Muscle car names from the 1960s and 1970s are making a comeback in a big way and have provided U.S. automakers with something to smile about. Some names, like Mustang, never left; others are destined to return. At the 2006 Chicago Auto Show this past February, Chevrolet brought the Camaro concept along while Dodge showcased the two-door Challenger concept. Both vehicles garnered much-desired attention for their respective parent companies.
Last spring, DaimlerChrysler's U.S.-based Chrysler Group dusted off the Charger name from the past for its newest, high-volume sedan in the Dodge lineup replacing the respected Intrepid. Unlike the outgoing front-wheel-drive Intrepid, the 2006 model year Dodge Charger sports rear-wheel drive, favored by those desiring enhanced handling and spirited performance.
The 2006 Charger differs visually from its decades-older counterpart in that this latest version utilizes four doors instead of two. True purists may be disappointed with this twist of fate but overall, the 2006 version brings much to the table.
Available with either a V-6 or V-8 HEMI engine, Charger offers several different package options for those who need the practicality of four doors and seating for five, but still desire sleek looks and available power.
Charger, considered a full-size vehicle by EPA standards, is built in Brampton, Ontario, Canada along with the Chrysler 300 sedan and Dodge Magnum wagon, two vehicles it shares an automotive platform with. Both the 300 and Magnum debuted in the 2005 model year, receiving kudos for their out-of-the-box styling and attainable starting price points. All three also sport many European underpinnings from Mercedes-Benz, the result of the 1998 merger between Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corp. The original two-door Charger debuted in 1966 and was built off the Dodge Coronet platform and by1978 was phased out of the lineup.
The two engines available include a 3.5-liter single overhead cam, 24-valve V-6 generating 250 horsepower. Fuel estimates are 19 miles per gallon city and 27 m.p.g. highway. The 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 delivers 340 horsepower and 17 miles per gallon in city travel and 25 m.p.g. highway. Mid-grade 89 octane unleaded fuel is recommended for both engines. Five-speed automatic transmission comes standard with Auto Stick, allowing more driver input to control transmission shift points.
The HEMI V-8 also features Chrysler Group's multi displacement system, with cylinder deactivation technology which automatically and seamlessly shuts down half the cylinders when cruising at highway speeds. This helps increase highway fuel economy up to 20 percent and is very welcome technology in this era of $3 per gallon gas prices.
Two basic trim levels are offered: SE featuring the six-cylinder engine and R/T with the HEMI V-8. Six cylinder SE models feature a SXT option package with touring suspension, machined-face aluminum wheels and an eight-way power adjustable seat driver's seat. Not to be outdone, V-8 R/T models offer a Road/Track Performance Group with self-leveling shock absorbers, heated performance bucket seats, dual exhaust tips and automatic temperature control. A specially-tuned exhaust system also adds 10 more horsepower to the HEMI engine for a total of 350 hoses. For those needing to take the nextstep up, the Chrysler Groups high-performance Street and Racing Technology (SRT) group also offer a limited number of the Charger SRT8 including a 6.1-liter HEMI V-8. One of the more notable stand-alone options is a rear-seat video entertainment system.
Pricing for a SE V-6 model starts at $22,570 while an R/T V-8 trim starts at $29,720. Dodge provided the Daily Herald with an R/T model with the Road/Track option Group ($ 1,695) and other assorted items brining the bottom line to $36,455. By comparison, the Chicago-build Ford Five Hundred starts at $22,695 for a front-wheel drive model. Five Hundred is also available in an all-wheel drive variant and all come exclusively with a 3.0-liter 203 horsepower V-6 engine. A rear-wheel drive six-passenger Mercury Grand Marquee with an exclusive V-8 engine delivering 224 horsepower starts at$24,780.
As with the 300C and Magnum, Charger scores big with design points. In front, the crosshair type grille is inspired, if not borrowed, from the Dodge truck line. Flanked by relatively diminutive rectangular-like sloping headlight housing, a menacing front is created. Side windows are long in width but short in height, yet allow adequate sight lines for the driver. The rear side windows have an arrow-shaped appearance with the tip pointing rearward. The large rear window steeply slopes with narrow 'C' pillars on each side. Square tail light housing flanks the short trunk deck lid. Insidethe trunk, convenient shock-absorber-type hinges are located outside the cargo area, eliminating the 'crunch' factor found with the goose-neck style inside design.
Inside, Dodge designed the seat height two inches higher than the outgoing Intrepid, making it a bit easier to maneuver in and out. Rear seating is wide enough to accommodate three adults despite the rear-wheel-drive floor hump down the middle.
Both the dashboard and instrument panel are user friendly and adaptable within minutes of maneuvering behind the wheel. It's more of a straight-across design rather than a wrap-around interior design. If you ever happened inside a Dodge Magnum wagon, the Charger interior would look very similar. Four independent, deep-set circular gauges make up the instrument panel. Power window, mirror and lock controls are found on the driver's door arm rest. A headlight dial is on the far left side of the dashboard with a trunk release button directly below. Cruise control is operated via asecond left-hand side steering column stalk (a-la Mercedes-Benz) while the ignition cylinder is on the dashboard right of the steering column. Four small circular knobs monitor ventilation functions under the stereo system.
A foot-operated parking brake opens up a little more room in between the supportive bucket seats for side-by-side beverage holders and a multi-level storage bin which also houses the optional DVD screen. The flat LCD screen folds up and out from the bin for rear passengers to enjoy.
Many safety features come standard including anti-lock brakes, all-speed traction control, brake assist, keyless remote entry, child-proof rear door locks and anti-theft devise. While multi-stage frontal air bags come standard, front and rear side curtain air bags are optional. Power-adjustable floor pedals are also optional. As far as the warranty is concerned, both the drivetrain and limited warranties are good for three years or 36,000 miles (whichever comes first). The corrosion warranty is good for five years or 100,000 miles.
While I did put the 2006 Charger to the test on Chicago area bi-ways and highways a couple of weeks ago, last summer the Midwest Automotive Media Association played host to a Dodge program at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet where Chargers were available for more intense cornering and triple-digit clockwork. Charger did not disappoint with the car handling confidently around spirited corners with minimal body sway thanks in part to a near 50/50 body weight distribution.
Charger gets the nod for those looking for a performance edge in a large sedan. While the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Grand Marquis may offer a bit more interior room especially in back, Charger is by far the performance choice, especially the R/T with the Road/Track package.