American cars are all but extinct.
Not American brands. GM and Ford are still making cars. But they are very different kinds of cars now. Mostly, they are front-wheel-drive in layout, “sensible” in demeanor and powered by a four … with perhaps a six available optionally.
Forget a V8.
An exception to this rule is the Dodge Charger. It is a true Roller, like they used to make ‘em. Bigness (and heaviness) are elements of this, but the recipe is not yet complete.
The Chevy Impala and Toyota Avalon are also big cars, but they are lacking something…
What sets the Charger apart is that it’s rear-wheel-drive, a layout that is now more commonly found at foreign car dealerships.
And it’s available with a V8.
Which is no easy thing to find at a Ford or GM store these days.
Particularly in a sedan.
And, for about what the imports want for a decently equipped front-wheel-driver with a V6, like the Avalon.
But, gather ye rosebuds while ye may.
The Charger is popular with buyers but not with Uncle. Its best-case gas mileage (with the V6) is 23 MPG “combined” (Uncle’s term) which is 10-plus MPG below the current 35.5 MPG figure decreed by Uncle for this model year and not even in the ballpark for the figures that go into effect over the next several years, cresting at an impossible 54.5 MPG (not even the Prius hybrid gets there) that will be the mandatory minimum by model year 2025.
It is Uncle’s fuel economy fatwas that have exterminated almost all the once-common/mass-market big sedans with big engines, relegating the breed to low-volume/big-price models from import brands like Benz, BMW and Lexus.
The Charger, like an aging Thomas Jefferson in the summer of 1826, still survives… but for how much longer?
WHAT IT IS
A big ol’ American sedan.
Rear-wheel-drive layout (AWD optional with the V6) and available with a big — and bigger — V8s. No other American brand currently sells anything like it. If you want something similar, you’ll have to go German. Or Japanese.
Or, Korean (Hyundai).
Base price is $27,995 for a rear-drive V6-powered SE; the same car with the optionally available AWD system stickers for $30,245.
Next up the ladder is the SXT trim, which goes for $29,995 (RWD) and $31,995 (w/AWD). SXTs can also be upgraded with a new Rallye package that ups the horsepower of the V6, adds 20-inch wheels, sport-tuned suspension and paddle shifters for the eight-speed automatic transmission. There is also a Super Track Pack, newly available with the V6, which includes an even more aggressive suspension with Bilstein shocks, a performance axle ratio, upgraded brakes and a very cool suite of apps called Performance Pages that dials up info about 0-60 and 1/4 mile ET, lap times as well as scrollable LCD gauges.
It’s basically everything that comes in the R/T except for the 5.7 liter Hemi V8.
If you want the Hemi, you’ll want the R/T — which starts $33,895.
If you want the bigger Hemi (6.4 liters), you’ll want the R/T Scat Pack, which stickers for $39,995. In addition to extra engine, you’ll also get Launch Control and bunch of other politically incorrect goodies, too.
Apex predators are the SRT 392 and Hellcat versions of the Charger — the latter with a stupefying 707 supercharged horsepower, the former with a still very much Shock and Awe 485 horsepower… plus “active” exhaust, even better Brembo brakes and a driver-selectable, three-mode adaptive suspension.
These sticker for $50,995 and $65,945 respectively.
In terms of size/room/price, you might want to cross-shop the Toyota Avalon and the Chevy Impala, but they’re very different cars under the skin.
The next-closest thing to the Challenger is probably — of all things — a Hyundai.
The Genesis sedan is about the same size overall (though it has much less backseat legroom) is rear-drive, offers AWD (with the V6) and can be ordered with a V8, too.
But, the Hyundai might as well be a Lexus or BMW given its base price of $38,750 — which is about $10k higher than the Charger’s base price. And while it’s powerful and quick, it’s more a luxury car than a muscle car — which is what the Charger really is, its four doors notwithstanding.
