First drive: 2011 Dodge Charger
Five years ago, the marketing return of the Dodge Charger played heavily on its past bad boy image. It was an image that was further developed by its simultaneous return to NASCAR and a series of Dukes of Hazzard-like ads.
That was 2005, and I was there to see the new four-door sedan chase around the 500-mile course in Daytona Beach and, frankly, it was fun. It was also a heady time for the company, one that gave little notice of the harder days to come. Now, with the first decade of the millennium closing the scene, it is much different — Daimler split from Chrysler, which soon found itself in creditor protection. At the 11th hour, it was reborn, trading German for Italian partners. But through it all, the Charger found a market and held it. And that back story is what makes this second generation of the Charger that much more exciting. What was once almost a cartoon of itself has become a respected company mainstay.
For 2011, the Charger gets a bit more than a refresh and, as sometimes happens, the second generation is looking better than the first. The important design touchstones remain unchanged, but overall body elements have been massaged and nicely restyled, starting with a lowered nose, a more severely raked windshield, pulled wheelwell arches and a new tail light array. This Race Track tail lamp is beautifully stylish: It consists of 164 integrated LED lights that straddle the width of the car, anchored by the bullet tail lights. It’ll be an unmistakable night-time signature.
The new Charger also takes on a bit of a “Coke bottle” look with the B-pillar section of the car being the narrowest portion of the body, further emphasized by a new double diamond stamping in the fenders. What jut out are the wheelwells, which are also lowered and anchor even larger tires than were previously available. These, too, are pushed farther out toward the corners of the car. Up front, the classic crosshair grille gets a hint more forward tilt, making the Charger’s menacing stance look positively riled up.
But this car isn’t just prettied up — it’s been tightened up as well. Driving north through Marin County on the Pacific Ocean, the Charger showed off just how nimble a large car can be when it’s built with the right suspension and equipped with good tires. In addition to the handling, the new braking was also aggressive in the hairpin turns, where I also noticed how much quieter it was inside. This is partly a function of a new acoustic windshield along with extensive wind tunnel testing.
Yet, power-wise, the brand is reaching out to the value market — courting those buyers who want to have the “look” but aren’t particularly concerned about the über-horsepower. For this buyer, the Charger offers a packed base SE package with a snappy V6 and a long list of new standard comfort and appearance features. This new V6 is just one part of that value SE package that will carry a price of $29,995. In fact, Dodge says it has added $4,300 of content on this base-level car without increasing the entry-level price point.
Included in this new SE is a much better interior with soft-touch materials, dual-zone temperature control, auto headlamps, keyless entry, stamped aluminum instrument panel, improved six-way power seats and illuminated cup holders. But the key additions fall under the heading of safety and technology. Leading the way are active head restraints, electronic stability control with Brake Assist, traction control and Hill Start Assist.
The heart of this new package is the 3.6-litre Pentastar, a V6 with VVT (Variable Value Timing) that makes 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That’s a 42-hp improvement over the outgoing 3.5L, yet it gains fuel economy (estimated at 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres highway).
Having pushed the new Pentastar engine through the ridiculously twisty roads north of San Francisco, I’m happy to say this cheaper engine choice offers more than it demands — it carries the car well and it even has an agreeable exhaust note. It also does away with the 2.7L SE base, which was simply anemic.
Of course, you can still get a Hemi in it. That veteran 372-hp 5.7L is still going to be the engine of choice for many, and it, too, claims an improved 7.9 L/100 km highway fuel figure using its fuelsaver MDS technology.
Farther up the trim levels, the content figure jumps to as much as $6,600. More content, less cash — not exactly a new marketing ploy, yet it’s one that few buyers can argue with. A nice touch this time around is the tailpipe treatment — there is no difference between V6 and V8 — they are both equipped with twin exhausts. Also new are 45 safety and security features all incorporated in the Charger, including front and side curtain air bags, a driver’s knee blocker air bag and re-engineered supplemental and multi-stage front seat air bags.
New safety in the form of electronics comes to the Charger as adaptive cruise control, with forward collision warning, a blind spot monitoring system and a cross-path detection system for safer reversing out of parking spots. All these are tied in to the ParkView rear backup camera with grid lines. New software for the navigation also heralds a new era of simplified intuitive touch-screen commands. So, in addition to the well-appointed SE, upscale trim packages include the SXT, SXT Plus, R/T, R/T Road and Track and the R/T AWD versions.
Pricing tops out at $39,995 and the cars will be arriving before Christmas.
Photograph by: Howard J. Elmer, Postmedia News