2006 Dodge Charger Expert Review:Autoblog
I was aware that a 2006 Dodge Charge SE would be arriving. I was also keenly aware that this would not be the chest pounding Hemi-equipped bruiser the Charger is painted to be. Our tester would be fitted with Chrysler's 3.5-liter 250-horsepower V6. In this day and age, the fuel economy offered by choosing a smaller engine may become more popular as fuel prices rise. That makes the V6 model more relevant that I had originally planned.
That was my angle when I realized I would not be able to enjoy the Herculean power of that popular push-rod V8.
After having spent my fair share of time in the brilliant SRT8 variants of Chrysler Corp’s large sedans, it was time to
pay my dues with the more pedestrian variety of the LX-platform.
Pedestrian is a harsh adjective, perhaps, because the Charge doesn’t look like anything remotely associated with the word ‘pedestrian.’ In fact, you imagine pedestrians running at the site of this thing. By the way, they do cautiously move away from the street when you approach. John Neff so poignantly described the Charger as a vehicle that looks like “it would just ram anything in its way.” That is a pretty loose quote, but you get the idea. I was a bit worried that the V6 would limit my ability to ram unsuspecting vehicles, but the mass amounts of paperwork that would entail is the real limiting factor. I’ll have to do my best to keep the reins tight on this beastly Dodge.
Actually, the Dodge Charger gives you the feeling of superiority with its copious mass. Most cars in this price range don’t give you the same impression. For around $23,000, you can get a four door sedan that could seat five comfortably and feel safe in knowing that you could clobber anything that gets in your way. Seriously, as I trolled down the highway, I glanced at an innocent S10 pickup and thought to myself, “I could seriously destroy that weenie truck with this Charger.” That’s saying a lot, especially without the aggressive influence of a Hemi. You definitely don’t get this kind of feeling behind the wheel of something like an Olds Alero or 1999 Nissan Sentra.
So you get the idea, this is a big car. The interior is extremely roomy, the trunk is huge, and it’s a comfortable package, overall. It has that full-size feel that is available in the comparably archaic Ford Crown Victoria. Don’t get me wrong, the Crown Vic is a great, durable ride, but compared to the Charger, it’s horribly overpriced. If you ignore the fact that they’re front wheel drive, the Ford Five Hundred and Chevrolet Impala are the Charger’s closest competition. And like its domestic competition, the Charger’s pricing allows it to compete with smaller sedans like the Toyota Camry and Nissan Maxima. Regardless, we will see how the Charger fits in this $21-24k segment.
New Car Test Drive
All-new sedan harkens to performance heritage.
The Dodge Charger is dead, long live the Dodge Charger. At least, that's how the Dodge guys in Michigan hope fans of the Chrysler Group's performance brand will receive the new Dodge Charger.
While its namesake was a two-door hardtop, and commonly, if not completely accurately, referred to as a coupe, the all-new Charger is a four-door sedan, albeit styled somewhat deceptively to diminish that fact. Further, it's as heavy as and actually larger in a couple measures than the Dodge Magnum, which is like a station wagon, and the Chrysler 300, a full-on, unapologetic, family-size sedan.
So is the new Charger intended to reflect what the original would have become had it stayed around and matured over the four decades since the model was launched in '66? Sort of like the latest reincarnation of the Ford Mustang? Or is it simply an opportunistic attempt to capitalize on a tradition-rich name, regardless of how it may diminish that name's legacy? Sort of like the current Pontiac GTO? The market will provide the answers, or for that matter, determine whether answers are needed.
As for the car itself, no doubt it doesn't really care. It's a bold design statement, however it's viewed, a blend of throwback cues and modern form architecture. Whether it pleases matters less than whether it draws attention. Its retro graphics assure the latter.
The new 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 is packaged with modern creature comforts and tempered by startling levels of handling competency. Put another way, it rides, turns and stops as well as it goes.
The 2006 Dodge Charger may cost a pretty penny, and it may not get the best mileage, but what it lacks in those measures, it more than makes up in grins.
