You say you want the driving excitement of a high-performance car, but have a family to haul around?
Then you’re in the bull’s-eye of Dodge’s target market for its stock-car-wannabe Charger. If you have the disposable income to add a Hemi, step on up to the Charger SRT8.
This is the top-line Charger, a muscle sedan, which means it has four doors so a family of four can travel in comfort, with attitude. Proving as much, the test car was a bright orangish-red 2010 model. The 2011 Charger is due out before year’s end and will get somewhat better gas mileage to avoid a gas guzzler tax, plus feature a rear taillight system that spreads across the back to help distinguish it from the previous model.
The tested SRT8 sets itself apart with an air scoop on the hood to rekindle dreams of late ’60s and early ’70s hot rods. That, plus the rumble of this massive 6.1-liter Hemi V8, makes you feel like donning sunglasses and cowboy hat to get the full Richard Petty effect.
This V8 pumps out an impressive 425 horsepower and will rocket you up to highway speeds with the feel of a stock car accelerating onto the main straightaway at Talladega. It’s aggressive and sounds that way. But the V8 meshes well with a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic, which tames its feel a bit.
My only concern is that the 4,160-pound Charger feels extremely heavy. You really have to hit the accelerator to get the car to engage and move. Back out of the driveway, and you can’t just lightly lay your foot on the accelerator to get going. You need to push down hard to get the rear-drive Charger moving. The same is true when turning at a stoplight. The car does not jump back up to speed unless you mash the gas pedal.
Handling, though, is good. The Charger steers well with a sporty feel, thanks to sport-tuned steering. There’s no lean in corners with the performance-tuned independent suspension front and rear doing a nice job. The car’s 20-inch Goodyear performance tires give it plenty of grip. Ride is well controlled with the 120-inch wheelbase spreading out the bumps on nasty roads.
Braking is excellent with large four-wheel disc brakes, plus traction and stability control.
Low gas mileage
The price you pay, other than the $38,180 starting price, is in gas consumption.
The EPA rates this at 13 mpg city and 19 highway. I managed 16.7 mpg, a bit shy of what the trip computer was estimating. The V8 did not require premium fuel, a slight benefit as you fill up twice a week. However, you do have to pay a $1,700 gas guzzler tax.
The Charger’s interior is comfortable and roomy, certainly aimed at carrying four adults comfortably. I like the racy leather/cloth seats with their red stitching. They looked good, with leather outer surfaces and black cloth cushions, but the seats also were well shaped to keep you in place if you’re pushing the car hard into corners. Side bolsters on the front seats’ top and bottom cushions were well shaped, too.
The Dodge has power seats, which are easy to adjust for comfort. The car has two-speed heat settings for the front seats, a bonus in Wisconsin.
While the dash is well laid out and easy to see and read, the textured plastic it was clad in looks cheap. The four round silver-faced gauges are fine and everything is easy to get at.
I like the big climate control knobs, and the steering wheel is tilt and telescope, a must in cars of this price. The Dodge also comes with power-adjusted pedals to help drivers get comfortable behind the four-spoke wheel.
While a standard radio and controls would be fine, the test car added all sorts of electronic extras. One package upgrades the stereo to a 322-watt Kicker amp with big subwoofer, plus some voice command options and 13 speakers. That pushes your price up $1,900, while another package adds $985 for GPS and satellite radio.
The final add-on was the red paint job for $295. With a $750 delivery charge, all of that brings the SRT8 to $43,800, a hefty price tag if you consider a Mustang GT with a 412-horsepower V8 is just $30,000 and feels lighter and quicker. At $40 grand, I’d expect full leather seats and some safety extras, like blind-spot warning or a rear-view camera.
What you are getting for that dough is a full-size muscle sedan with room for four and a 16 cubic foot trunk with fold down seats for a lot of cargo room.
You don’t have to go hog wild with an SRT8. A base Charger is a more realistic $24,590, but only comes with a 178-horsepower 2.7-liter V6. Moving up to the 3.5 rear-wheel drive model at $25,445 gets you a solid 3.5-liter 250-horsepower V6. That’s the way most folks will go. There’s also an R/T rear-wheel drive model at $32,345, and it uses a strong 5.7-liter 368-horsepower V8.
Finally, the new Charger is due out soon. So if you’re leaning toward a muscle car for the family, you may want to wait until you can see the 2011. It promises a base 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that is powerful, but more fuel-efficient.