2011 Dodge Charger
MSRP
$25,395 - $32,545
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2011 Dodge Charger Expert Review:Autoblog

The Duke Boys Would Approve

2011 Dodge Charger

2011 Dodge Charger - Click above for high-res image gallery

Bo and Luke have matured a bit since The Dukes of Hazzard went off the air in 1985. The pair drove, crashed and flew plenty of Rebel-flagged Chargers in their day. Having matured past these antics, both men would likely appreciate the 2011 Dodge Charger. Certainly, the sedan's styling more closely matches the second-generation Mopar they're known for hotfooting, and the significantly improved interior would also likely satisfy their more refined backsides.

We knew what to expect when we saw the new Charger earlier this month. We were part of a small group of journalists granted a sneak peak at an early styling study of the rear-wheel drive sedan way back in December of 2008. But at the time – given Chrysler's dire condition and the tanking economy – we had our doubts if the lights would remain on in Auburn Hills long enough for the new Charger make it to market.

The good news is that Chrysler is alive and at least somewhat well, and that the new Charger eclipses the outgoing model in major ways. Could the 2011 Charger be enough to stoke the fire for a Dukes of Hazzard reunion? Find out after the... jump.



Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL



Frankly, we're glad Dodge didn't hold its Charger press introduction in Hazzard County. The roads outside San Francisco are better, there aren't any creeks we'd have to cross without a bridge, and the police are scarcer than Boss Hogg. This gave us a fine opportunity get a good first experience with the 2011 Dodge Charger.

First things first: There will always be Mopar fanatics (this author included) who still cringe that the 2006-10 Charger has four doors. To our great satisfaction, an after-hours conversation with an unnamed Chrysler official at the new Charger's launch yielded this insight: "It was a car we designed first and named later. It was never meant to be called a Charger, but that's how it ended up." Damn the marketing people. They screw up everything.

But we'll let bygones be bygones, and snag another bone to pick with the Dodge Boys: The automaker refers to the 2011 model as all-new. It's not. The basic chassis architecture is carried over, as is the 5.7-liter Hemi V8. What's different? Everything else.

2011 Dodge Charger side view2011 Dodge Charger front view2011 Dodge Charger rear view

Park a 2010 Charger next to a 2011 model and the transformation is clear. All the body panels are new and pay homage to 1968-70 Chargers with their strong character lines and 3D scallops. The new model looks sportier with a more steeply raked windshield and an extended fastback roofline, much of it glass. The car takes a good stance, thanks in part to the roofline being inset from the perimeter of the undulating 'Coke bottle' fenders.

The look is particularly striking from the rear thanks to an outline of 164 LEDs. At night, you can ID a Charger from a block away. One can only imagine how those might look disappearing from Sheriff Coltrane's view. Overall, the new exterior is eight-percent more aerodynamically efficient and has a Cd of 0.29.

2011 Dodge Charger headlight2011 Dodge Charger hood2011 Dodge Charger wheel detail2011 Dodge Charger taillight

Across the board for 2011, Chrysler has improved its interiors more than anywhere else. They needed it. For those familiar with the second- and third-generation Chargers, the scooped shape of the dash is a modern twist on the old style. Twin gauge pods flank a center LCD readout, the three-spoke wheel is new and the center stack can be optionally equipped with a bright, crisp 8.4-inch LCD. (We didn't get a chance to sample a base Charger SE with the standard 4.3-inch LCD.)

The big LCD works as a clearinghouse for the Uconnect infotainment system. From this central location you can operate the navigation, audio system and your Bluetooth-equipped phone. The graphics are razor sharp and the human/machine interface proved intuitive. For example, when GPS route guidance is active but you want to seek through satellite radio stations, the map shrinks into an area within the larger audio screen.

2011 Dodge Charger interior2011 Dodge Charger front seats2011 Dodge Charger gauges2011 Dodge Charger navigation system

Chrysler designers stressed the use of high-quality soft-touch materials throughout the new interior. The dash panel was seamless and panel gaps were tight. Looking out from the driver's seat, the new greenhouse also offers improved visibility. Since the Charger is classified as a full-size sedan, this less encumbered view is especially helpful.

Seating in back provides ample room for sub-six footers. Headroom, however, is compromised compared to sedans with squarer profiles, and rear seat riders will find their skulls directly under the back glass. On the plus side, there's enough width for three-across seating.

Outside and in, the reality that the Charger SE and R/T can look nearly identical is purely intentional. Dodge made sure that SE V6 drivers could enjoy the same street presence and comfort as R/T Hemi pilots.

