The Dodge Charger sedan has picked up in grand style where the iconic 1968-70 Charger coupe left off. The extra doors provide more practicality, and it still comes with a Hemi V-8, just like the old model.
The rear-drive Charger was dropped after 1978, but memories of the old muscle car version were kept alive because a 1968-70 Charger was featured in the popular "Dukes of Hazzard" television show, which ran from 1979 to 1985 before hitting the rerun circuit.. Every kid seemed to have a model of the "Dukes of Hazzard" Charger.
The 1968-70 Charger two-door looked sensational, and the current-generation model--introduced in 2006--has coupe-like styling with its sloping rear roofline, steeply raked rear window and short trunk lid. Its nose leans into the wind and its beltline below the side windows kicks up in the rear to draw attention to its muscular rear fenders and large back tires.
The Charger remains very fast, with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that develops 370 horsepower (up 30 from 2008) and has a cylinder-deactivation feature for better fuel economy. A 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 with 425 horsepower lacks the deactivation feature but has the same power rating of the 1968-70 Charger's Hemi V-8.
My test Charger SXT had a 3.5-liter, 250-horsepower V-6, which provides strong acceleration in town and during passing maneuvers on highways, besides easy open-road cruising.. It's arguably the best Charger engine for most folks.
The Charger comes as the entry level $23,895 SE with a 2.7-liter 178-horsepower V-6, higher-line $25,510 SXT with the 3.5-liter V-6, mid-range $31,860 R/T with the 370-horsepower Hemi and top-line $38,670 R/T with the 425 horsepower Hemi..
The SXT also is offered with all-wheel drive (AWD) for $28,850, and the R/T can be had with that feature for $33,960.
The base 178 horsepower V-6 provides only mediocre acceleration, but you can get the 250-horsepower V-6 for the SE for $1,000.
The 2.7 V-6 is the most economical engine, providing an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 26 on highways with its four-speed automatic transmission. The 3.5 V-6 provides 17 and 24 with a four-speed automatic and 16 and 23 with AWD and a more modern five-speed automatic.
The 5.7 Hemi V-8 comes only with the five-speed automatic and delivers 16 city, 24 highway. The ferocious 6.1 Hemi V-8's fuel economy is 13 mpg city, but manages to get 18 on highways.
The Charger V-6s only need 89-octane gas, while the Hemis call for premium-grade fuel.
The Charger has been overshadowed a bit by the newer sexy, retro-style Dodge Challenger coupe, which also is offered with a fairly potent V-6 and two Hemi V-8s. But it isn't as roomy or practical as the Charger.
Even the entry Charger SE has a fair number of comfort and convenience items. They include air conditioning, tilt/telescopic wheel, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player and power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry.
Besides the 3.5 V-6, the SXT adds an anti-skid system, traction control, anti-lock brakes with a brake assist feature for surer stops, power driver seat, power-adjustable pedals and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat. The AWD version has the five-speed automatic with manual-shift capability, firmer suspension and wider tires on 18-inch (vs. 17-inch) wheels.
The R/T is a muscle car with its 5.7 Hemi V-8 and adds dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, power passenger seat, upscale sound system and also a firmer suspension. The AWD version adds that drive system.
At the top of the mountain is the SRT8 with its ferocious 6.1 Hemi, limited-slip differential, uprated brakes, leather/suede upholstery, rear spoiler and a higher-performance suspension, along with very wide 45-series tires on 20-inch wheels.
Extra-cost safety features include front-side air bags and curtain side air bags, which really should be standard on all Chargers. Also optional for the SE is a $1,025 Electronic Stability Program, which contains traction control, anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist and an anti-skid system.
Numerous option packages include a retro-style Super Bee Special Edition package with unique interior and exterior trim and bright alloy wheels--and the Daytona Edition Quick Order package with a special axle ratio, performance exhaust system and unique exterior trim.
Then there are the usual popular options, such as a $950 power sunroof for the SXT, R/T and SRT8 and a $1,460 DVD entertainment system for the R/T and SRT8.
I've found the Charger with either Hemi V-8--especially the 425-horsepower version--to be exceptionally fast, but wasn't disappointed with my test SXT AWD with its 3.5 V-6..
The test car's nicely geared steering felt good, and the ride was supple. The car easily handled winding roads, although it wasn't in the BMW class, and the brake pedal had a nice linear action. The five-speed automatic was responsive and shifted smoothly.
Wide doors and door openings allowed easy entry to the front and rear, and both front and back seats were nicely shaped for good long-distance comfort. However, four adults is the comfortable limit because the center of the back seat is hard.