The traditional four-door sedan long ago fell out of favor as America's family car. Minivans, crossovers, and crew-cab trucks have become the default choice for anyone who has kids in tow. Bucking that trend, copy editor Rusty Blackwell picked our Dodge Charger for a long weekend road trip with his wife and two daughters in early June. With no shortage of crossovers to choose from, Blackwell thought the big sedan was his best bet among our Four Seasons offerings for hauling his brood and their baggage. Having championed the Charger to an All-Star Award last fall, he wasn't let down by his selection.
Choose looking cool or riding comfortably. This car can't do both.
"The huge trunk easily swallowed our gear with room to spare, even though we packed pretty heavily, including formal wear, jackets, extra changes of clothes for the kids, toys, an umbrella stroller, and a portable kid potty (clean and unused)," he said. "Generous floor space in the back seats made important things like snacks, blankies, and kid books easily accessible while the car was in motion."
Blackwell's destination was faraway Escanaba, Michigan, which requires a long interstate slog followed by a several hours of heavily patrolled, 55-mph two-lanes in the Upper Peninsula. "I used cruise control for much of the 950-or-so-mile trip and I agree with all the good things that people have said about the adaptive cruise control: it closes gaps quickly and it follows at a reasonable distance. I was annoyed, however, that there isn't a visual indicator when the Charger has slowed to match the speed of a vehicle ahead of you, a la Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, and others," he noted.
More significantly, Blackwell questioned the eight-speed automatic's performance with cruise control active. "On northern Michigan's steep highway hills, downshifts into seventh gear were often noticeably rough and caused a bit of head bob." While shift quality wasn't quite up to par, the eight-speed certainly deserves some kudos for the fuel economy Blackwell extracted from this 292-hp, 4100-pound car. While driving a fairly consistent 7 mph over the speed limit, he saw an indicated 28.6 mpg in 1031 miles of driving. "In the scheme of things, my complaints are pretty minor. The Charger is very well-suited for a family of four's Great American Weekend Road Trip," he concluded.
Closer to home, our Charger faced two mechanical issues in June. Previously, several editors bemoaned our Charger's ride quality with its heavy 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires. As Michigan's construction season ramped up, we experienced a different downside to ordering the Blacktop package -- a bent wheel. "It's highly annoying to get into a new car with a shimmy going down perfectly smooth pavement," griped senior web editor Phil Floraday, who was at wits' end with the 20-inch wheels. "Choose looking cool or riding comfortably," he advised. "This car can't do both."
Rather than replace the wheel at a cost of $375 plus tax and installation, we called a repair service to fix the wheel for $130. Our decision didn't just save money, it also saved time. Rather than dropping the car at a shop, Alloy Wheel Repair Specialists came to our office and performed the work on-site. The technician measured the wheel at 0.125 inch out of round and massaged the bent section to within 0.016 inch of true. Early impressions suggest that we made the right decision. From the driver's seat, the nasty wobble has completely disappeared.
Despite our best efforts with the bent rim, we couldn't avoid the dealership in June. Late in the month, the airbag service light came on and intermittently flickered on and off for a couple days. A trip to the service department revealed corrosion on a connector, which was cleaned under warranty. The Charger returned to our fleet later that day and has been happily accumulating miles since, sans airbag light.