Imagine our disappointment when a Charger SXT was delivered for us to test, rather than the SRT8 we were expecting. Instead of 470 rip-snorting horsepower and a massive dose of torque from a simply huge 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine, we were left to settle with the base 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. In fact, we were so bummed, we didn’t even drive it for two days.
|1. New is an 8-speed automatic transmission that helps the V6 Charger get 19-mpg city and 31-mpg highway.
2. V6 power is rated at 292-hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
3. Available options include everything from heated seats and a heated steering wheel, to radar cruise control, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel plus heated and cooled cupholders.
4. Starting at $25,795 the SXT Plus model retails for $28,595 plus options.
5. AWD models start at $31,095.
Eventually I did, and at home neighbors began dropping by to ogle the car. And these are the same folks who are used to seeing all kinds of new cars in my driveway. Friends who stopped by didn’t want to come in the house until they’d spend 15 minutes circling the Charger and gushing over the styling.
Unlike the Challenger, this is no retro homage, but rather an update of the basic aggressive shape of the previous model. And it really works.
The first thing you notice is the pronounced shark nose front snout, with the four quadrant blacked-out grill. The lower front fascia with integrated fog lights and wide air duct completes the aggressive front-end styling. Picking up on the shark theme are the gill-like sculpted character lines that run from the front doors to the rear wheels. And that theme is also evident on top of the dual scalloped aluminum hood. The tapered silhouette roofline integrates nicely to the rear deck ending with an aggressive rear deck spoiler. The “racetrack” taillamp design incorporates 164 LED lights. Dual trapezoidal chrome exhaust tips peek menacingly out from the lower rear fascia. And the optional 20-inch wheels fill out the wheel wells like Kim Kardashian fills out a pair of yoga pants.
Twenty-five years from now, when people go to collector car auctions, they won’t be bidding on Camrys, Accords and Passats. But they will have their checkbooks out for this car.
CAPABLE V6 NOW FRUGAL TOO
We were impressed with the styling, but it wasn’t until we got behind the wheel that we became genuinely enamored. The Pentastar V6 is an outstanding powerplant. No it’s not the Hemi fire breather, but with 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque there is plenty of get-up-and-go available at your right foot. You can still chirp the tires when leaving a stop light and have plenty of throttle response when powering out of a corner on your favorite set of twisties. There’s even a nice exhaust note, more reminiscent of a V8 than V6 when you press down hard on the “go” pedal.
Thankfully, however, it’s definitely not like a V8 in the fuel economy department with a 19-mpg city and 31-mpg highway rating; both figures confirmed by the cars MPG computer.
Some of the credit for the excellent gas mileage and performance goes to Dodge’s new 8-Speed transmission. It allows for excellent off the line power, while delivering the gas mileage of a much smaller less powerful car. The shifts are smooth, and while in normal D-mode the transmission will try to up-shift quickly for mileage purposes. In Sport mode you’ll see higher rpm before up-shifts for more spirited motoring. We used the paddle shifters a lot, and found it programmed for quick and immediate up and down shifts, and of course appreciated the ability to hold a particular gear when desired.
One thing we don’t like about the transmission is the electronic joystick shift lever that requires the driver to push a button while shifting into Drive or Reverse. It seems a bit too finicky, and we often had to really hunt and peck before getting the Charger into the proper gear.
A JOY TO DRIVE: FAST OR SLOW
The Charger SXT Plus weighs in at nearly two tons, and it feels like it – but in a good way. It is solid as a bank vault cruising down the road, but it handles like a car weighing much less – perhaps in part due to the performance suspension that comes with the Rally Appearance package. That package includes the aforementioned 20-inch wheels and paddle shifters, amongst other goodies.
It corners flat with little body lean, and it almost feels tossable in side-to-side transitions. And being rear wheel drive, it allows for some entertaining driver-induced oversteer when the stability control is turned off. It’s a fun car to drive aggressively and still offers the excellent ride quality that is easy to live with every day, in all driving conditions.
OPTIONS MAKE FOR LUXURIOUSLY APPOINTED CABIN
The cabin is an inviting environment to spend time in and has benefited greatly form Chrysler’s company-wide attention to interior upgrades. Sound dampening windshield and side glass helps to make the interior whisper quiet. The ‘Plus” package includes power, glove-soft Nappa leather seats, with 4-way lumbar controls and are heated in front and rear. The seats are well bolstered and comfortable. But what really set this interior of our test car off from its silver exterior was the lipstick red color of all the seats, a welcome departure from the black, charcoal grey, and beige colors that seem to be the only choices on cars today.
The dash is a clean and simple with the right amount of brightwork and ambient LED lighting to make everything easy to see at night and rich-looking soft-touch materials are spread throughout. Dash inserts have a woven metallic look, which offsets the black dash nicely. There is an iPod interface in the console and a lot of excellent and unusual amenities, (many optional) for a car in this price range. Some of those include two memory seat positions, electric tilt and long travel telescopic steering column, electric adjustable foot controls, a lane departure warning system, radar cruise control, not to mention heated and cooled illuminated cupholders, which really work, and even a heated steering wheel.
The large navigation screen that dominates the top of the center stack is touch sensitive and controls the functions for the Heating/Air system, (and there are also simple redundant controls for that beneath the screen) as well as the radio, heated seats, and the telephone interface. All are easy to use and access and a much better system than the console mounted multifunction knob that has become fashionable on so many cars.
The Charger is a large full size machine, so there is actual room for five adults. Rear seat passengers will enjoy plenty of legroom and despite the sloping roofline, headroom is also good. They have their own 12-volt outlet and controls for their heated seats. The rear seats have a nice center armrest, and the 60/40 split seatbacks fold down to offer more cargo room to the already huge trunk. It is really a great family vehicle, even if your sons are sized to play pro sports.
Access is easy thanks to doors that open to almost a 90-degree angle, but you have to be careful with that, because if you get into the car while the door is wide open, you’ll need to get back out of it again to be able to grab the handle to close it. Fortunately, there is a detent stop at the normal opening angle, so you learn quickly to find that place before you get into the car. But if you are putting a child in a car seat, that wide opening will be a blessing.
After a week and several hundred miles, the Dodge Charger SXT Plus has become one of our favorite large family sedans. Plenty of room for five plus luggage, a comfortable ride, excellent performance and a sedan that can be a lot of fun when driven aggressively. The fit, finish and overall quality is there too.
Nicely equipped at the base price of $28,595 our tester did have another $5,000 in options. That might seem excessive. On the contrary, it transformed the Charger into a vehicle that can rival luxury sedans costing thousands more.