2006 Dodge Charger Review

2006 Dodge Charger - V-6 lighter, less filling.


The sporty Dodge Charger is arguably more desirable with a Hemi V-8, but the SE V-6 version isn't slow and delivers better fuel economy when we might see $3-a-gallon gasoline this summer. 

Moreover, the $22,320 SE has a much lower list price than the Hemi-engine models -- the $29,520 R/T and $35,320 SRT8, which has a $2,100 gas guzzler tax.

The new, aggressively styled Charger arrived last May as a 2006 model (June 13 AutoTimes) and resurrects the name of an iconic 1960s V-8 muscle car.

The Charger is widely known outside the muscle car crowd because it was in the chase scene in the Steve McQueen 1968 movie "Bullitt" and was featured in the popular "Dukes of Hazzard" television series, which ran from 1979 to 1985 before hitting the rerun circuit.

The 1960s Charger was a large two-door rear-drive coupe, but building a large two-door coupe now would be commercial suicide for an automaker because most car buyers now want four-door functionality with a big car.

The full-size Charger's styling could qualify it as a "four-door coupe" such as the stylish Mercedes-Benz CLS because it has a rakish coupe-like roofline. Note that Charger door handles are flush with the body to downplay the four doors.

Besides the 3.5-liter V-6, the rear-drive Charger comes as the R/T with a 5.7-liter 340-horsepower Hemi V-8 and as the SRT8 with a 6.1-liter, 425 horsepower Hemi V-8.

Both Charger V-8 models are genuine muscle cars, but the 5.7 V-8 provides only an EPA-estimated 17 mpg in the city and 25 on highways, and the 6.1 V-8 does worse at 14 city and 20 highway.

The 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower V-6 in the SE delivers an estimated 19 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway, although the SE is fairly heavy at 3,800 pounds. One probably can come closer in real world driving to the estimated economy figures with the V-6 because of its smaller size.

That's not to say the V-6 is a marginal "entry-level" engine. It's fairly large and sophisticated, with an overhead-camshaft and 16-valve design. It can't match the neck-snapping Hemi V-8s (few V-8s can), but provides lively acceleration off the line and when merging into fast traffic and passing at highway speeds.

Mid-grade 89-octane gasoline is recommended, but Dodge says 87-octane is acceptable.

The V-6 works with a responsive, Mercedes-Benz-designed five-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual-shift feature.

The Charger SE is fairly well-equipped with standard comfort and convenience items. They include air conditioning; AM/FM/ CD sound system; tilt/telescopic wheel, and power windows, mirrors, trunk lid and door locks (with remote keyless entry).

Safety features include anti-lock brakes with a brake assist feature and traction and stability control systems. A $590 Protection Group option, which really should be standard, contains front side air bags and side curtain air bags.

My test car had the $3,200 SXT option package. It contains a split/folding rear seat with a center armrest containing dual cupholders, power driver's seat, upgraded sound system, illuminated visor mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and alloy wheels. For what it's worth, there's also SXT badging.

The SE power steering is quick, although some might find it too light for highway driving. The SE is several hundred pounds lighter than the V-8 models, and thus feels more agile. Handling is good, thanks partly to the Charger's more balanced rear-drive design and large 17-inch wheels.

The 120-inch wheelbase (distance between axles) gives the Charger one of the longest wheelbases of any large car and contributes to a smooth ride. Brake feel is above-average, and stopping distances are short.

Added grip can be provided by $325 18-inch wheels and lower-profile 60-series tires.

The quiet, roomy, tastefully designed interior has room for five tall adults, although the center of the rear seat is too stiff for a fifth passenger to stay comfortable on long drives.

Visibility is generally good, but the Charger shares its stubby windshield with the Chrysler 300, and that means taller drivers must crouch to view overhead stoplights. The big interior rearview mirror also blocks vision a bit.

The large Dodge-Viper-inspired circular gauges can be quickly read, although I could never get the tilt/telescopic wheel in a comfortable position without it partially blocking some gauges or controls. Most controls are easily reached, climate controls are especially large, and cupholders are conveniently located. The ignition switch is on the dashboard, so there's no need to grope for it on the steering column.

The trunk is large, and rear seatbacks flip forward for more cargo area, although they don't lay completely flat.

The Charger is quite popular, with a good combination of sportiness and functionality. For instance, its strong sales helped DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler group attain higher auto results last month in a generally weak market for U.S. cars. 


PRICE: $22,320

LIKES: Roomy. Sporty. Good ride and handling. More affordable than Hemi V-8 versions.

DISLIKES: Lacks speed of Hemi V-8 versions. Light steering. Small sound system controls.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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