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2009 Dodge Charger SX 3.5 – Click above for high-res image gallery

It's been almost a year since a Dodge Charger passed through the Autoblog Garage, and this go-around was very different from the last. Comparedto our last Charger, this one is positively subtle. Last time around, we sampled one of Dodge's police car demonstrators decked out in full law enforcement regalia including a roof-top light bar and traditional black-and-white paint job. Driving the cop Charger was a mix of euphoria and paranoia. This time, Chrysler sent over a civilian SXT model powered by the company's 3.5-liter V6.

While the name hearkens back to coupes of the '60s and '70s (we'll ignore the forgettable badge job Omni edition of the '80s, thank you very much!) this is a full-sized sedan in the great American tradition. Given the current economic environment, future fuel economy regulations and the likely trajectory of gas prices, this is also a tradition that may be on its last legs. Read on after the jump to find out if this is a tradition worth preserving.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

While the Charger's looks are all-American, some of the underpinnings actually descend from the previous generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The Charger and its LX platform stablemates – the late Magnum, the Chrysler 300 and, of course, the Challenger – were developed under the management of former owner Daimler. This is one of two platforms with which the Germans begrudgingly agreed to share their hardware, the other being the ill-fated Crossfire. Fortunately for Chrysler, the LX was and is far more successful. The LX architecture actually underpins one of Chrysler's truly distinct products in the U.S. market, and in spite of using older German bits underneath, the Charger remains a relatively modern piece of kit.

The primary bits that came from Germany are those that manage the motion of the wheels relative to the body. The all-independent suspension demonstrated that a rear-wheel-drive car could still be viable in the 21st century and likely prodded General Motors to develop its own rear-wheel-drive Zeta platform. Unfortunately for GM, by the time the Zeta arrived for the Pontiac G8 and Chevrolet Camaro, the market was already turning and Ford's own similar effort had been canceled before even yielding a product.

The Charger became the third LX model following the 300 and Magnum when it debuted in early 2005. In 1999, Chrysler showed off a rear-drive Charger R/T concept that previewed the coming wave of four-door coupe body styles that we've seen in recent years. Unfortunately, many observers who had seen the sleek concept were disappointed that its looks had been abandoned in favor of a chunkier design that shared the front part of its greenhouse with its platform mates. The look has grown on people over the years and remains fairly unique in the marketplace. At least no one can claim that Chrysler's designers have cloned any other car to produce the Charger.

For the first several years of the LX's run, the interiors unfortunately lived up to the reputation that Chrysler had earned for shoddy driving environments. The problem wasn't so much the design and control layout, which was straightforward and functional, just the materials, switchgear quality, and fit-and-finish. For the 2008 model year, Chrysler produced a vastly improved interior for the Charger and its siblings. The materials on the dashboard are now soft touch with a more appealing texture. There are no more visible edges with unfinished parting lines from the molds. We're still not talking Lexus or Infiniti here, but this is a Dodge at a Dodge price point. In fact, the Charger's closest real competition is probably the Pontiac G8, and by comparison, the Charger interior actually looks and feels pretty good.

The seats in our SXT tester were covered in leather front and rear and clearly contoured for the increasingly broad average American backside. Following a relatively straight trajectory, the front seats were comfortable with a manually adjustable lumbar support and power adjustments for angles of both the seat back and lower cushion as well as fore-aft location. For those whose proportions of leg-to-arm length might not match whatever standard size the interior designers selected, there is also switch on the side of the driver's seat that allows the entire pedal cluster to be adjusted for distance from the seat.

The leather on the seats is smooth and relatively stiff, but won't ever be confused with vinyl. Unfortunately, the smooth finish, broad dimensions and minimal side bolsters mean that a SXT driver will have to brace themself if they intend to do any comparatively aggressive cornering. The Charger's long 120-inch wheelbase means that back seat passengers have ample leg room and can stretch out in comfort. The only downside is that the sloping roofline may cut into some occupants head room compared to a 300. Six footers should have no problem back there. There is one other downside to the Charger's roofline. The relatively upright windshield means the leading edge of the roof extends forward quite a bit. If you are at an intersection where the stoplights hang over the center, you may need to lean forward to see them.