The fact that the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine produces 292 horsepower is behind this last point. Amplified by 260 pound-feet of torque, Chrysler's new corporate six-cylinder produces the horsepower of a V8 from just a few years ago. Compared to the 2010 Charger SE's 3.5-liter V6, the new engine produces 42 more hp and 33 more lb-ft. Even in a car that weighs two tons, you can feel the difference.

2011 Dodge Charger engine

Power runs through a transmission we'd hoped would have been left at the curb with last year's 3.5-liter engine; a five-speed automatic. Fuel economy figures have yet to be finalized, but based on the performance of the 3.6-liter in other Chrysler and Dodge models, look for an improvement over the 3.5-liter's 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway. Perhaps the numbers will even eclipse 2010's 2.7-liter V6's 18 mpg city, 26 mph highway.

A modern six-speed, seven-speed (eight-speed?) or dual-clutch transmission is badly needed here. A new gearbox would be the next logical powertrain improvement for the Charger (and other RWD Chrysler cars, trucks and SUVs). Let's hope the company's profitable quarters continue and that some of those profits are directed toward a major transmission program.

The feature that distinguishes the Charger R/T from the SE is its 5.7-liter Hemi V8. The motor makes 370 hp at a relaxed 5,250 rpm and a hefty 395 lb-ft torque at 4,200 rpm. The Hemi runs through the same five-speed as the V6, which one Chrysler engineers described as "Incredibly stout." Incidentally, this gearbox is essentially the same as the unit used in the new 470-hp Challenger SRT8 392. All-wheel drive is also an option for the R/T, with the unit delivering a variable torque split that starts at 50/50 and goes from there.

2011 Dodge Charger engine

All of the 2011 Charger's hardware rides on Chrysler LLC's second-generation E-segment chassis and suspension. The unibody features added structure that improves torsional stiffness in an effort to hit ride and handling targets. What target? The previous-generation BMW 5 Series. Not a bad goal. But did they hit it?

Dodge claims maximum lateral acceleration of 0.90 g. Aggressive front and rear camber settings of -1.0 and -1.75 degrees give the car a fighting chance to stay planted. The front suspension is a short/long-arm configuration while the independent rear suspension is a five-link/coil spring arrangement originally sourced from a previous-generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

A rack-and-pinion power steering gear directs the front wheels. What's unusual about the system is that instead of a conventional hydraulic pump driven off the crankshaft, the Charger's steering uses an electric pump. The electric pump increases fuel economy by 0.3 percent and adds three horsepower to the bottom line.

2011 Dodge Charger steering wheel2011 Dodge Charger shifter2011 Dodge Charger dash badge2011 Dodge Charger door panel

We had two chances to experience the 2011 Charger, and the experiences couldn't have been more different.

Our time in the R/T was at Infineon Raceway, known by the old guys as Sears Point. Three five-lap sessions gave us time to figure out how the R/T performed when fitted with three-season high-performance 20-inch tires.

Taking it slow, the first few laps gave us a chance to feel out the R/T. Turn-in is crisp and the steering is alive with feedback. With the electronic stability control fully functional, the Charger tracked true. In most cases, the ESP intervened transparently, keeping the car in line. Running hard going uphill through Turn 2 was the only time we felt the ESP seriously dial back the power.

During these easy laps, body roll wasn't pronounced. Once we toggled the ESP into Track mode and the Charger was cornering harder, body roll increased considerably. In Track mode, the ESP only cut into the fun when we really hung out the rear-end in adolescent power slides that would make Uncle Jesse proud.

2011 Dodge Charger front 3/4 driving view2011 Dodge Charger rear 3/4 driving view

As with any production car, we were mindful of the brakes. The four-wheel discs weren't up to track duty. However, this fact isn't particularly relevant because only a handful of drivers will track their Charger. As we would quickly find out, the brakes worked just fine on the street.

Overall, the Hemi-powered Charger R/T was comfortable at Infineon, especially for such a large car. Hauling through the high-speed esses (corners 7, 8 and 8A), the car showed what it was made of, handling transient movements deftly.

These track manners made themselves clear on the twisty roads south of Half Moon Bay. For this duty, we had a Charger SE equipped with the Rallye Package, Rallye Appearance Package, and the Rallye Plus Package. These packages of packages made the SE look like an R/T – complete with leather seats, 20-inch wheels, dual exhausts and rear spoiler – minus the Hemi fender badges.