The Super Track Pack for the V6 SXT is new (it used to be for V8 R/T Chargers only). It’s a way to get 80 percent of the R/T… for about 80 percent of the R/T’s MSRP.
SRT 392 and Hellcat models get an upgraded/leather interior and HD radio as part of their standard equipment roster.
R/T (and SXT) trims can be ordered with a Blacktop appearance package — which includes (wait for it) special black exterior paint, gloss black 20-inch wheels and black interior trim.
What was it Mad Max said about the last of the V8 Interceptors?
A beast — and a beauty, too.
Five inches more back seat legroom (and $10k less to start) than the Genesis, the next-closest (kinda-sorta) thing to it.
Huge trunk; both back seats fold down (and pass through) to make the space even huger.
Superb (and super-large, 8.4-inch) LCD touchscreen — standard in all except the base SE trim.
An almost too-good-to-be-true MSRP.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Even though the Charger and Challenger are the same car, excepting the difference in number of doors and some styling, you can’t get the Challenger’s available manual transmission in the Charger … notwithstanding how awesome that would be.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Charger’s engine lineup is basically the same as the Challenger’s.
Standard in the lower trims (SE and SXT) is a 3.6 liter V6, making 292 hp — unless you order the optional Rallye package, which includes a lower-restriction exhaust, more efficient air intake and a recalibrated ECU, which together up the rated output to 300 hp. You can also up the performance of this engine by going with the new Super Track Pack, which gives you the hp uptick, a lower (3.07 vs. the otherwise standard 2.62) final drive ratio and a 145 MPH top speed (cars without the package are electronically limited to less than that).
As in the Challenger, this engine is paired only with an eight-speed automatic.
However — and unlike the Challenger — you can go rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive.
R/T Chargers are — like the R/T Challenger — V8 powered.
And — like the Challenger — rear-drive-only.
If you want the AWD system, you’ve got to stick with the six.
The starter V8 is Chrysler’s 5.7 liter Hemi, making 370 hp.
Mopar People will note this is 2 hp less (on paper) than the Challenger’s version of the 5.7 liter V8 (372 hp). There is also a slight difference as regards the RPM at which the hp (and torque) numbers are taken. The Charger’s maximum output is said (by Chrysler, in their official specifications) to be developed at 5,250 RPM while the Challenger’s version of the 5.7 V8 makes its 372 hp at 5,150 RPM. The Challenger’s 5.7 is also said to make 400 ft.-lbs. of torque at 4,300 RPM while the Charger’s produces a bit less, 395 ft.-lbs. at 4,200.
Whether the hp and torque numbers differ because they were taken at different engines speeds — or are actually real differences is hard to know without a dyno (and a new Challenger R/T and a new Charger R/T to test, side-by-side). But regardless, it’s a negligible difference.
The big difference is you can’t get the Charger’s 5.7 V8 with a manual transmission. Like the V6, it is paired only with an eight-speed automatic.
Same deal with the Scat Pack (and SRT392) versions of the Challenger. They, too, are automatic-only. But the horsepower rating of the 6.4 liter version of the Hemi V8 that comes in these two is the same as the Challenger’s: Three cheers for 485 hp.
The Hellcat (reviewed separately, here) adds a supercharger and another 200-plus hp (707, total), which is about 85 percent of the power of a current Nextel Cup stock car at Daytona.
Acceleration is strong — and stronger — depending on which engine you pick.
With the V6 and RWD, the Challenger gets to 60 in about 5.9 seconds — which for the record is much quicker than the V6-powered Hyundai Genesis, which runs in the low-mid sixes, notwithstanding the on-paper advantage of more power (311 hp).
Probably this is due to the Hyundai’s greater curb weight — 4,138 lbs. vs. 3,934 for the Dodge. The extra beef likely also explains the Hyundai’s greater hunger: 18 city, 29 highway for the RWD version and 16 city, 25 highway for the AWD version, which is worse than the V8-powered Charger R/T!
