The words “Dodge Charger” might bring to mind the swoopy muscle car from “Bullitt’s” epic chase scene. But a less flattering association–one that Dodge is hoping you’ll soon forget–is the previous iteration of the car, which earned more notoriety for its bland styling and rental fleet penetration than for its sporty sedan aspirations.
Under a series of 2011 upgrades that sweep across eight Chrysler and Dodge vehicles, the Charger receives fresh inspiration, inside and out. Scoops and character lines are more deeply sculpted into the sheetmetal, lending a look that’s meaner and more purposeful than its predecessor, while sound isolation and a dual-pane acoustic windshield helps make the Charger quieter than a BMW 5-series. Beneath the re-sculpted skin, strategic use of high-strength steel enables a thinner and lighter body structure with a 15 percent improvement in outward visibility.
Between its signature cross-hair grille and LED-rimmed tail is a cabin that wears a new, one-piece instrument cluster that’s outlined with an aluminum bezel. Four Charger models offer a 4.3 or 8.4 inch full color touchscreen, and soft touch materials generously swath most interior surfaces. SE, Rallye package, and R/T models get outfitted in black cloth, while Nappa leather is available with Rally Plus, R/T Plus, and R/T Max packages.
The Charger SE receives Dodge’s all-new 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 under its swollen hood, producing 292 horsepower, a 63 percent improvement over the engine it replaces. The rear wheel-drive R/T model we tested packs a 5.7 liter V8 Hemi that’s good for 370 horsepower and 395 ft-lbs of torque. Clad in a retina-searing “Toxic Orange Pearl Coat” paint, our test car’s buffed up body offered a road presence that looks husky, poised, and a bit more authoritative than the last-generation Charger.
The Charger’s updated interior goes a long way towards making it cushier, with smoother textures, softer shapes, and a greenhouse that still has a high beltline yet enables a more confidence-inspiring view around the car. Our vehicle’s base price of $30,170 was stacked with $8,665 worth of options, bringing the grand total to $38,835. For nearly 40 large, our Charger’s amenities include Sirius satellite radio, keyless go, heated and cooled cupholders, and 8-way adjustable seats with front and rear-row heating. A 506-watt amp powers 9 speakers with a subwoofer, and additional options include blind spot detection, a backup camera, adaptive cruise control, a heated steering wheel, and a Garmin navigation system integrated into the Uconnect 8.4 inch screen.
Though its 5-speed automatic transmission doesn’t quite maximize the strong-charging Hemi poweplant, there’s more than enough thrust to make this sporty four-door live up to its name. The Charger’s healthy acceleration and 4,253 lb curb weight are countered with relatively reasonable EPA figures of 16 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, due in part to a fuel-saving measure which seamlessly cuts four of the engine’s eight cylinders while coasting. Speed accumulates quickly thanks to the robust V8, and cornering maneuvers are negotiated more intuitively, due to re-tuned suspension geometry and uprated components.
Does the Charger inspire as much lust as the 1968 model which challenged Steve McQueen’s fastback Ford Mustang in Bullitt? Perhaps not. But thanks to a comprehensive list of improvements (not to mention the announcement that the 2012 model year will offer a new, 465 horsepower SRT8 version), the Charger is once again becoming a car that deserves a healthy amount of lust.