2011 Dodge Charger grille badge2011 Dodge Charger Hemi badge2011 Dodge Charger badge2011 Dodge Charger badge

The narrow roads should have made the Charger SE feel big, but the Dodge shrunk with every corner. The direct steering that we enjoyed at Sears Point worked just as well on public roads. The new Pentastar V6 was also a pleasant surprise. Its 292 horsepower felt strong and gave the Charger everything it needed to hustle from corner to corner. On the street, body roll wasn't an issue, and the car felt flat as the suspension managed every combination of roads we could find.

On the freeway stretch back to San Francisco, the efforts engineers explained regarding improving noise, vibration and harshness snapped into focus. The heavier traffic gave us the opportunity to listen to the Charger's enhanced quietness and appreciate the car's smoother ride. While we didn't have a previous-gen. BMW 5 to do a back-to-back comparison, our kinesthetic memory believes the Dodge Boys have come awfully close to hitting their bogey.

2011 Dodge Charger rear 3/4 view

Considering the present automotive landscape, the 2011 Charger is something of a stand-alone offering (Chrysler's own 300 not withstanding). With the demise of the Pontiac G8, there are no direct domestic competitors for the money. Practically, buyers are likely to cross shop the Ford Taurus even though it's front-wheel drive and doesn't offer a V8. Due to the cost premium, imports aren't likely candidates given the MSRPs of the 2011 Charger; $25,170 for the SE, $30,170 for the R/T, and $32,320 for the R/T AWD.

This reality demonstrates the uniqueness of the Charger. Even with four doors, it remains a singularly American automotive manifestation. If Bo and Luke were looking to do another series, the 2011 Charger is definitely a car they'd do well to consider. Yee-haw.



Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL

The following review is for a 2009 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.

Modern muscle car.

Introduction

The Dodge Charger is a full-size, four-door sedan that makes a bold design statement and backs it up with serious horsepower. A wide range of models is available, but all are comfortable cruisers, offering drivers a friendly haven from traffic and bumpy freeways. 

The model line ranges from the basic but entertaining 2.7-liter Charger SE to the high-performance 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. With either V8 engine, the Charger is fast in a straight line, and it corners better than those muscle cars of the past. However, it is large and heavy, measuring more than 16 feet in length and tipping the scales near two tons, so it's not as nimble as a sports car, or even a pony car. 

On the inside, the Charger has plenty of room for a family of five, but the interior is largely plastic and the sightlines are partially obstructed in several directions. Buyers can opt for several entertainment features that will pacify both the kids and the adults. And if you need to carry cargo, the Charger has a large trunk with a handy split-folding rear seat. 

The Charger used to be the only V8-powered large American car on the market, but it now faces competition from the Pontiac G8 and an improved Ford Taurus. The Charger offers a lot of room and great straight line power, but it appears to be falling behind the competition in driving dynamics and interior quality. 

For 2009, the Charger gets a new taillight design, the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 gains power, and all-wheel-drive models get Active Transfer Case with Front-Axle Disconnect. SE models add alloy wheels, additional interior chrome trim and more equipment, while the SRT8 model adds more standard equipment, a retuned suspension, and new calibrations for the anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control systems. The SRT8 also adds a Super Bee package. LED lighting becomes standard for the front cup holders on all models, and the MyGIG hard-drive radio is now called UConnect Tunes and UConnect GPS when ordered with navigation system. Front side and curtain side air bags now optional instead of standard on most models. 

Lineup

The base Dodge Charger SE has a 178-hp 2.7-liter V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission. The SXT uses a 250-hp 3.5-liter V6. The rear-drive SXT gets the four-speed automatic, while the all-wheel-drive (AWD) SXT is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with Dodge's AutoStick manual shift gate. R/T models have a 368-hp 5.7-liter V8 and the five-speed AutoStick automatic. SRT8 models have a 425-hp 6.1-liter V8 and the AutoStick. 

The SE ($23,895) comes standard with cloth upholstery; air conditioning; interior air filter; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering wheel; driver and passenger lumbar adjustment; AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack; power windows, locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; and P215/65R17 tires on aluminum wheels. 

The SXT ($25,510) adds an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, a 60/40 split folding rear seat with fold-down center armrest, a 276-watt Boston Acoustics stereo, power-adjustable pedals, heated mirrors and fog lamps. The AWD SXT ($28,850) also adds performance disc brakes and P225/60R18 tires. 

