During our Dodge Charger's first month, we groused about the distracting, irritating light that radiates from the transmission gear selector. An inch of electrical tape has solved that the problem (easily, if not elegantly), and our staffers have moved on. But they haven't moved far, as the conversation this month was dominated by the eight-speed automatic transmission.
"The V-6 makes no shortage of power, and it's sufficiently refined," observed senior editor Jason Cammisa. "It doesn't, however, make much in the way of torque below 3500 rpm, but apparently the engineers who chose the final drive gearing weren't aware of this. Even on a brake-torque launch, the Charger slurs off the line without even the threat of wheelspin. A four-cylinder Toyota Camry would destroy it off the line."
Um, not exactly, Jason. Our test data has the Charger 0.2 second quicker to 30 mph than a four-cylinder Camry. Hyperbole aside, such a slim victory by a 292-hp Charger over a 178-hp Camry does, however, lends credence to Cammisa's argument.
His rant continued: "Clearly, fuel economy was the one and only goal here-not shift quality or acceleration and certainly not sportiness. First gear is good for 41 mph, second gets you 67 mph, and third will haul this Charger to 100 mph! So basically, Chrysler slapped a final drive onto this thing that slices the American driving pie into three pieces, and the next five gears are chasing EPA numbers. Sure, it's nice to have a top gear so tall that the engine is turning a quiet 1650 rpm at 80 mph--but not when any additional forward progress requires a violent prod of the throttle."
It's tough for our staffers to evaluate the Charger's transmission without comparing it to what you find in BMWs and Audis. Granted, those cars can cost some $20,000 more, but they use the same transmission hardware and yet have noticeably different shift strategies and shift feel. The variation is due to the fact that each company uses its own software calibration.
"The shifts from the ZF eight-speed aren't as crisp or quick as those from the same gearbox in a German luxury car, but they're much better timed and more precise than what you got with the old five-speed," read one comment. "As our long-term Jeep Grand Cherokee reminded us, the five-speed didn't have the ratio spread needed to cover the full range of highway passing maneuvers. This new transmission certainly addresses that."
"Slow, hesitant, and abrupt--the old five-speed automatic was at least a generation behind what competitors offered," said another driver. "This new transmission won't leapfrog the six-speed automatics that are the current segment standard, but it's definitely on par with them."
Associate web editor Jake Holmes called attention to the optional $1495 Blacktop Package and its effect on off-the-line performance. "I wonder how much the super-tall gearing was exacerbated by our choice of 20-inch wheels, rather than 17- or 18-inch units," he wrote in the Charger's logbook. "While first-gear acceleration isn't great, performance at merging/highway speeds is excellent," he noted. "The Pentastar engine really sounds nice when you're gunning it down an on-ramp, and the car picks up speed easily at 70 mph."