When you think “Dodge Charger,” you think “muscle car.” I know I do.
After all, it’s brethren to the Challenger, Dodge’s fire-breathing competitor in the rebirth of the ponycar wars that includes the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet’s Camaro. So how does the $35,380 V6-powered SXT version of the Charger with all-wheel drive stack up? A week behind the wheel was revealing.
Old school meets – and greets – new school
Drop into the driver’s seat of the Charger and one thing becomes immediately apparent: this is a big, bold ‘Merican car. It’s long. It’s wide. It’s comfortable. And fancy-pants LCD/TFT/Plasma 3D gauges? Wrong. You get good old-fashioned analog pointers with temp and gas indicators in the cluster, right where they belong.
Steady application of the throttle in Sport mode… had the Charger’s speedo scurrying towards triple-digits faster than expected…
However, there are concessions to modernity. A small LCD screen between the gauges adds in pertinent information via rotating selections showing gas mileage, cruise control status, gear selection, AWD status and my favorite, the speed of the car in digital goodness. Sure, it duplicates the speedometer but seeing the digits gave me an idea of how much my speeding ticket was going to be faster than parsing the small digits on the analog speedo. Best of both worlds.
Nice touches abound in the car. The black cloth seats were wide, comfortable, heated and looked nice. At night, hidden interior lights in the doors illuminate the inside and outside for passengers. Backseat passengers get lots of legroom plus their own heating and A/C vent with temperature control. Up front, the driver and passenger get dual comfort controls. Naturally, there’s a voluminous trunk where a subwoofer also lives, but it’s built-in so it doesn’t take up trunk space.
A fairly sprawling 8.2-inch touchscreen sits dash-center and sports the Uconnect OS that I must admit is a bit buttony but well-organized and easy to learn. A rail of main icons (a la the iPhone) along the bottom of the screen gives quick access to the car’s major systems and settings. Most of the functions are also available from the steering wheel and after a short time in the cockpit, I had the system down. The touchscreen responds quickly to inputs and when needed, can be shut off completely. There’s also the obligatory back-up camera feed and you’ll need it when backing up this battleship.
A lack of forward progress
I had just driven the Mustang GT 5.0 before getting the Charger, so when I got the Dodge out on my favorite lightly-patrolled stretch of test tarmac and crushed the gas pedal into the black carpet, I was expecting to be pressed into the seat as the V6 headed to redline and the 8-speed automatic climbed through the gears in Sport mode. The actual result was swift enough, but definitely underwhelming both in terms of acceleration and engine noise.
Even though the normally-aspirated V6 churns out 300 hp and prodigous torque, it was a far cry from the much more bonkers Mustang or even some other 300+ hp cars I’ve recently had seat time in. Of course, the engine’s task of pushing over 4,400 pounds of car down the road likely had something to do with it along with certain inefficiencies inherent in an all-wheel drive system.
With more time behind the wheel, I got a better understanding of the V6 powerplant and the Charger SXT’s friendlier dynamic. As much as I wanted it to be, this version of the Charger is not designed to be a hammer of the gods out on the roadway. Some finesse by the driver is necessary to coax speed out of it.
Steady application of the throttle in Sport mode coupled with well-timed taps on the paddles had the Charger’s speedo scurrying towards triple-digits faster than expected, but without the Oh Crap drama and soundtrack of the “real” muscle cars Digital Trends has tested in the past.
But, the 4-wheel grip option helped make up for it.
Fat cat in the corners
My long stretches of secret high-speed straightaways eventually transition into traction-testing curves, and after the letdown of the V6’s lack of eye-ball flattening acceleration, the Charger’s all-wheel drive system helped restore my faith in the big car’s fun factor.
The system typically lives in “rear wheel drive” mode and it is not selectable. When the car’s silicon brain detects wheel slippage or enthusiastic driving, it pops into AWD mode. The transition is essentially seamless. Only by dialing up the AWD status display in the center of the gauge cluster was I really aware that the Charger was going from mode to mode. However, turning off traction control (a different system from the AWD system) made it jump into AWD mode earlier and more often. It was a bit more apparent what was going on when the car moved back to rear-wheel mode from AWD, but there was no lurching, clunking – or any noise at all.
