Buying a new car -- like lying to your mother, getting a tattoo, or tying the knot -- is difficult to undo. Once you've signed on the dotted line and accepted the keys, you're stuck with your choice -- or forced to swallow a big financial loss if you decide to sell it or trade it in. One of the functions of an Automobile Magazine Four Seasons test is to explore the waters before you commit to years of monthly payments. So what are we second-guessing with our long-term Dodge Charger? Here's senior editor Joe Lorio, who recently took his first extended drive in our Four Seasons car and found a very different experience from his previous stint in Dodge's full-size sedan.
"Unfortunately, our Four Seasons Charger SXT didn't impress me nearly as much as the Charger R/T I drove in New York a few months ago -- which I really liked a lot," he lamented. "As much as a big, black Dodge sedan may be cool in an old-school sort of way, ordering the Blacktop Package was definitely a mistake, because the performance suspension and 20-inch wheels really ruin the ride quality. That's a shame, because the all-wheel-drive Charger R/T rides so well."
He's not alone in his opinion. "The ride is choppy to the point of being uncomfortable," said associate web editor Donny Nordlicht. Those sentiments echoed the comments of senior editor Jason Cammisa some months earlier.
We ordered our Charger with the 292-hp V-6, in acknowledgement of the downsizing fever that has gripped both automakers and buyers alike. We were also eager to try Chrysler's new eight-speed automatic transmission, which is only available with the V-6. That combo's highway fuel economy rating of 31 mpg, however, hasn't kept us from yearning for the thirstier, more muscular V-8. "The Pentastar V-6 doesn't have the V-8's swell rumble, but its output is certainly adequate, and the additional ratios supplied by the eight-speed automatic should have made this an excellent alternative," Lorio explained. "But as Cammisa has pointed out, the spacing of the ratios neuters the engine's response unless you really boot the throttle."
"The Charger isn't particularly quick with a V-6," said senior web editor Phil Floraday, who also noted that the Hemi V-8 is Dodge's unique offering in the mainstream, large-car segment. "If I were buying a Charger, I'd go all in and opt for at least an R/T. The fuel economy drops, but that's not such a loss in a car this big."
The Charger's forward collision warning system has also drawn the ire of several drivers. Last month, our dealer replaced the radar module under warranty when neither the adaptive cruise control nor the forward collision warning could be activated. Both systems now work as they're supposed to, but the collision warning system is still prone to signaling false alarms, bleeping and flashing warnings when it picks up a stationary object in a parking garage or mistakes a big dip in the road for an imminent crash. "This fussy system, apparently, is another option to avoid," warned one staffer.
While none of our drivers would miss the forward collision warning system, it's part of a $925 package that includes adaptive cruise control and a heated steering wheel -- and the prospect of losing those options would cause some staffers to think twice before dismissing the whole lot. "This is the best adaptive cruise control in the business," wrote one commenter. "I'm consistently surprised by how eagerly the Dodge returns to its set speed after dawdling behind slow-moving traffic for a while. As soon as you activate the turn signal to indicate a lane change, the Charger begins accelerating -- and at a much quicker pace than many other cars."
Our staff has mixed opinions on adaptive cruise control in principle, but there's no denying that Dodge's system is better than what several luxury automakers sell for twice the price. Dodge achieves this with three key attributes: its system is cheap, responsive, and defeatable. Those who prefer conventional cruise control can deactivate the adaptive-speed function with a button on the steering wheel. That same solution may be the answer to our forward collision warning woes. The system can be turned off via the infotainment touch screen and will remain off even when the car is shut down and restarted.
Our preferences for a Charger with a V-8 engine, a more forgiving suspension, and a smarter collision-warning system shouldn't be mistaken for a wholesale change of heart. The Charger is still stylish, spacious, and comfortable vehicle that won an All-Star award by offering a unique personality in a sea of similar cars. Lorio keeps things in perspective: "This definitely isn't the way I'd have my Charger, but it doesn't make me like the one I previously drove any less."