Unlike the HEMI-equipped cop car that we drove last year, this SXT was powered by the increasingly long-in-the-tooth 3.5-liter V6. From a power standpoint, the engine is reasonably class competitive with 250 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque at an acceptable 3,800 rpm. The Charger is certainly no flyweight at 3,783 pounds, but the 3.5L provided perfectly adequate acceleration. You won't be drag racing an SRT-8, but 0-60 miles-per-hour in the mid-7s should be more than enough in day-to-day driving. Where the 3.5L is somewhat lacking is in refinement. The balanced 60-degree block means smooth operation, but the engine is a bit noisy when working hard. The V6 only comes paired with a four-speed automatic transmission, so the engine often revs higher and has a more pronounced drop between gears than you will experience with other cars that have 5-,6- or 7-speed units. Having said that, the powertrain is fully acceptable when driven sedately.

The LX's double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspensions have always been very capable. This test unit was equipped with a preferred option package that included a touring suspension setup, which provided a very nice balance of ride and control. Unlike a V6 Challenger we drove a few months ago that felt decidedly soft, this Charger felt tied down with excellent damping that never felt floaty. The only real complaint would be the no-feedback steering. There is just the right amount of resistance when turning the steering wheel so that it doesn't feel light, but the weighting seems entirely relative to the steering angle and not the cornering force. At least there is no dead spot in the center; turning the wheel brings an immediate change of direction.

The Charger came to the Autoblog Garage at the end of the week following the Detroit Auto Show previews, which also happened to coincide with some extremely cold sub-zero temperatures and still more snow. On a trek from my Ypsilanti home to Detroit for Hyundai's annual post show pool, bowling and live music decompression session, the electric stability control got a thorough workout on I-94. While many other drivers found themselves stranded in the ditch along the route, the Charger felt in control even on its 18-inch Continental all-season tires and despite its rear-wheel-drive setup. For those who like to have a little fun with their winter time driving, the ESC is actually quite cooperative. Rather than the totally nailed down, over-aggressive control that some systems provide, the Charger actually lets the rear end slide out just a bit around corners before gently nudging it back without ever jerking the chassis around.

The navigation system in the Charger was also equipped with SIRIUS traffic information, which came in handy during our mid-snow-storm run to Detroit. With so many cars off the road, the system automatically re-routed us along surface streets for a while before sending us back to the freeway.

For those so-inclined, Chrysler also offers an all-wheel-drive option, but we would suggest just buying a second set of wheels with snow-tires instead if you live somewhere with nastier winters. That, combined with the electronic stability control, will probably nearly match the traction capabilities of the AWD without the somewhat ungainly looking extra inch of ride height.

Those cold temperatures did take their toll on fuel economy. We achieved about 18 mpg with a mix of city and highway snow driving while the EPA rates the 3.5L SXT at 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. The Charger SXT has an entry price point of $26,150 but our tester had a healthy options list that drove the bottom line, including delivery, to a more substantial $32,335. It's not inexpensive, but for a large rear-drive sedan with capable dynamics and a uniquely American look, it's worth considering. Chrysler has promised a redesigned 300 and Charger for 2011 that the few who have seen say looks gorgeous. If Chrysler is still with us in 2011, it may well have this segment back to itself again. The Charger actually gives some reason to hope they do make it.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      The charger is one of the worst cars EVER made. I needed a rental and they gave me one of these... after 1 day I went back and demanded a different car. I can't express in words how horrible the Charger is.. I'm surprised you guys spent time writing up a review of it.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I could never use a rental as a point of reference. They're not the most well cared for vehicles.

