2011 Dodge Charger Review – First Drive

Dodge revamps the Charger with a more retro look and a more modern drive

2011 Dodge Charger Review – First Drive

Even during Dodge’s dark ages—better known as 2009—, the Charger soldiered on as one of the few bright spots in the lineup. Along with the Challenger, the Ram pickup and the Grand Caravan, the Charger stood out as one of the better offerings in Dodge showrooms.

FAST FACTS

1. A significant mid-cycle update for 2011 brings a new more powerful V6 engine, a more efficient V8, plus a new exterior design and upgraded interior.

2. The new 3.6L V6 makes 292 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque, an increase of 40-hp and 20 ft-lbs respectively.

3. The 5.7L Hemi V8 gets cylinder deactivation for improved fuel economy, although official numbers have yet to be released.

4. A new Enforcer Package for SE models includes a blacked-out grille, 20-inch wheels, as well as an upgraded suspension and audio system.

5. R/T models are available with several performance packages, including the Road and Track Package with a 3.06 rear-axle ratio and sports seats, while a Super

Fear not, enthusiasts. Improved looks don’t mean watered-down power. While there is no SRT version for now, the Charger still has an available Hemi V8 power. But for those who don’t wan or need a V8, the base engine is a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 292 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque, an increase of 40-hp and 20 ft-lbs respectively.

For 2011, the new Charger gets a retro influence—particularly in its taillights, which now stretch across the width of the body—as well swoopy styling up front. Another influence, according to Chrysler designers, is the classic “Coke bottle” shape. Thanks mostly to its taillights, the new Charger is a distinctive design., appearing lower and sleeker than the outgoing car.

The previous interior wasn’t terrible, but the new one is an improvement nevertheless, with nicer materials that better befit a full-size sedan that presents itself as the company flagship.

MORE POWERFUL V6, MORE EFFICIENT V8

Fear not, enthusiasts. Improved looks don’t mean watered-down power. While there is no SRT version—for now—the Charger still has available Hemi V8 power. But for those who don’t want/need a V8, the base engine is a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 292 horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque, an increase of 40-hp and 20 ft-lbs respectively.

For those who want two more cylinders, a Hemi 5.7-liter V8 that makes 370 horsepower and 395 ft-lbs of torque is available. In order to save on fuel, the V8 has a cylinder deactivation mode that shuts down four of the eight cylinders during light-throttle cruising. Both engines are paired to a five-speed automatic transmission with manumatic shifting. Fuel economy has not yet been determined.

NEW TRIM LEVELS DELIVER EXCITING PERFORMANCE OPTIONS

The Charger is available in three trims: SE (V6), R/T (V8), and R/T AWD (all-wheel drive). Available features include a USB port, Chrysler’s Uconnect multimedia suite, an auxiliary input jack, cruise control, remote start, adaptive cruise control, heated rear seats, a tilt/telescope steering wheel and a 60/40 split rear seat.

Available safety features include rear cross path detection, ABS, traction control, an antiskid system, hill start assist, blind-spot alert, forward collision warning and side-curtain airbags.

There are three option packages for the six-cylinder powered SE: Rallye (wireless cell phone link, premium audio, and a host of other options); Rallye Plus (Rallye plus leather seats, heated and cooled cupholders, 18-inch wheels instead of the base 17s, an alarm, and other goodies) and as a late model-year add to cars with either one of those packages, the Enforcer Package. The Enforcer Package includes a black grille, 20-inch blacked-out wheels, performance tires and a performance suspension, plus an upgraded audio system.

The R/T comes standard with 18-inch wheels, a wireless cell phone link, premium audio, performance suspension/tires/brakes, a black grille, fog lamps, power heated exterior mirrors, a body-color deck-lid spoiler and HID headlamps. There are several options packages, including a Road and Track Package that adds a 3.06 rear-axle ratio, performance calibrations for the engine and transmission, performance seats, unique badging and a high-speed engine controller.

Hardcore enthusiasts might like the Super Track Pak, which adds 20-inch wheels, high-performance brake linings, monotube shock absorbers, larger front and rear stabilizer bars, and a three-mode traction control system that can be fully turned off! The Super Track Pak isn’t available with all-wheel drive.

Pricing for the new car starts at $25,170 for the SE trim, while the R/T retails for $30,170 and $32,320 with AWD.

Dodge is aiming this car at family men in their early 40s who want a sedan with a sporting flavor. That makes sense, given that the Charger has plenty of interior space, and plenty of power, as evidenced by our drive through the hills north of San Francisco, and a brief lapping session at Infineon Raceway.

IMPROVED DRIVING DYNAMICS, BUT STILL AN UNDENIABLY BIG CAR

On the road, the Hemi’s power is much appreciated in between the corners, as it pulls strongly while making plenty of welcome V8 noises. The steering feel is improved over the previous generation, offering plenty of accuracy, which is useful when driving such a large car.

On the track, that size works against the Charger a bit. The body rolls a little too much in corners, and sometimes the Charger just doesn’t feel all that planted, although it does go where it’s pointed. The brakes do haul it down from high speeds in a hurry.

Drop into a corner on a back road and the Charger sets up nicely. You never forget how large it is, but it handles well enough to give some credence to the four-door sports car talk coming from Dodge. The ride is firm but never harsh, and it’s downright comfy on the highway.

When driven more gently, the Charger is quiet until the gas pedal is pressed, making it a great sleeper car.

THE VERDICT

Sleeper or not, the Charger is unique in that there aren’t many full-size rear-wheel drive sedans on the market these days. The Charger further trades on that throwback image with its styling. For those in search of the last great American full-size rear-drive sedan, the hunt may just begin – and end – here.

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