Blasting through tight left-right transitions on the switchback test had the chassis rocking a bit but far less than I imagined the suspension would allow over two and half tons of car to move around. Big brake rotors coupled with the four wide footprints got me out of trouble a few times during some overzeaoulous cornering antics, but overall, I was impressed by the Charger’s settled, no-sweat demeanor. Could the same be said if it had a V8 churning away? Clearly, a follow-up test is needed.
No one will ever mistake the Charger for a cornering demon like the AWD Volvo I recently tested, but porting power to all the wide Michelins shrunk the car’s perceived footprint by a big margin. It’s not going to win races against the tuner kids but on snaking two-laners in the Oregon back country with the car set to Sport (and gas mileage be damned), the Charger snaked through turn after turn with the radials chirping as they clawed for bite.
At one point my rural test track turned to gravel and as I entered the lane, the Charger was in rear-drive mode. As a corner approached and I got into the brakes (thanks ABS!), I kept waiting for the tranny to hit AWD. As I exited the corner and goosed the gas, the rear tires spun freely (traction control was off) and the big back end began to come around. Off the gas and steering into the slide, the car eventually came correct, but where was my AWD savior? Oh, there it goes. A bit late.
Let me ride
The big Charger’s ride quality has more in common with a Cadillac than a Challenger. Smooth, quiet, composed and well-damped, the Charger was a pleasure to drive in town and on the highway, stereo booming, the V6 gliding along at 30 miles per (I actually averaged 31 on one trip). Several people I gave rides to remarked on how quiet the car was inside while under way (clearly, the Beats by Dre audio system was not powered up at the time).
And after driving several smaller, more sport-focused cars that emphasized power over comfort (looking at you, Mr. GT 5.0), the Charger’s composure and quiet even became a haven of sorts.
Mind on my money, money on my mind
The Beats by Dre audio system in the Charger deserves special mention. It rocks. It booms. It sounds awesome. Featuring a subwoofer mounted in the trunk and nine more speakers (half of which seem to be more subs) scattered about the cabin, the system boasts over 550 watts of power and that juice is put to good use.
The aggressive front end looks like a bad guy from the Cars movies and everyone who saw the Charger and rode in it loved it.
I couldn’t think of a more appropriate test than queing up Dre’s seminal 1992 CD (yes, an actual CD) The Chronic (NSFW, small children or overly PC adults) and ticking up the bass a couple of notches in the audio control panel.
Many of the “marque” car audio systems we’ve seen arrive in the DT test car garage have performed well – to a point. The problem is, that point is usually only about halfway up the volume slider at which time bass response goes to crap along with more distortion. Not so the Beats system.
Putting bass response at zero (or “flat,” and trust me, even that is plenty) allows the volume to go higher and higher until the sound level is just crushing. But it remained clean and clear until almost the top of the range and the bass response makes the door panels shimmer with vibration while the mirrors essentially go out of focus. “I can always tell when your almost home in that thing” the wife said.
Sure, rap sounds great on the system, but with all that power on tap, other genres were also a joy. I played Muse, Led Zeppelin, m-seven, the Beatles, The Killers, Babble, Vivaldi and anything else I could think of that might give it challenge, only to be impressed every time. It’s an option worth the cost.
Back to the future
Our test Charger arrived looking low and mean with a rear spoiler wing, lusty red pearl paint and a set of gorgeous 19-inch black rims on low-profile tires. The aggressive front end looks like a bad guy from the Cars movies and everyone who saw the Charger and rode in it loved it.
It’s important to remember where the first muscle cars came from. They started essentially as family cars with big lumps under the hood. Only after the Big Three saw what the hot rodders were doing (and wanted to buy) did the styling, specs and performance change and give us the pure muscle cars of yore.
So it is with the Charger SXT. It’s a fine family car, nice out on the road and hey, it even gets good gas mileage. But if you’re looking for a mean-looking brawler of a car backed by a ton of power that also has four doors, the SXT version just isn’t it. I know the Challenger is the real muscle car competitor to the Mustang and Camaro, but I was hoping for a bit more cross-pollination in the Charger from its more hard-core stablemate. Lets hope the V8 version fares better.
- A seriously comfy cruiser
- Great looking
- V6 rocks over 30mpg with a light foot
- AWD system shrinks the car in corners
- Beats By Dre audio system is the real deal
- Stereo seems to have more power than the engine
- AWD system seems to get confused at times, is not selectable
- Getting used to the size of it after driving small cars