        Before I purchased the Magnum, I rented on that had just been purchased by an Avis Rental center. A 20-30min test drive never really gives you a clear impression, so the fee for a week long rental was well worth it for me.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I've rented several of them and I have to trump your opinion. I think they're pretty good cars. Far better than the Camry's and Hyundai's flooding the airports now.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I own a 2006 Charger R/T with 61K

        Outside of brake pads, oil, cleaning my air filter and new tires I had one factory issue with the car. I also bought it used with 20K on it and it had been raced! So I think it's holding up very well! I just hat sat radio installed too because I'm keeping it! I love this car! I'm thinking about buying another one in two year and keeping both!

        And I'm a Ford guy! Though, I do agree the Crown Vic is a better car! The styling on the Charger is awesome! Actually my car and the one in the pics look almost identical! I have dual exhaust though.. whatever right? lol
        • 6 Years Ago
        To expand on this and avoid confusion, a friend ran the agency, and the car had less than 100km on it when it arrived. Thus it had not yet been abused. :D
      • 6 Years Ago
      I've had my Charger R/T and it is definitely one of the most comfortable cars I've ever been in (only one that was better was my brother's STi with ver7 JDM seats). The power is great with the 5.7, but I still wish I would have gone with the 6.1. Love my Charger and haven't found anything else out there that I even like in the same price range.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Doing some calculating:

      Base Charger per KBB $21,700


      2008 Rebates of $2,000
      Chrysler financial rebate $1,000
      There is probably some factory-to-dealer marketing support of $500 to $1,000, I just can't find any site that says so.


      Employee Pricing is usually 3% below invoice or so.

      $21,049 (3% off invoice)
      -$,3000 rebates taken

      dealer cash would just make it better.

      This dealer lists the per-model discounts. $8,000 off of sticker for Charger.
      So, base Charger of $23,500 would net out to $18,500. About same as above, but easier math.

      0% financing is icing.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Do you have any on-line links to those deals? Such as the Suburban Group's here?

        • 6 Years Ago
        The Detroit papers are advertising Charger SE Plus models for between $13 and $14K. Chrysler offers additional rebates to true employees. When we bought our Wrangler Unlimited in November, there was an extra $2k available to true employees and eligible family only. There's probably an extra $3-4k sitting on the Charger hoods right now, if you can get it. If I can get it, there will be a new Charger sitting in my driveway.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Try this one.... Charger SE Plus from $11,997...


        Meade Dodge in Detroit was another on advertising it, even had a stock number. But its not on their website.
      • 6 Years Ago
      First off, I think it's a bit telling that everyone's experience with Chargers is based on rentals (vs. ownership).

      That said, I'll put my vote firmly in the "great car" camp. I travel a lot and have driven pretty much every car in the Chrysler stable: the Charger is my favorite by far. It's a larger car than I'd buy, but for its size it handles well, is pretty solidly made, and still looks good after being out for a few years.

      I wish every Chrysler car were as good as the Charger. (Sebring, I'm looking at you.)
      • 6 Years Ago
      That 3.5 sounds like it's really good, but the taillights make it look "kinder" in a way. doesn't match the front. I personally don't care about Interior materials. If I wanted a lush Interior, I'd get a Luxury car. If it's fisher price materials, then maybe I might dismiss it. But as long as it's functional, I'm fine. I've been in a Challenger and 08 Charger, even a Caliber and Avenger. Sure it's cheap, but it's good enough for me. It's could be a little more exciting, though. It's just the same shapes and colors in every Chrysler car. Come the 2010 and 2011 Models, that should change. (if they're as good as people say)
      • 6 Years Ago
      While I don't think this car is really a viable competitor to a Camry, I do think it is actually a pretty charming big sedan - especially in black. I've rented a couple now, and find the big bruisers pretty characterful. Enough so that I find myself checking the used listings for SRTs every now and then

      Honestly, it will never be as refined as the Japanese (or GM even) competition. Chrysler's biggest failing is not properly understanding what it takes to polish a rough stone. Its sad because the ingredients for greatness are all there.