The 2006 Dodge Charger comes in one body style, a four-door, five-passenger sedan. Three engines are available, a 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6; a 340-hp, 5.7-liter V8; and a 350-hp, 5.7-liter V8. All come with a five-speed, AutoStick automatic.
The entry-level Charger is the SE, fitted with the V6 ($22,320). Cloth upholstery is standard, but the SE isn't lacking in creature and driver comforts. Among them: air conditioning; cruise control; tilt-and-telescope steering wheel; soft-finish urethane-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; floor mats; power door locks, outside mirrors, windows and remote trunk release; two power points; driver and passenger lumbar adjustment; and AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack. Steel wheels with bolt on covers wear black sidewall, all-season, P215/65R17 tires. The Protection Group ($590) adds front and rear side-curtain airbags, cabin air filtration and self-sealing tires. Also available: an engine block heater ($40); a Smoker's Group ($30) that adds a lighter and ash tray. SE option packages: The SE Convenience Group 1 adds an eight-way power driver's seat and adjustable pedals ($505).
The Charger SXT ($25,320) comes with the V6 and upgraded features: An eight-way power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 60/40 split folding rear seat with fold-down center armrest, Boston Acoustics stereo with six speakers and 276-watt amplifier, fog lamps, trunk cargo net and cast aluminum wheels. Options include leather-trimmed seats ($640), a power sunroof ($950), power adjustable pedals ($125), six-disc CD changer and MP3 capability ($400), satellite radio with one-year subscription ($195), rear-seat entertainment system ($1150), Bluetooth capability ($360). Also available: 18-inch polished aluminum wheels with P225/60R all-season tires coupled with a sportier suspension ($325). In addition to the Protection Group and Smokers Group, there's a Comfort Seating Group with heated front seats, leather-trimmed bucket seats, power adjustable pedals and 8-way power front passenger seat ($1395).
The Charger R/T ($29,320) is a V8-powered, high-performance model. Like the SXT, the R/T builds on what has come before in standard features and offers abundant options, covering the gambit from functional to entertaining to fun. Outside mirrors now fold and are heated, too. A speedometer reading to 160 miles per hour replaces the 140-mph unit on the SXT and SE. Front brake rotors add an inch in diameter to the SXT's and SE's 12.6 inches and spin between twin-piston calipers, and rear discs are vented. A tire pressure monitoring system appears, and the 18-inch, polished aluminum wheels become regular issue. The fuel tank gains capacity, to 19 gallons. And a dual exhaust debuts, with bright metal tips. Stand-alone options originating on the R/T consist of a DVD-based navigation system integrated into the stereo control head ($1895) and a seven-speaker Boston Acoustic setup with a 322-watt amplifier and subwoofer ($535). Convenience Group II includes dual-zone, automatic climate control; heated front seats; power adjustable pedals; 8-way power front passenger seat; and one-touch, automatic up and down power windows with anti-pinch auto-reverse ($955). The Electronics Convenience Group adds a security alarm, programmable universal garage door opener, trip computer, selectable vehicle information display, compass and a set of steering wheel-mounted, redundant audio controls ($630). Behind the fun tab of the option book is the Road/Track Performance Group, what some who remember the ultimate stealth muscle car of the 1960s might call the Road Runner Edition, as in, more go, less show: unique aluminum wheels with black accents, sportier steering, self-leveling shocks, sport seats, performance suspension and, the kicker piece, a tweaked V8 making 350 horsepower ($1600).
Safety features that come standard on all Charger models include antilock brakes, all-speed.
In many ways, the newest Charger isn't much sleeker, or more aerodynamic than the original. Knocked off from the 1966 Dodge Coronet, and despite its fastback, two-door hardtop styling, that Charger was somewhat blocky, with squared-off front end, superficially sculpted slab sides and equally vertical backside. There was the barest hint of a so-called Coke bottle look, with the body sides slightly pinched in about where there would have been a B-pillar. Not until the 1968 model year was any attention paid to moving the car rapidly through the air with minimal disturbance. The 2006 Charger starts at much the same place on the automotive styling evolutionary curve.