The R/T ($31,860) upgrades to leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front seats, eight-way power front passenger seat, folding heated mirrors, automatic headlights and 18-inch tires. The R/T AWD ($33,960) adds all-wheel drive. The R/T Road/Track Performance package ($3940) has sportier steering, front side airbags, curtain side airbags, sport seats with suede inserts, performance suspension, front and rear spoilers and P245/45R20 tires on aluminum wheels with black accents. The Daytona package ($4475) has the same equipment, plus remote engine starting, a black grille, body color engine cover, special paint, a performance exhaust system and a special axle ratio. 

The SRT8 ($38,670) adds dual-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlights, remote engine starting, interior air filter, heated front seats, a Reconfigurable Display with performance pages, performance-tuned suspension, sport bucket seats, functional hood scoop, rear spoiler, a reprogrammed ESC system, Brembo brakes, Goodyear Supercar F1 tires on 20-inch forged aluminum wheels and a 180-mph speedometer. The Super Bee buzz model package ($1900) comes with Hemi Orange paint, a serialized dash plaque, a special wheel design, silver Brembo brake calipers, UConnect Tunes hard-drive radio, orange seat accents, and hood and rear quarter panel decals. 

Options include the Popular Equipment package for the SXT ($2405) with leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated front seats, a power passenger seat, a 276-watt Boston Acoustics sound system, automatic headlights and bodyside moldings, a slightly firmer touring suspension and P225/60R18 tires. A Popular Equipment package for R/T ($1020) includes the Boston Acoustics sound system, 6CD changer, remote engine starting, and alarm. A Protection Group for SXT ($1060) adds front side airbags, curtain side airbags, UConnect Phone wireless cell phone link, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, bodyside moldings and P215/60R17 self-sealing tires. Electronic stability control with traction control and anti-lock brakes are an option for the SE model ($1025). The UConnect Multimedia Suite for SXT and R/T models ($1550) comes with an auto-dimming rearview mirror, UConnect wireless cell phone link and GPS system that includes a 30-gigabyte hard drive and a navigation system with real-time traffic. The UConnect Tunes hard-drive radio is available separately ($650). Option Group II for the SRT8 ($1195) adds a 6CD changer, an alarm and a Kicker sound system with a 200 watt subwoofer and a 322-watt amplifier. Option Group III for SRT8 ($1635) adds UConnect GPS, UConnect Phone and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Also available are a sunroof ($950), a rear DVD entertainment system with Sirius Backseat TV for R/T and SRT8 ($1460), Xenon headlights ($695), and a rear spoiler for SXT ($225). The Super Track Pack ($400) for the R/T includes summer performance tires, stiffer springs, load-leveling shocks, a higher numerical axle ratio, sportier electronic stability control calibrations and higher performance steering and brakes. 

Safety features that come standard on all Charger models include two-stage front airbags, tire-pressure monitor, and rear-seat LATCH child safety seat anchors. Antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control, are standard on all but SE. Front side airbags and curtain side airbags for both seating rows are optional for all models. All-wheel drive is available for SXT and R/T models. 

Walkaround

The Dodge 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 an 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 2008 Charger starts at much the same place on the automotive styling evolutionary curve. 

The same design team that parented the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum designed 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. 

Interior

The fabric-covered seats in the standard Dodge Charger are comfortable, with adequate thigh support and side bolstering. The suede-trimmed sport seats that come in the SRT8 have 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. 

Visibility from the driver's seat is compromised by safety measures and styling dictates. The thick A-pillars (between the windshield and front windows) are designed to meet federal rollover standards, but their width makes checking for pedestrians and crossing traffic difficult at times; this is common, however, and the Pontiac G8 is the same way. Meanwhile, a glance at the rearview mirror quickly puts to rest any lingering illusions about the Charger being a coupe: the rear window is a long way back. The C-pillars are also fat, and require careful checking of the blind spot during lane changes. In addition, the front of the roof juts out far in front of the seating position, so it can block your view of overhead traffic signals when you get close to the intersection. 

The Charger's dashboard is largely plastic. It's mostly sturdy, but it seems cheap for a car that quickly tops $30,000. 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. The climate controls are conveniently positioned beneath the radio and are easy to operate. 

Entertainment features are plentiful. In addition to an AM/FM/CD stereo, buyers can opt for Dodge's UConnect Tunes or UConnect GPS systems. Both have 30 gigabytes of hard drive space (up from 20 gigs last year) to hold music and picture files, but the GPS version also includes a navigation system with real-time traffic and voice activation. 

The rear entertainment system installation takes a novel, but 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. The system comes with Sirius Backseat TV, which includes 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. 

