As a hot summer-like breeze arrived in the Chicagoland area on June 8, members of the Midwest Automotive Media Associations test-drove the even hotter 2006 Dodge Charger
s around the Autobahn Country Club.
Both vehicle and raceway are brand spanking new.
The 2006 Charger 4-door sedan began to arrive at Dodge dealerships late spring
The Autobahn Country Club officially opened April 1.
Located in Joliet, it is a few miles from the Chicagoland Speedway and the Route 66 Raceway.
The exclusive Autobahn Country Club is actually two tracks that can be combined into a 3.55-mile course.
When the tracks are linked together, it makes the Autobahn the third longest course in the country, and the one with the most corners.
The first two are, Wisconsin’s Road America at Elkhart Lake, and Sebring International Raceway in Florida.
Dodge selected the Autobahn’s serpentine racetrack to demonstrate Charger’s outstanding power train selections for 2006, and even more, to reveal the advancements in steering and handling attributes over previous models.
On hand at the track were various equipped Chargers. These included the $22,995 base priced SE with the 250 horsepower 3.5-liter High Output V6 and several R/T versions sporting the 5.7 Hemi V8, which start at $29,995.
All Charger engines are mated with a floor mounted five-speed overdrive automatic transmission and AutoStick. With AutoStick, the driver has the choice of a fully automatic or manually selected gear range.
First impression behind the steering wheel is that the seating position is more than two inches higher than the previous generation Dodge sedan, providing a better command-of-the-road view.
Dodge Charger’s longer wheelbase grant greater interior room, enough for five adults, and though the fastback roof is ¾ -inch lower in the rear than in the front, there was plenty of headroom for 6-foot tall passengers.
The base Charger SE V6 with standard 17-inch wheels proved capable through the twist and turns, but its softer suspension and looser-feeling steering made for slower speeds around the course.
Moving up to the R/T Hemi model with beefier suspension and 18-inch polished aluminum wheels and all-season touring tires, provided for exceptional handling and gave more feedback from the road.
Under the R/T hood rumbled the 340-horsepower Hemi, which launched the car from the starting line to 60 miles per hour in six seconds.
The 390 pounds-feet of torque to the rear wheels was put securely on the road, thanks to the “all-speed traction control system.”
The final test laps were in an “Inferno Red” Charger equipped with the Road /Track Performance Group that is available on the Charger R/T model.
Costing an extra $1,600 on top of the R/T price, the package supplies larger P235/55 R18 Michelin MXM4 all-season performance tires, along with quicker steering gear ratio, self-leveling shock absorbers, larger sway bars and larger brakes, plus a specially tuned performance exhaust and induction system that adds 10 more horses to the Hemi V8, for a total of 350.
Those upgrades permitted the Road /Track Performance Charger R/T to conquer the Autobahn S-curves with tighter, more precise control, and storm through the straightways at 100 miles per hour, about 18 mph faster than the other Chargers.
In addition, the two-tone R/T interior features improved contoured seats over the base model.
So remember, a Dodge may have the R/T emblem, but not all R/Ts come with the Road/Track Performance package.
The only way to visually spot one is by the wider all-season performance tires, and 18-inch polished aluminum wheels with black-painted pockets.
Dodge Brand Manager Mark Mallie was on hand, and spoke on the pertinent background information on all the new Chargers, and fielded questions from the journalists.
Mallie explained that the Charger competes in the large car segment, attracting customers with a median age of 46 and earning around $75,000 a year.
One editor asked the question that is on the minds of many MoPar lovers.
Why was the 2006 Charger designed as a four-door sedan, and not a two-door hardtop like the original in the mid-1960s?
Mallie said, that when Charger was first introduced as a 1966 model, two-door hardtops accounted for about 80% of the market, but today is barely 20% of new car sales.
“We created the 21st century Charger to give the customer what they want, modern coupe fastback styling with four-door functionality,” he said.
“And although the shape of the 2006 Charger is quite different, it nods with respect to the original.
"Notice the slightly recessed rear window flanked by sculpted pillars. This hints at the flying buttress C-pillars found on the late 1960s models.
Also, behind the rectangular red lenses, are quad round taillights, like those found on the 1969 Charger,” he said.
“While the Dodge Charger shares the same strong platform as the Magnum and Chrysler 300, it has all-new steel body panels and an aluminum hood.
“It shares nothing externally with its siblings, except the windshield,” he concluded.
If all that excitement wasn’t news enough, Dodge plans on keeping the Charger momentum rolling for sometime, with the release of two more special-edition models later this year.
Arriving late summer, will be the Charger Daytona R/T package, created to celebrate Dodge’s return to NASCAR racing.
The Charger Daytona R/T will include all standard features available on the Dodge Charger R/T, including the 350 horsepower Hemi.
Elements that will distinguish the Daytona, are red and black heritage R/T badging, black “Daytona” and “HEMI” decals, polished 18-inch aluminum wheels, P235/55 R18 all-season performance tires and a special tuned high-performance exhaust system with distinctive throaty exhaust note, accented by chrome dual exhaust tips.
Inside, the cockpit of the Charger Daytona R/T will be performance heated front seats with perforated suede inserts, and embroidered “Daytona” logos on front headrests.
On the dashboard are sequentially numbered limited edition Daytona badge.
“But,” Mallie said, “what will really set the Daytona R/T apart from all others will be the unique exterior colors.
“Dodge is bringing back wild shades of paint from the muscle car era, like “Go ManGo!” metallic orange and “Top Banana,” yellow to use on the Daytona R/T.”
Then, later this fall will arrive the ultimate edition called the Charger SRT8.
SRT stands for Street and Racing Technology, and the 8 for number of cylinders.
This ultra high-performance Charger will come standard with a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter HEMI V-8, plus weight 200 pounds less than the R/T model.
The SRT8 is slated to offer world-class ride and handling, benchmark braking, functional and aggressive-looking exterior enhancements and a race-inspired interior.
Who would have predicted 30 years ago, when muscle cars were completely fazed out, that in 2005, there would be a renewed battle between the Ford Mustang, Pontiac GTO and now Dodge Charger?
Just how important is the Hemi engine to the success of the new Charger, and the entire Chrysler Group?
Approximately 45 percent of all vehicles offering the Hemi are purchased with that engine.
More than 500,000 Hemi-equipped Chrysler Group vehicles have been sold since the new Hemi engine was introduced for the 2003 model year.
Other products currently available with the Hemi engine include the Dodge Ram Pickup, Dodge Durango, Dodge Magnum, Chrysler 300 and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
For more information on the Dodge Charger, go to www.dodge.com.
If you’re interested in becoming a member of the Autobahn County Club, you will have to pay the $25,000 initiation fee, and chip in another $3,000 for annual dues.
You might want to hurry as more than 260 have joined.
The goal is for 300 members.
Credit must be given to the Autobahn founders and members for environment concerns.
Though two acres of wetlands had been removed by construction, eight acres of wetlands are being added.
Learn more at http://www.autobahncountryclub.net