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's an uprightness to the Charger's silhouette, regardless of viewing angle. The front end, in fact, 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. The trademark Dodge crosshairs, chromed on the SXT and R/T, body-color in the SE and SRT8 and flat black on the Daytona, dominate the front end. Compound halogen headlights peer out under hooded, almost scowling brows. A thin, trifurcated air intake slices across the lower portion of the front bumper, beneath which the Daytona and SRT8 wear a trim, flat-black chip 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. Hmmm. Oh, well. 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. Flip-up, top-hinged door handles are flush mounted but operate sufficiently friendly to pose no major threats to fingernails.
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.
Much of what holds about the Charger's exterior carries over to its interior, only more so. Where the outside only suggests other Chrysler and Dodge cars, the inside looks as if it's been lifted, locks, steering column and bucket seats from the Magnum, with a fixture and feature here and there brought over from a Dakota or a Durango.
The dash and instrument cluster is identical to the Magnum's, with the minor exception of surface trims on the center stack and center console, and when ordered on the R/T, the navigation display. This isn't to complain, but to compliment, as the arrangement is pleasantly informative. From the driver's seat, easily scanned, large, 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, respectively. The steering wheel, too, comes directly from the Magnum. 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. Ex-navigation display center stacks have a small, horizontal cubby below the air conditioning knobs and buttons.
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 set-it-and-forget-it cruise control sits up around 10 o'clock. 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. Thankfully, Dodge has not adopted the Mercedes-Benz practice of parking the power seat adjustments high up in the door panel but has placed them, much more intuitively, on the outboard side of the seat bottom. Large, six-way adjustable, rectangular ventilation registers fill in each end of the dash.
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 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; coincidentally, 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 fun.
The 2006 Dodge Charger is a fun drive, especially considering its size. Make no mistake, at more than 16 feet in length and tipping the scales near two tons, this is no sporty, svelte coupe. It's a big, heavy, full-size sedan.
All three engines deliver power smoothly. However, the V6 breathes a bit harder and requires a bit more planning ahead in heavy traffic or on crowded two-lanes. The V8s' most advanced and socially responsible 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.
Our biggest concern while testing Chargers on North Carolina interstates was how readily we settled into an 80-mph cruise. The Charger is quiet at that speed, with very little wind or road noise. We were thankful cruise control comes standard or we'd surely have gotten to meet a state trooper exercising his writing hand. Steering in the SE and SXT seemed a bit over-assisted, and could have used more on-center feel. The re-geared setup that comes with the Road/Track Performance Group delivers better feel across the speed range. We're not sure how tiring the rumbling exhaust might be over long distances at constant speeds, however.
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; and lesser pilots will become aware that they are 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. There's a less fat and less sticky set available as an option on the SXT, which comes standard on the R/T; a self-sealing version is included in the Protection Group.
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 at will, for which a couple Virginia squirrels are immensely thankful. We haven't always been able to say the same the same thing about the braking characteristics on some of the Mercedes models.
The 2006 Dodge Charger is the latest in a remarkably long line of certain hits from the Chrysler Group. The new Charger has all the necessary ingredients, from an impressive line of engines to state-of-the-art electronic technology to the right mix of suspension and wheel-and-tire componentry to stand-out styling. So what if it isn't a two-door coupe? We like it and think Dodge will sell every one it can build.
(New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from North Carolina and southern Virginia.).
Dodge Charger SE ($22,320); Charger SXT ($25,320); Charger R/T ($29,320); Charger Daytona R/T ($31,820).
Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Comfort Seating Group ($1395) includes heated front seats, leather-trimmed seats, power adjustable pedals, 8-way power front passenger seat; Protection Group ($590) includes front and rear side-curtain air bags, air filtration system; 18-inch alloy wheels ($325).
Dodge Charger SXT ($25,320).
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