On the Road Review: Dodge Charger AWD Rallye Sedan

What you learned during the formative years of your youth generally stays with you throughout life. Those lessons and experiences all dented your brain with impressions that frequently shaped your identity, often countering and balancing later lessons.

My close buddy had a Dodge Charger R/T 440/6-pack, black over blue with the hide-away headlights. It was a famously hot car, very fast. I did not have a Dodge Charger. I wanted a Dodge Charger, or something similar. My initial path went to very fast motorcycles, an affordable alternative.

Yet that Charger’s expressive stance and unbridled power remains with me today and partially explains the rationale behind today’s Charger, as well as the market enthusiasm that exists for the Charger, the renewed Challenger and the high-performance Hellcat versions of each.

Adorned in bright colors, like our Charger Premium Rallye edition with AWD and painted in Yellow Jacket livery, these cars attract attention wherever they go. Stopped so drivers can view the whole car (people stare, a lot), their view gravitates to the front fender, hoping to ogle a Scat Pack or Hellcat symbol — and then nodding in approval. What car maker doesn’t crave this kind of attention? What automaker doesn’t yearn for this sort of halo effect on cars that are way past their prime selling date?

Despite a platform that dates back to the previous century, and working in a new car sales market that is hemorrhaging marketshare to crossovers, the Charger is the best-selling full-size sedan in the USA so far in 2017 — even if sales are down overall for this and every car segment. Almost doubling Ford Taurus sales, and slipping ahead of longtime stalwart Impala, the Charger is doing what no one expects at this age — leading the pack.

Key to this success is how well the Charger works. Using a fully independent chassis employing a rear-drive biased AWD system, the Charger handles, rides and drives like a much smaller and lighter sedan while also producing respectable acceleration and mileage with the standard 3.6-liter 300-hp V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic. During 1,300 arduous miles around northern New England, the practical Charger returned 27 mpg — matching the EPA rating at its maximum: 18/27/21-mpg.

In this class, only the Taurus offers AWD (excepting its sibling Chrysler 300), giving the Charger a market edge that police departments around the country are only too happy to exploit. And with four different powertrains — the base V-6 and three optional V-8s — no rival matches the Charger’s performance bona fides.

Yet, there is no escaping that the Charger is starting to get a little long in the tooth. The instrument cluster and the various driving electronics offered — including blind spot detection, automatic forward collision avoidance, dynamic radar cruise and much more — all work superbly, but the cabin is “close” and lacks some of the space of recent rivals. Heated cloth seats all around are excellent, as are the heated steering wheel and the clever remote starting, however, the view out is constrained by a design that was conceived two decades ago.

So while the Charger is literally packed with helpful, useful, comfortable features ($31,995 base AWD, $41,180 shown), fans of this brand have to be asking what comes next. Dodge has done a remarkable job keeping the Charger (and its two-door companion Challenger) alive in a market that seems to know no boundaries when it comes to change. The fact that the Charger is relevant today — the sales make that claim — does not mean that it will remain relevant tomorrow.

Chrysler recently abandoned the compact Dart and the midsize 200 sedan series, plus it has devoted few resources to hybrid or electric-drive vehicles while building up a failed Fiat campaign and now an Alfa Romeo revival. Chrysler (FCA) seems all-in on Jeep and Ram while distracting us with hyper-performance Hellcat and Demon products and high horsepower engines that are populating not only Dodge cars but also Jeeps and Dodge Durangos now. No one is complaining about this.

Ride the halo effect for as long as possible Chrysler, but what is the end game? That is the elephant in the room; will Chrysler be sold, absorbed or broken up by a suitor that wants/needs Jeep and Ram but doesn’t need dated car platforms?

For MOPAR fans of old Chargers and Barracudas as well as today’s outstanding Hellcats and Chargers, we love what we have right now from FCA. But will there be a tomorrow?

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

Latest posts by Tim Plouff (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.