I still clearly remember the day in December 2008 that I first saw the vehicle that would be the 2011 Dodge Charger. Chrysler was on the verge of closing its doors for good and invited a small group of journalists and analysts to take a highly look at what products would be coming to market if the company survived. The next Jeep Grand Cherokee, Dodge Durango, and a heavy-duty Ram pickup were shown and met with quiet approval from the group. But the Charger caused people to stop and drool. We say that Chrysler not only could differentiate the Charger from the 300 (also shown that day), but also could put together a class-leading interior. Thankfully the production car lives up to the images that were burned into my mind that day in 2008.
Driving the Charger home over some seriously degraded two-lane roads revealed a well-tuned suspension that inspired lots of confidence. I felt the multiple imperfections, but the impacts were never harsh and I always felt in control of the vehicle. The Charger still feels big from behind the wheel, but there’s something that just feels right about hustling a big American sedan with a big V-8 down some empty country roads. Although the five-speed automatic transmission is about to be replaced by an eight-speed unit, its calibration is much better than what I’ve experienced in other new Chrysler products this year. Hopefully the new eight-speed comes to market with even better calibration and also improves fuel economy by a few mpg.
The Dodge Charger’s interior is now class-leading. There’s a touch-screen infotainment system supplemented with just enough physical knobs and buttons to make it easy to use without taking your eyes off the road. Imagine that, real knobs for volume and tuning functions and buttons that easily adjust the temperature! All of this can also be accomplished by interacting with the touch-screen, but you’re never forced to use new technology to address vital functions like volume or temperature unlike the MyFord Touch system that Ford is pushing on consumers these days.
Thankfully the plug wasn’t pulled on Chrysler in 2008 and I sincerely hope all of the people who were working on this car before Fiat took control of Chrysler are being congratulated right now because they’ve created the best American sedan on the market.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
I, too, was in the Chrysler Design Dome in December 2008 when the beleaguered automaker unveiled the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 to a skeptical media corps. I returned to the Automobile Magazine editorial offices that day and declared to my colleagues that the two big American sedans I had seen were “world-class designs that could only have been created in Detroit.” I said that it would be a crying shame if they weren’t built, and a cruel irony, because as I said then and continue to believe now, there isn’t another automaker in the world that can design a mass-market sedan as well as Chrysler can. Note my qualifier: “mass-market.” Sure, Audi and Maserati and others makes beautiful sedans, but they’re premium products, not accessible to everyday folks. The Dodge Charger, to my eyes, looks exactly right. It’s got American swagger, sure, but it’s also got finesse, style, and elegance. I remembered all this when I parked the Charger in front of my house, stepped back, and had a good look at it. Nice.
As Phil describes, it’s an evocative American driving experience to be behind the wheel of a handsome, rear-wheel-drive American sedan with a big V-8 under the hood, and indeed I enjoyed the big 5.7-liter Hemi in this R/T. The truth is, most Charger buyers will get Chrysler’s new Pentastar V-6, currently paired with the five-speed automatic but available this fall with a new, eight-speed transmission from ZF, the big German transmission specialist. I don’t think the eight-speed will be offered with the Hemi V-8, only with the V-6. That combination, one would hope, should allow the Charger to achieve more than 25 mpg on the highway. We shall see.
Like Phil, I also really like Dodge’s new center stack design, which does a brilliant job of marrying new technology with the old technology that we all still like and want, like rotating knobs to tune the radio. The touch-screen interface here is intuitive and delightful rather than frustrating and annoying.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I know it’s more of a heavy, thorough face-lift than a ground-up all-new model, but the 2011 Charger is a damn nice car that feels a lot different — and markedly better — than the previous Charger, which was a very, very good car in its own right. Instead of reinventing components that didn’t evoke the ire of critics and owners, Chrysler engineers instead focused on adding more power, enhancing refinement, and giving the car basically an all-new but still very recognizable look inside and out.
It’s a good look, too. I love the taillights and the side profile, and I think the new Charger looks very good in base form — better than before — although I’d definitely pay more for the optional deck-lid spoiler that our test car lacked but rear-wheel-drive R/Ts get standard. I’m not a huge fan of the new car’s out-jutting center snout, but I’ll probably get used to it, and it’s not really noticeable unless you’re looking at the front end up close from certain angles. I am disappointed that Chrysler stylists didn’t take this opportunity to hide the Charger’s rear door handles, a la the Acura ZDX and many Alfa Romeos. I know consumers wouldn’t buy a two-door Charger today, but it couldn’t hurt to help streamline that side profile and would even more strongly evoke the classic 1968-70 Charger.
