While others left the rear-drive full-size sedan segment, Dodge carried on an American tradition, defying trends by offering a big car that refused to be a boring car. All-new for 2011, Dodge reaffirmed its commitment, with a second generation of the modern Charger, with updated styling, a vastly improved interior and an all-new base V6 engine.
|1. The Dodge Charger starts at $25,495 with R/T models priced from $30,395 and out R/T Max test car at $35,395.
2. Impressive features include the UConnect 8.4 inch touch screen, heated and cooled cup holders, a heated steering wheel, radar cruise control, a blind spot warning system and power tilt and telescopic steering wheel.
3. R/T models are powered by a 5.7L V8 with 370 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque, with a 16/25 (RWD) rating and 15/23 (AWD) rating.
4. V6 models get a new 8-speed automatic for 2012 with up to 31-mpg. The same transmission is expected soon for V8 models
For those with a performance bent, however, there’s the R/T, with 370-hp of V8 thrust – a proper engine, for a proper rear-drive large car. Sure there’s the all-out SRT8 version as well, but it comes with a premium price that only the die-hard Mopar enthusiast could justify.
It may look like a somewhat of a mid-cycle facelift, but the changes help keep it modern with added flare up front thanks to a new crosshairs grille. The sides gain deep sculpted sections, which are mirrored on the hood, while the near rear end design is a throwback to the original.
CABIN IS MUCH IMPROVED WITH PLENTY OF HIGH-END FEATURES
Compared to the 2010 and earlier model the interior is a massive step forward. Our R/T Max test car had all the accoutrements of a true luxury sedan, but came up just short in some areas, like the quality of the leather. We can’t harp too hard, however, after all, even with a suite of goodies, it retails for $35,395 (base R/T models start at $30,395).
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The R/T Max’s features list is lengthy starting with the 8.4-inch UConnect touch screen (standard on all R/T models) and goes on to include 12-way power front seats with 4-way power lumbar, heated and cooled cup holders, adaptive cruise control, navigation, a Forward Collision Warning System, Blind Spot Monitoring, rear park assist, a back-up Camera, LED cabin lighting, a power tilt and telescopic heated steering wheel, memory function, and a 506-watt nine-speaker audio system.
Over the course of a week we put plenty of miles on the big sedan, taking it on a lengthy road trip – an area where such a large vehicle is destined to shine. It gave us plenty of opportunity to fiddle with all of the onboard features, and the heated cup holder is a stroke of pure genious. Enjoying a hot cup of coffee hours after you bought it is on a long road trip can often be a near-priceless experience.
Another impressive feature is that you can set the heated seats and steering wheel to come on automatically when it’s cold outside – a feature we can’t believe it took until now for someone to dream up.
Perhaps our biggest appreciation, however, goes to the ultra-simple Garmin navigation system. It might not be as flashy as the units most manufacturers use, but it’s advantage lies in its simplicity. Then again, the entire UConnect system is just as simple with huge logos on the screen and clearly marked commands.
Another small bonus in the cabin comes from the now defunct tie-up with Daimler. Like German cars, the Charger’s turn signal stalk needs only to be pressed once in the desired direction in order to initiate a three-blink signal; enough to make a quick lane change. Those used to domestic (or even Japanese cars) might find this annoying at first (we used to), but live with it for just a week and you’ll demand it on every car you ever drive.
PLENTY OF POWER, SURPRISING FUEL ECONOMY
The V8 engine features a cylinder deactivation system that Dodge likes to call Fuel Saver Technology. It lets the car operate on just four cylinders when added power isn’t required and our results were impressive. Dodge claims a 16/25 rating for rear-drive models and a 15/23 for AWD versions. Our all-wheel drive test car actually clocked in at 26 mpg after a highway cruise of several hundred miles.
A pleasant yet commanding highway cruiser, the Dodge Charger is agile enough too, though its size and weight are hard to hide. Longer sweeping roads are preferred. The innovative all-wheel drive system only kicks in when added grip is required, leaving the car primarily as a rear-driver and only adding front grip when necessary. As a result, you can still power slide this machine, but lighten up on the throttle and it’ll catch with a violent slap.
Power is impressive, with the big V8 laying down 370-hp and 395 lb-ft of torque, though often times you won’t know it. That’s because throttle response is as numb as a sociopath’s conscience.
CHARGER NOT WITHOUT ITS FAULTS
Our list of little gripes runs just as long as our tally of treats. For starters, for a larger car, outward visibility isn’t the best – the car’s aggressive styling a direct result of the chop-top look of the windows. Add to that the fact that the mirrors are small, and take it a step further with cramped space around the pedals. You won’t forget it’s a large car when you try and close the trunk. It opens extremely high and there’s no ideal place to grab. And as for earlier comments about some interior flaws, it’s not just related to materials. Drop the transmission level from Park into Drive and you’ll be haunted by dreams of Dodge’s past, and have you wondering just how much of the car’s driveline has the word “LEGO” stamped on it.
The best alternative to this car is almost a too obvious conclusion. In fact, you’ll find it immediately adjacent in any Dodge showroom. It’s the V6 Charger with Chrysler’s Pentastar motor making nearly 300-hp – which is nothing to be ashamed of. Plus, for 2012 Dodge now offers it with an 8-speed automatic that will deliver 31-mpg on the highway. And so you don’t have to miss out on anything but the added cubic inches, the SXT Plus model delivers most of the premium goodies – though not some of the safety tech.
Considering the dull throttle response of the R/T model, which kills much of the fun of owning a big V8, we’d stick with the six and pay for creature comforts instead.