As associate editor David Zenlea parked our Charger on the streets of southern Florida, part of a 3000-mile trip that would take nine days, he felt out of place. Well, he himself didn't feel out of place -- a short Jewish man hardly stands out in southern Florida -- but he felt that the Charger was. Here's a very big, very brash, very black sedan wading in a pool of brightly colored, high-dollar imports. "People acted as if they had been walking along the beach on a hot day and stumbled upon a fat north woods hick wearing a flannel shirt and snow boots," he says. "And you know what? I loved it."
Over its year with us, the Charger always commanded attention. It never embarrassed and rarely disappointed. We agreed to make the Charger a 2012 All-Star (if only to get contributor Ezra Dyer to give up on his doomed campaign for it to be Automobile of the Year), and twelve months with the Dodge show that we made a solid choice. Not to say that we don't shrug our shoulders at a few things, one of which is the car's size.
During his trip, Zenlea noted, "in parking lots, on crowded highways, in garages -- basically anywhere you encounter other cars -- the Charger feels huge," a sentiment that was expressed throughout our Four Seasons test. Managing editor Amy Skogstrom almost couldn't fit the rear-wheel-drive Dodge in her garage. "There's no hiding the fact that it's a big car," she said, "but like a big-boned person, it carries its size and weight pretty well."
The ride and handling characteristics of our Charger, even with its 20-inch wheels on unforgiving Michigan roads, were admirable. Baby Boomers who grew up with floaty, big-boat American sedans might not believe that a car of this size with a firm ride and direct steering could come from Dodge.
And even though size was an issue from time to time, it did afford us a luxury -- interior space. With the rear seats folded down, the Charger could gobble up just about anything. A stop to see his family before heading back north reminded Zenlea of just how much space the Charger had. "There was plenty of room for my bike, my bags, a cooler full of food, and about a dozen other nick-nacks that my mom 'had' to give me for my ride home."
Heading toward the Mason-Dixon line, Zenlea saw an average indicated fuel economy of 27 mpg. "The trade off for that efficiency? Very little. The eight-speed transmission does like to find those higher gears, but it snaps down quickly when you step on the accelerator. And I think the V-6 has enough power to convince the layman that it's the V-8 he thinks he wants in his Charger." His feelings are echoed by east coast bureau chief Jamie Kitman: "The V-6 goes about its business with surprisingly smooth ease. Significant credit must also be given the 8-speed automatic gearbox, which allows instant access to horsepower eight different ways, while guzzling gasoline at a surprisingly sober pace."
The Charger did not exceed expectations during its time with us; it simply met then, which is all we ask of an All Star. We'll wrap up our yearlong experience with the Charger in the coming weeks.