      That said, I think in the big rental car sweeps the Buick Lucerne reigns supreme. The several I've driven shame the Charger on numerous fronts. That a FWD Buick is a more engaging, comfortable and tighter handling car than a RWD Dodge says more about the strides made by GM than the failings of Chrysler.
        • 6 Years Ago
        The Charger isn't made to compete with the Camry. It's a full size sedan, not a mid-size.
      • 6 Years Ago

      Good car. Hope Chrysler won't axe it.
      • 6 Years Ago
      First off,these cars sell very good even in these bad times..More than small cars such as Nissan Versa,Honda Fit to name a few ,yes not in its class but,for the nay sayers and the small car crowd it sells better than the much bragged about,so-called everyone wants small car crowd.

      Not to mention the safety factor of these cars,smooth ride,real smooth ride,great handling and yes the 3.5 has enough power to dust off punk kids driving their moms old civic that they put rims and exhaust on.Even with the highway geared axle ratio of the Charger,wish they came with an option like the trucks to chose ratio's.

      The looks of this car I think are great.It looks mean and not a cookie cutter design like most other cars..They turn heads all the time.Its not embarrasing to ride in one,as say a Civic/Camry/Accord thats a 45 year old chick car and looks feeble.If you are young or old and need a hot looking 4 door this is the one to get.

      Cold weather driving your mpg is worse than a warm spring day.

      These can average 28 mpg city/hwy driving,some people can get low 30's,though the Hemi can pretty much average the same but the 3.5 versions price is thousands less than a Charger R/T.

      Chryslers,once they have 5-10,000 miles improve by 3-5 miles per gallon.

      You cannot compare rental cars to a non rental car,in Canada rental cars are mostly Toyota's/Honda's and they drive like crap,loose fitting panels ect.Point is you dont know what happend to a rental car since they have 500 different drivers.Also if you drove a Charger rental it probably had the 2.7.

      The 3.5 has been around for along time,but it proved to be very reliable and a mid 7 second 0-60 with highway gearing,is impressive. 6 second range would be if it had import gear ratio's.The new Phoenix engines are coming out that improve power,refinment,smoothness,mpg ect. so that should eliminate any noise issues,but I for one love it when you floor a car and the engine makes alot of noise.

      Though with every car some people will always knock it,even if they never drove one,so little kids,when you get your licence drive one you most likely will like ..

        • 6 Years Ago
        Edmunds got 8.1 0-60 out of the mechanically identical 05 300 with the 3.5, Motortrend got 7.6 out of a 2006 - with their 5 feet of rollout.

        Getting that down into the honest sixes is going to take more than a different rear end, it's a two ton car with an overstated 250 hp that's probably closer to the 235 it's rated in the Avenger, Journey etc.

        • 6 Years Ago

        You're an idiot.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Unfortunately they are no longer mechanically identical, it is now slower.
        As a cost cutting move, the variable resonance intake function has been deleted.
        The gearing of the 4 speed automatic sucks-it is a 4 speed automatic! It will either lack ratio spread or have huge jumps in engine speed when shifting.
        3rd gear of the Camry V6 tops out where 2nd gear tops out here.

      • 6 Years Ago
      I have a Shelby (Omni-based) Charger. I will whoop your ass!!!! ANYONE. I DARE YOU. You'll WANT to forget about it. The new Charger isn't going anywhere. There is a new even more retro car coming. So everyone can put that in their pipes and smoke it.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Once again, another informative article from Autoblog. The sad part is that this car will be axed from Dodge's lineup...no doubt about...so enjoy writing and reading about it while you can.
        • 6 Years Ago
        How you came up with that thought I don't know. It's just plany false.
      • 3 Years Ago
      How does the Charger sxt perform in the snow?
      • 6 Years Ago
      did you guys take the pictures at the back of the car wash?

      A black car, Michigan plate, snow all around, and not a speck on the body?

        • 6 Years Ago
        Close, I went straight from the car wash to my photo shoot location a couple of minutes away, avoiding any slushy areas.
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