2007 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
Pony car performance in a full-size.
The Dodge Charger is a full-size, four-door sedan that makes a bold design statement and backs it up with serious horsepower. The Charger SRT8 boasts a 425-hp 6.1-liter high performance Hemi V8. And that's pretty serious.
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.
A choice of engines is available. A 250-hp 3.5-liter V6 comes standard on SE and SXT; a 340-hp 5.7-liter V8 comes on R/T models, which can be upgraded to 350 horsepower by ordering the Road/Track or Daytona packages; and the 425-hp 6.1-liter V8 exclusive to the SRT8. All come with a five-speed AutoStick automatic. A 190-hp 2.7-liter V6 is available for SE fleet models that comes with a four-speed automatic ($21,900).
The SE ($22,800) comes with cloth upholstery; 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 ($640) 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. The SE Convenience Group 1 adds an eight-way power driver's seat and adjustable pedals ($505).
The SXT ($24,905) upgrades with 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. For 2007, the SXT is available with all-wheel drive ($28,155). 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). New for 2007 is a Convenience Group III that bundles automatic headlights, dual-zone climate control and auto down/up front windows ($375) and the DVD-based navigation system available previously only on the R/T ($1,895).
The R/T ($30,215) is a V8-powered, high-performance model also available with all-wheel drive ($32,215). The R/T upgrades with folding, heated mirrors, 160-mph speedometer, upgraded brakes, polished aluminum 18-inch wheels, larger fuel tank, dual exhaust, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. Options include DVD-based navigation ($1895) and a seven-speaker Boston Acoustic stereo with a 322-watt amplifier and subwoofer ($535). Convenience Group II ($955) 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. The Electronics Convenience Group ($630) 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. The Road/Track Performance Group ($3,350) features unique aluminum wheels with black accents, sportier steering, self-leveling shocks, sport seats, performance suspension, a tweaked V8 making 350 horsepower, front and rear spoilers, and 20-inch wheels. The Daytona R/T package is mostly the R/T with the Road/Track performance group but with a tuned exhaust, assorted aero add-ons, flat black graphics front and rear and a host of interior upgrades that includes a numbered plate on the instrument panel.
The SRT8 ($35,920) comes with a 6.1-liter V8 generating 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, a uniquely tuned suspension, a re-programmed ESC system, Brembo brakes, Goodyear Supercar F1 tires on 20.
The Charger recalls the 1966 Dodge Coronet. Despite its fastback, two-door hardtop styling, the old Charger was somewhat blocky, with a 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 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.
Inside, the Dodge Charger has much in common with the Magnum, which is essentially the wagon version of this car.
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 3.5-liter V6 produces 250 horsepower and is EPA rated 19/27 mpg City/Highway. When pushed, the V6 breathes a bit harder than the V8 and requires a little more room when passing on crowded two-lanes.
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.
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).
Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Comfort Seating Group ($1,395) includes leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, power adjustable pedals, 8-way power front passenger seat; Protection Group ($640) includes front and rear side-curtain air bags, air filtration system; 18-inch alloy wheels ($325).
Dodge Charger SXT ($25,905).
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