What do you think of when you hear the name Dodge Charger? Most of the time, I think of a black 1970 model with an enormous supercharger protruding out of the hood doing a wheelie, accompanied by a monstrous V8 roar and quick gear changes, and an orange Toyota Supra trying to keep up in a quarter-mile drag race. That’s the last race scene from The Fast and The Furious. Sometimes I think of the 1968 version in Bullitt, being chased down by Steve McQueen in the famous dark green Mustang. I try not to think of an orange 1969 model with a confederate flag on the roof, accompanied by the whole “yee haa!” thing. Put simply, I think of something powerful and mean-looking, with an equally butch name to do it justice. I think one of the best muscle cars ever built.
Fast forward to 2012, and I have the keys (key fob rather) to a brand new Charger SXT – V6. When Dodge revived the Charger name back in 2006, I received it with mixed feelings. I was glad that the name Charger was back, but only this time it was attached to a sedan geared more towards affordable luxury, than a modern incarnation of B-body muscle cars. Luckily the design wasn’t all that bad, it looked really muscular in certain trim levels, and the latest version does a bit more with the whole sedan-on-steroids look – even in V6 trim.
The tail lights are ’69 and ’70 Charger all the way, and they suit the 2012 Charger very well. It even has the broad shoulders starting from the rear passengers’ windows all the way to the back, making it look even more aggressive. Step inside, and the interior is a vast improvement over the previous-generation Charger. The overall quality is more than acceptable for a car of its class, the steering wheel in this SXT model is wrapped around in nice-feeling leather, and the dashboard as well as buttons don’t look or feel as if they will fall apart in less than a year. It obviously isn’t a Rolls Royce inside, but the interior isn’t at all as bad as it used to be.
The SXT model comes equipped with an 8.4-inch touchscreen that enables you to control the majority of interior functions, including; audio, Bluetooth, climate control, heated seats, SIRIUS satellite radio, and cell phone. Open the center storage compartment and you will find an auxiliary audio input as well as USB connectivity for your MP3 player or cell phone. This particular SXT did not have the leather seat option, but they were comfortable and supportive nonetheless. Opting for the SXT model means that you also get an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission (the only Charger available with this gearbox), rather than the Mercedes Benz-derived five-speed in the rest of the Charger range. Prices for this model start at CAD 33,095.
The Dodge Charger SXT is powered by a 3.6-litre DOHC V6 that produces 292hp and 260 lb-ft of torque – which made it to the 2011 Ward’s 10 Best Engines list. The engine feels strong enough for city as well as highway driving, and also gives a nice engine note when you floor it – it’s definitely not the typical family van drone that many associate with V6s. On the highway, the engine will spin at just under 1,500rpm when doing the Canadian national speed limit of 100km/h – with a green-font ECO sign showing that you’re not using a lot of fuel.
The gearbox works very smoothly, so much so that you forget it has eight gears. However, I did find it a bit reluctant to change down a gear when it came time to passing other cars, requiring more travel on the gas pedal than I would have liked – it doesn’t have that magic ability to read your mind like other modern automatics do. Its electro-hydraulic steering is set on the weighty side of things, though, but doesn’t necessarily translate to detailed feedback. It does respond well to minimal inputs, however the weight might be a bit much when you’re trying to attempt low speed manoeuvers in the city.
One thing that definitely stands out is the ride quality. The Chrysler group used Mercedes Benz suspension components in the previous Charger and Chrysler 300, but the suspension in this generation of Charger and 300 is done in-house. It rides really well with its 18-inch double-spoke wheels, absorbing the bumps of some broken up streets in Toronto with conviction. And, driving through a newly-paved section of highway 401, it was surprisingly quiet.
It was a good 30°C in Toronto on June 10th, and driving around with all five seats occupied showed that the air conditioning does a good job at keeping its occupants cool – and that’s with the fan speed set at medium. There was ample leg room for the average-sized adults in the back too. Pairing up the car’s Bluetooth to my HTC smartphone takes a little bit of time, and at one point during my two days with the car, it took a good five minutes to get it set up – it definitely could be a bit more intuitive. However, when the two are paired, there’s no break up in sound, and the sound quality is very good. Maybe a night club DJ could want more bass, but for the rest of us, the sound quality is more than acceptable.
The Dodge Charger SXT fits big North American cities well; it rides well, it’s not too big, it’s competitively priced, has good styling, and is quite practical. So, it does everything you could want from a normal car well, but it’s maybe not entirely convincing as a muscle car. It’s not because it has a V6 either – which is a decent engine by the way, remember the 2010 Ford Mustang GT has only 23hp more than this – it’s the way it feels too. When you’re inside any Charger, there’s nothing to remind you that you’re in anything other than an average mid-size sedan. Obviously, trying a V8-powered version might suggest otherwise, but if Ford and Chevrolet can keep things interesting with a car that has a live rear axle, and a car that you can’t see out of, then Dodge should be able to liven things up with something that's good overall, right? Maybe if they gave it two doors, and a manual option. Wait, that’s the Dodge Challenger. Problem solved.
By Alex Kisiri