The V6 Charger manages to post a not-bad 19 city, 31 highway with RWD and 18 city, 27 highway with the optional AWD.
Armed with the 5.7 liter V8, the Charger’s 0-60 time drops by 1 second (to about 4.9 seconds) but the gas mileage doesn’t drop nearly as much as you’d expect, given that.
Or, see the EPA’s numbers for the V8 Genesis: 15 city, 23 highway.
And compare them with the numbers posted by the R/T Charger Scat Pack’s 6.4 liter Hemi: 15 city, 25 highway.
That’s close — but the hp and acceleration numbers aren’t.
The Scat Pack’d Charger is packing 485 hp vs. the Hyundai’s much less impressive 420 — and the Dodge can scat to 60 in 4.5 seconds vs. 5.3 for the Hyundai.
Note that the V8 Genesis is only slightly quicker than the V6-powered Charger.
Then take a look at the the V6 Charger’s MSRP vs. the MSRP of the V6 Hyundai.
Or for that matter, the MSRP of the V8 Charger vs. the V6 Genesis.
Weren’t Hyundais supposed to be… inexpensive?
ON THE ROAD
That “imported from Detroit” advertising stuff? It’s on the money. The Charger feels — drives — like an American car.
That is, a car like American companies used to make ‘em.
It is big and heavy — and doesn’t seem to give a damn about its carbon footprint, bless it.
The base V6 is already strong enough to trample on the strongest engines you can get in cars like the $32,650 to start Toyota Avalon (268 hp, 0-60 in about 6.3 seconds) and obliterates the under-engined, but at least price-competitive four cylinder-powered Chevy Impala (2.5 liters, 198 hp and about nine seconds to 60). The V6 Impala — 3.6 liters, 305 hp — is very close in specification to the Dodge — but doesn’t close the gap much, either performance-wise (zero to 60 in about 6.3 seconds) or price-wise ($30,345 to start).
But the meaningful Dodge Difference, driving-wise, isn’t acceleration. It’s the feel of the hunky Charger’s rear-drive layout.
It feels right.
Which it is — because unlike a FWD-based car, it’s not nose-heavy. The weight of the Charger’s drivetrain is spread out over the length of the car — especially as regards the rear of the car, where there is a heavy axle assembly anchoring the ass to the pavement. This gives it balance the FWD (and light in the ass) Avalon and Impala lack.
They are wonderfully posh cars and drive beautifully… when you drive like you’re supposed to.
That is, like a good gelded and law-venerating Clover who never dives into a corner hard on the throttle… as opposed to riding the brakes.
But if you aren’t a Clover, then this is the tool you want.
Serious cars — real cars — are RWD-based cars.
No wonder cops like it, too.
Which, by the way, is another plus. They may mistake you for one of them — which is handy when you are operating at a clip that would get you clipped for sure if you were behind the wheel of an Avalon or Impala (or Genesis), none of which are ever used by cops.
But a dark blue, silver, all white or Darth Vader-black Charger? Even without the wig-wags, you look like The Law — to the actual law as well as civilians. A real cop coming the other way on a two-lane — with you proceeding at the aforesaid not-quite-legal clip — might have just that brief saving hesitation about turning ‘round and coming after you.
He might think you are one of them.
This actually happened to me. Actual cop in another Charger, rounding the bend just as I was headed into it, coming the other way.
I kept going and so did he.
Also — and this happened, too — when civilians see a menacing Charger bearing down on them from behind, they tend to get out of your way fearing it might be The Man.
It is almost as good as having wig-wag lights in the grille.
AWD-equipped versions come with a little LCD display (in between the speedometer and tach — showing the power split as you drive. Interestingly, the system will allow a little rear wheel spin (if you are into such things) provided you do not push the TCS (traction control) button off. If you do, the system engages the AWD (according to the LCD display) with all four wheels on the receiving end of the engine’s output. But if you leave there TCS on, the LCD display shows the system in RWD mode — and it will let you chirp the tires just a bit.
