adjustable dampers and launch control. If the Scat Pack is built for straight-line speed, the SRT is more built for using the power with bends as well. There were plenty of places we found it the most enjoyable to drive because of better weight distribution than the Hellcat and it was the easiest to use all of it and leave nothing on the table.
Finally there is the 707-horspower Hellcat. With tires no wider than the SRT392 and 222 horses more, it struggles to find traction at full throttle until you’re beyond legal speed, like driving a lesser car with four first gears. On a drag strip initially it’s traction-limited and then drives past things like 580-hp Camaros and 550-hp Mustangs. On the road you need to tread lightly; keep pushing further on the gas pedal and it feels endless, even if you’re already doing 120 mph. If you measure your performance sedans in bang-for-the-buck, everything pales in comparison to the Hellcat.
At full throttle, Hellcat’s exhaust note completely hides the supercharger whine. Steering effort is lighter than other Chargers because it retains hydraulic assist, but if you’ve dialed back all the electronic chassis aids (take the SRT school first), you can steer it with a quarter-turn and your right foot.
The safety systems in the Technology package worked as advertised, lane keep assist ready to argue with a driver who couldn’t use signals. The view out is good so we never needed any warnings. All can be defeated, adaptive cruise control works to full stop, and forward collision warning does full stop at less than 20 mph, warnings and collision mitigation braking at more than 20 mph. With all the racket from the Hellcat, the deer were well aware and out of warning range.
Dodge Charger offers more choice than any other rear/all-wheel-drive full-size sedan, with more than plentiful power-per-dollar at every step. Regardless of which version you choose, Charger is a roomy, solid, balanced performer available with all the features a family can use.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report from Washington, D.C.