The early morning light silhouettes the Charger perfectly as I glance out the bathroom window, the benchmark Dodge sedan looking briefly like the Challenger Hellcat that seems to dominate my brain. And you wonder why Dodge keeps running those ferocious Viper/Hellcat commercials — to plant the seed in your brain that the powerful presence and persona of those outsized offerings exists in all of their Charger and Challenger models.
I have been fortunate to sample several Charger and Challenger renderings through the years. One trait exists in each model, no matter what the powertrain or the outrageous performance that exists under the hood: These cars are easy to use, easy to live with and easy to admire.
The latest Charger exemplifies this personality. In mid-level SXT trim, the Charger has the longest wheelbase in the segment, 120 inches, which produces stable handling and a composed ride, yet the sedan is also the heaviest in the class — at over 4,300 pounds. The Charger and its Chrysler 300 sibling are among only a few big sedans with AWD — which is not available on Avalon, LaCrosse or Impala — yet the Charger still does not offer a truly fuel-efficient smaller engine that will help this big car appeal to fuel-conscious buyers. The standard 3.6-liter V-6 renders EPA ratings of 18/27/21 mpg, with a real world, weeklong average of 23.8 mpg. These are not the numbers of hybrid lovers.
In addition, for the Charger’s big outside dimensions, 198 inches long, 75 inches wide, the car offers only modest interior room. The characteristics that make those seats so plush and comfortable also make them thick and expansive, which robs cabin space. The racy greenhouse look? It makes the cabin feel narrower, lower as well. Add in the large center tunnel to house the rear-drive hardware, as well as a big bulge on the transmission tunnel up front — intruding into the passenger footwell — and you start to feel that the Charger may be more intimate than wanted, closer than needed.
Yet, settle behind the thick-rimmed leather steering wheel, which power tilts and telescopes here, and the Charger feels like a long lost favorite recliner, pair of boots or jeans. It just seems to feel right. The controls, simple and efficient, are easy to access. Chrysler’s stereo tuning remains at your fingertips, on the back of the wheel, while heating elements in the rim, plus in the seat, ward off winter’s chill quickly. Mirrors are large — which is good, because the headliner feels low and the view up is a little stunted — however, the big camera in the U-Connect system makes low-speed maneuvers stress free.
Plumb the depths of the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 and the majority of drivers will need nothing more. Running through an eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters, the 300-hp V-6 packs enough grunt to move this 4,300-pound car with authority. EPA numbers not withstanding, the car is quick, smooth and makes 480-mile days in the saddle a relaxing chore.
Getting just a little long in the tooth — this series had been around for well over a decade, with modest exterior and interior changes — the Charger’s portfolio contains an extensive list of standard and optional electronics that keep the car very relative.
Chrysler’s U-Connect has to be regarded as one of the top interfaces for automotive consumers. Big screen, big icons, easy menus, lots of variety and simple. It just works better. GM has caught up in some areas, but U-Connect combines the most virtues for drivers. Cell phone adaptability will probably come next.
The Dodge also features Adaptive Cruise Control, accelerating and braking the car as necessary, automatically. Add automatic forward braking assist, which will slam the brakes on if you don’t, and the Charger is ready for life on the road where not everyone pays attention. In addition, the AWD Premium Package ($5,995) adds blind-spot detection, lane departure warning, heated second row seats, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming headlamps, cooled front seats, power pedals, rear park assist, 552-watt Beats Audio, HD radio, GPS and HID headlamps. Two-tone red and black leather seating is included.
Check the boxes for Rallye trim, $595, and you get a blacked out R/T themed front grille, 19-inch wheels, plus a rear-deck spoiler. Base Chargers with rear drive start around $28,000. As shown, our SXT Premium stickered for $39,580.
Likes abound. Power is more than adequate for daily use, yet the chassis really stands out for its overall competence. The independent suspension does nothing truly outstanding; it is the combination of cornering prowess, ride compliance, and handling agility combined with AWD traction that make the car feel complete. Pushing along a rural deserted New Hampshire roadway in the cold, darkness of winter, it was nice to feel confident in the Charger’s capabilities.
The simplicity of the Charger’s controls, the sound suppresion in the cabin, and how it stood up to long stints behind the wheel — all hallmarks of good road cars.
Shortcomings also exist. While my realized fuel economy is not bad, it should be better — even for a full-size sedan. Chrysler/Dodge need to make strides in this arena — whether it be smaller turbo-gas engines or turbo-diesels, as the brand currently has no hybrid-powered powertrains. Changing fuel economy standards will be in play very soon.
It would be good to see the Charger’s interior grow in usability. The rear seat holds two adults, but not to the comfort degree of other sedans — even midsize offerings. Chrysler knows how to package minivan interiors; some of that aptitude needs to trickle into the next Charger, which surely Dodge must build even if it shrinks a bit externally. Moreover, there is no reason to abandon rear drive, as many of the Charger’s buyers gravitate to the car solely because of its rear-drive based platform. With compact and midsize cars growing, full-size cars could shrink just a few inches and be reasonable competitors — especially cars such as the Charger with AWD and three optional Hemi engines.
Charger SXT Premium AWD sedan equals stability, comfort, predictability. It is a rock-solid offering in a changing world.