I agree with Phil and Joe regarding how well this car drives. The outgoing Charger drove well, too, but the new version is noticeably improved, with better steering feel and an even smoother ride. On a few occasions during my weekend with the car, however, I heard a bit too much bump-incited road noise coming into the cabin, particularly at around-town speeds. After a spirited drive home on Friday, I was surprised to discover that this Charger was all-wheel drive, as I was able to get its tires to squeal a bit on demand. But the all-wheel drive came in handy on my Monday morning commute, when I tackled a late-April snowstorm with no stress whatsoever.
Speaking of weather, the HVAC system seemed poorly calibrated in our test car. I usually like the cabin temperature set around 68 or 69 degrees, but I had to set the Charger’s at 61 or 62 degrees to avoid sweating. Weird. Other comments about the interior: The pretty brown/tan leather doesn’t go all that well with the “redline” red exterior paint. Operation of the infotainment system is very intuitive, and there are real dials/buttons for the important stuff like audio volume, temperature, and defrosters, as Joe pointed out. As Eric Tingwall noted in his initial review of the ’11 Charger, it’s peculiar that a big chunk of the square screen is always taken up by the jump buttons along the bottom of the display — but that’s merely an aesthetic quibble, certainly not a functional complaint. Finally, the Charger’s trunk is huge — I was easily able to load a large amount of recyclables that had been overtaken a corner of my garage.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Around the time that Joe DeMatio and Phil Floraday were getting their previews of the next generation of Chrysler’s rwd sedans, I had a few similarly enlightening experiences. The first was in Dearborn, where Lincoln was touting its then new MKS sedan. As a demonstration of confidence, we were allowed to drive it back to back with a Chrysler 300C. Bad decision. Sure, the MKS had a nicer interior, but the big Chrysler so plainly trounced it in every dynamic sense that it was hard to look at the Lincoln the same way again.
All of this goes to say that the LX sedans already drove very well. They were let down only by their dime-store interiors. That issue has been resoundingly addressed with this makeover. The leather-swathed cabin in our Charger R/T – that would be real leather, not the taxi cab vinyl that Dodge used to dress its cars in – will stand up to comparison with any $40,000 sedan. I’m also impressed by the ergonomics. It would have been tempting for Dodge engineers to digitize everything simply to show that they could do it, but thankfully, they showed restraint. The touch screen cleans up the dash of secondary buttons and is intuitive to use, but doesn’t try to replace every single physical control.
The biggest interior improvement, though, is the steering wheel. The old car had a big, truck-like wheel that lent the Charger a bit more of an old-school Detroit flavor than it really needed. Now it’s much smaller, and takes advantage of the slightly quicker steering rack (16.5:1 versus 16.1:1 in the old all-wheel-drive model). Otherwise, the car feels pretty much the same, which is a good thing. The all-wheel-drive model we sampled has the softest suspension setting of any R/T model, with a small rear anti-roll bar and cushy damper settings, and yet it never betrays any sloppiness.
Of course, the main event here remains the Hemi V-8. With all due respect to the direct-injection/turbocharging revolution, there’s simply nothing that motivates a really big car like a really big engine. Even in all-wheel drive form, the Charger accelerates with giggle-inducing ferocity. It’s nice that an eight-speed automatic is on the way, but seriously, this engine and its 395 lb-ft of torque could probably get by on three gears.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
2011 Dodge Charger R/T Max – AWD
Base price (with destination): $33,145
Price as tested: $40,090
Advanced multistage front airbags
Reactive head restraints
Electronic stability control
All-speed traction control
Hill start assist
Rain brake support
Ready alert braking
Tire pressure monitoring display
Electronic vehicle info center w/ reconfigurable display
Remote start system
8-way power driver’s seat
Heated front seats
Automatic climate control
Universal garage door opener
Uconnect touch 8.4 w/ voice command and Bluetooth connectivity
Audio jack for mobile devices
Remote USB port
6 premium speakers
SIRIUS satellite radio w/ 1-yr subscription
Auto-dimming rearview mirror w/ microphone
Leather-wrapped shift knob
Tilt/telescoping steering column
Options on this vehicle:
Redline 3-coat pearl exterior paint — $995
29S Charger R/T Max — $5000
Adaptive speed control
Forward collision warning
Blind spot and cross path detection
Parksense rear park assist system w/ rear back up camera
8.4-in. touch-screen display
Garmin navigation system
9-amplified speakers w/ subwoofer
Power adjustable pedals with memory
Memory for radio, driver seat and mirrors
Nappa leather seats
Heated second-row seats
Rain sensitive windshield wipers
Heated steering wheel
Heated/cooled front console cup holder
Auto adjust in reverse exterior mirrors
Power sunroof — $950
Key options not on vehicle:
Engine block heater — $50
Rear spoiler delete — -$100
15 / 23 / 18 mpg
Size: 5.7L V-8
Horsepower: 370 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 395 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm
5-speed automatic transmission
Curb weight: 4580 lb
Wheels/tires: 18×8-in. alloy
Front – P235/55R19 Rear – P235/55R19
What’s new? Redesigned for 2011