SRT8 owners will be entertained by the Reconfigurable Display located in the vehicle information center. It displays what Chrysler calls Performance Pages. This feature can provide readouts of lateral and longitudinal G forces, 1/8- and 1/4-mile time and speed, 0-60 mph time, and braking distance. 

Rear-seat room is plentiful, thanks to the long wheelbase, 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. 

Cubby storage includes a small, horizontal storage bin in 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 that it swallows longer objects more readily than large parcels. All models except the base SE get 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks. 

Driving Impression

We've driven all the Charger models. The 2.7-liter V6 engine is barely adequate, but all agree it's the most frugal choice, with an EPA-estimated 18/26 mpg City/Highway. 

The 3.5-liter V6 produces 250 horsepower and is EPA rated at 17/24 mpg City/Highway with rear-wheel drive and 16/23 mpg with all-wheel drive. When pushed, the big V6 breathes a bit harder than the V8 and requires more room when passing on crowded two-lanes. 

The 5.7-liter V8, updated for 2009, makes the Charger R/T a muscle car. Horsepower is up from the previous 340 to 368 hp, while torque increases from 390 to 395 pound-feet. These figures add up to robust straight-line performance. The 0-60 mph acceleration test drops from about 6 seconds to the mid-5-second range, a significant increase. 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 cannot be felt through the seat of the pants, at least not easily, but it can be monitored. For 2009, Dodge has added an ECO light in the electronic vehicle information center to indicate when four cylinders have been shut down. 

The 6.1-liter V8 in the SRT8 cuts the 0-60 time to right around 5.0 seconds and provides thrilling passing punch and throttle response. Rated at 14/20 mpg, the Hemi is saddled with a $1700 Gas Guzzler Tax. 

2009 all-wheel-drive models come with Active Transfer Case and Front-axle Disconnect. When all-wheel drive isn't needed, the system automatically disconnects the front axle and opens the transfer case to reduce friction and rotational mass. The system reconnects the axle whenever AWD is needed, and drivers can opt to stay in AWD by shifting to AutoStick mode. Another light in the electronic vehicle information center indicates when the system switches modes. Dodge says Active Transfer Case and Front-axle Disconnect improves fuel economy by up to 1 mpg on the highway. AWD allows use of the Charger in winter weather and makes it more stable in heavy rain. 

The five-speed 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 manually, of course). By tromping the gas in manual mode you can force a downshift and it holds 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 (but they've improved also). 

All of the Chargers are good cruisers, comfortably motoring along at 70-80 mph. The Charger is quiet at that speed, with little wind buffeting or road noise from the SE, SXT, and R/T, which come with 17- and 18-inch wheels. 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. 

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 understeers 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. Given its size, it is slow to react to quick changes of direction, and the driver can really feel the car shift its weight from side to side. 

The R/T Road/Track package comes with fatter, stickier tires (P235/55R18 Michelin MXM4s), recalibrated steering with better feel across the speed range, 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. Some drivers may also find the rumbling exhaust note of the Road/Track tiresome over long distances. 

The Super Track Pack makes the Charger even sportier. Thanks to a higher numerical axle, Dodge says 0-60 time is as low as 5.3 seconds. Handling is a bit sharper, approaching SRT8 levels of performance, though the suspension is not quite as firm as the SRT8 suspension. 

The SRT8 is the sportiest and fastest Charger. It handles better than a big car should, but it still feels big. While there is a ride penalty, we found the SRT8 easy to live with, even on pockmarked Midwestern streets. Be aware, however, that the lowered ride height calls for care when parking the SRT8 to avoid scraping the front fascia. That's not much price to pay for a true muscle car that you can drive every day. 

Summary

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. The design is a little long in the tooth, as challengers from Pontiac and Ford are pushing into the Charger's once-exclusive territory. 

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. 

Model Lineup

Dodge Charger SE ($23,895); Charger SXT ($25,510); Charger SXT AWD ($28,850); Charger R/T ($31,860); Charger R/T AWD ($33,960); Charger SRT8 ($38,670). 

Assembled In

Brampton, Ontario, Canada. 

Options As Tested

Popular Equipment group 26H ($2405) with dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, leather upholstery, heated front seats, power passenger seat, 276-watt Boston Acoustics sound system, automatic headlights, bodyside moldings, touring suspension and P225/60R18 tires; Supplemental side airbags ($590) includes front and rear side-curtain air bags. 

Model Tested

Dodge Charger SXT ($25,510). 

*The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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