With the V8 (and without AWD) you’ll be able to chirp the tires a lot. With the optional 6.4 V8 you will need to develop a special relationship with your tire supplier. There are very few cars with this much power flowing through just two wheels — and the few that offer that do not cost slightly more than Toyota Avalon money.
But — just so you know — whether you go with the big (or bigger) V8 — or stick with the six — the Charger can play nice, too. FWD/AWD performance cars tend to be rough riders — which gets old on a 500 mile trip. The Charger’s ride — even on the R/T’s and Rallye/Super Track Pack’s 20-inch wheels — is luxury-car smooth and the cabin is an oasis of quiet. This is another of the Charger’s abidingly good qualities. It is as comfortable and stress-relieving a car as the Avalon or Impala — possibly even more so.
But it can get Medieval, too, whenever you’re in the mood.
The Avalon and Impala are both very nice cars — but they can’t get Medieval.
If they tried, they’d just look silly — like an angry Richard Simmons.
AT THE CURB
It’s not politically correct to say it, but the truth is what it is.
This is a man’s car.
Just look at the thing.
Especially from the front.
But the side view works, too.
And god bless Dodge for not emphasizing how “safe” it is (even though it is; bear with me a second).
I’m sure there are a few women who’ve bought Chargers — just as there are women who are packing a .44 magnum in their purse. But it’s the exception, not the rule.
The reasons why are similar. This is a large-caliber weapon. Nearly two tons and close to 17 feet long. And while the Chevy Impala is actually a little longer overall (201.3 inches vs. 198.4 for the Dodge) park them side by side and ask your wife which one appeals to her more.
She might warm to you buying one, when you point out that the Charger is a tank of a car and therefore one of the safest places to be in if there’s a wreck. The RWD layout (and that heavy axle in the back) is particularly helpful in terms of bulking up the rear of the car such that if another car piles into you from behind, there is lots of cast iron and steel to soak up the impact.
There is also the hugeness of the trunk — its 16.5 cubic feet of space potentially doubled when you fold forward both back seats and lay them flat. Many cars do not offer that feature. Rather, they have a toaster-sized “pass through” that’s usually just big enough to let you slide a set of skis through them and close the trunk.
It is also roomy in the way American sleds are supposed to be — and once were.
40.1 inches of backseat legroom and 57.9 inches of shoulder room — as compared with 35 inches in the Hyundai Genesis (and an inch less shoulder room, too). So much for “seats five comfortably,” if you remember that.
The Impala also has tremendous interior room — including slightly more back seat legroom (40.1 inches) but remember the other difference described above. It’s not that the Impala’s inferior by any means; but it is a very different kind of car and a very different experience.
Same goes for the Avalon.
Because it is RWD-based, the engine and transmission are mounted in a row (rather than side by side) and there is a fairly big hump (for the transmission) intruding into the front seat footwell area, with more of said hump intruding into the front seat passenger’s footwell area. There is still plenty of length to stretch out (41.8 inches) but there’s less width.
Also, the RWD versions (V6 or V8 R/T) will likely suck in the snow.
FWD cars like the Avalon and Impala are inherently more tractable in winter because they pull themselves along as opposed to pushing from the rear and also because all that weight over the (front) drive wheels is a traction-enhancer on wet/snow-slicked roads.
Remember, they are sensible.
If that’s what you want.
It is a shame that Dodge does not offer a manual transmission with the V8 — as is available in the Charger’s sibling, the Challenger. If it were available, the Charger would be even more special.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not special as it is.
There is literally nothing else comparable that’s not another Chrysler, like the 300 — which is the Charger’s more couth sibling. Who else offers a RWD roller with a V8 for just over $33K? Where else are you gonna find a 485 hp, 4.5 second top 60 roller for just under $40k?
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you’re thinking about it, don’t hesitate. The trends are clear. Cars like this are on Uncle’s hit list.
You’ve been hipped.
Now it’s up to you.
*** Photo courtesy of Caricos