Amidst the Chrysler Group’s tired and dated 2010 portfolio, the Dodge Charger was easily one of the most compelling cars. Its muscular styling and rear-wheel-drive configuration made for a unique offering in the large car segment. So it’s interesting that while most of the lineup is getting mere updates, the 2011 Dodge Charger is being billed as an all-new car.
From the street, a more stylized, graphic presentation sets the 2011 Charger apart from the outgoing car. Inspiration comes from the second-generation, 1968–70 Dodge Charger, drawing cues such as the twin hood scallops. That motif is repeated with C-shaped side scallops, which were seen previously on the 1999 concept car. The new face features the revised corporate grille, but the more dramatic change is in back, where there’s a new full-width taillamp treatment, lit by a total of 168 LEDs. While it at times feels too retro and too forced in the context of the rest of the car, it unquestionably makes a strong statement when illuminated at night. Just as significant as the appearance change, though, is the improvement in visibility, achieved thanks to a more angled windshield, thinner pillars, and taller side glass.
A fresh-start interior
Cheap and ugly interiors were a hallmark of Chrysler Group products over the past five years, as company executives, designers, and engineers will readily admit. So, significantly upgraded interiors have been and will continue to be a running theme for the 16 new and refreshed products that Chrysler will deliver in the next two years. In the Charger, that means a new steering wheel, a single-piece dashboard, softer armrests, and new materials. Put simply, the interior now delivers exactly what the Charger should have offered five years ago. The fits are excellent, the materials are nice, and the subdued look is attractive.
In vehicles with the optional 8.4-inch touch screen, physical controls are kept to a minimum with just two knobs for audio adjustment and a handful of buttons and a single dial to adjust the climate control. The rest of the systems then rely heavily on the touch screen, which is nicely organized with large icons and logical menu structures. The available navigation software comes from Garmin, and it will be immediately familiar to anyone who has ever used one of the company’s aftermarket nav units. It’s a smart move on Chrysler’s part to use such a familiar interface, but the graphics look cartoonish, as they’ve simply been scaled up from Garmin’s much smaller displays. A 4.3-inch touch screen without navigation functionality is standard equipment.
Much-needed new six, much-loved old eight
Chrysler’s new six-cylinder steps in for both the 3.5-liter and 2.7-liter V-6 engines available in last year’s car. The 3.6-liter V-6 delivers a 42-hp increase over the 3.5-liter, making 292 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It’s a much-needed modernization of Chrysler’s six-cylinder, with a refined demeanor, competitive output, and slight fuel economy gains.
As good as the V-6 is, we’re still fans of the Charger R/T’s V-8, even if it is the same 5.7-liter Hemi from last year. Now making an additional 2 hp for a total of 370 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque, the V-8 delivers thrust from down low, making up for any shortcomings in the transmission (more on that in a moment). The Hemi continues to use cylinder deactivation during low-load cruising, but Dodge has renamed it from Multi-Displacement System to Fuel Saving Technology. (EPA fuel economy numbers for either engine haven’t been released yet.)
Rear-wheel-drive remains standard with either engine, while all-wheel-drive can be had on eight-cylinder cars. Both engines are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, and it’s undoubtedly the Charger’s weakest asset. It is slow, abrupt on aggressive downshifts, and sometimes unpredictable in how it responds to throttle inputs. In manual mode, it’s often unresponsive, not to mention that the tap-left-to-downshift, tap-right-to-upshift layout is both unintuitive and uninviting. Chrysler has recently announced a plan to begin producing eight-speed automatic transmissions designed by German supplier ZF, and while that gearbox isn’t confirmed for the Charger, it would be an obvious application. It can’t arrive soon enough.
A sporting sedan
With new spring and damper rates and new bushings throughout the suspension, the Charger’s ride has settled down while the handling benefits from changes like adding negative camber front and rear. The net effect is that Dodge engineers have made meaningful handling improvements without compromising passenger comfort. Its large size and heavy curb weight (4253 pounds with a V-8) keep the Charger from claiming a “sport sedan” label outright, but the car is far sportier than anything else offered in the segment. The new leather-wrapped, smaller-diameter steering wheel is attached to new hardware. The power steering pump is now electrically driven for fuel economy benefits, but the driver reaps his rewards from the faster steering rack. In all, it provides positive on-center response with the consistent effort that hydraulic steering typically offers.
A Super Track Pack adds larger front and rear anti-roll bars, a lower rear axle ratio, Goodyear Eagle F1 tires, upgraded shocks, and three-mode stability control. Only in cars with the Super Track Pack can stability control be fully turned off.
No more apologies
With the 2011 updates, Dodge has polished the Charger that can compete on far more than the fact that it’s a rare rear-wheel-drive car in a front-wheel-drive segment. The interior refinements and ride improvements allow the Charger to easily stand up to the Chevrolet Impala and Ford Taurus. While it still hits hard with emotional appeal and the handling benefits of rear-wheel-drive, the Charger no longer needs to apologize for massive shortcomings. Pricing for the 2011 Charger starts at $25,995 with V-8 models starting at $30,995.