– Monstrously-good engine
– Cabin space and features
– Ride and handling
– Huge spare wheel in the boot
– Some road noise on highway
– Mirrors on the small side
Pop quiz, hot shot: You are a married middle-management type with a penchant for muscle cars, but you just had a kid, and your wife is nagging you to get something with two doors more than your Mustang. Your budget is only good enough for a stupid little BMW 320i, but you cannot bear to be emasculated like that. If that sounds like you, then you need a Dodge Charger SRT8.
The manly man’s full-size sedan already looks good in base V6 form, with its upright front-end and 164-LED tail lamps, so the SRT8 had a good base to build on. The top-dog Charger gets a more aggressive front clip with a blacked-out grille, a standard rear spoiler, a vented bonnet, round exhaust tips and huge 20-inch alloys. The car also rides lower to the ground, but otherwise it looks a whole lot like a standard Charger R/T in side profile.
You enter the brute by pulling the flip-up door handle that looks cheap, but it’s actually modern, with smart keyless entry that unlocks as the handle is pulled. The cabin itself is thoroughly original, and while the design generates love-hate reactions, the interior is undoubtedly trimmed in premium soft-touch materials more generously than any similarly-priced Audi, with a padded dash, upper door trim and even the centre console, going even further with metallic lining on a big chunk of the dashboard. The doors and armrests were also lined with swaths of leatherette, matching the chunky SRT-specific seats. Build quality in here is very good, with only one or two panels looking like they’re out of line, which you’ll be surprised to know is well within Lexus standards.
Being as big as a barge has its advantages, as there is no shortage of headroom or legroom, both front and back. The powered front seats are thickly-bolstered, with a very adjustable steering wheel, so getting comfortable is easy. Rear passengers will find their heads under the rear windscreen, but the glass is partially blacked out to compensate for that. And as if going overboard on practicality, there are four covered cup-holders, pockets and bottle-holders on all doors, power outlets for front as well as rear passengers, a cargo net, a cubby to hold your phone, hooks in the boot to hang small grocery bags on, and even separate holders for different-sized coins. The luggage boot is also sizeable, and the rear seatback folds down. But then there is a humongous full-size spare wheel awkwardly placed right in the middle of the boot floor, pretty much rendering it useless for airport runs, but you can still sort of place your groceries around it.
Chrysler’s big 8.4-inch touchscreen multimedia system is standard on the SRT8. With big icons and colourful graphics, it is easier to use than Ford’s SYNC, although we didn’t play with any voice commands, and it can be a bit hard to read in direct sunlight. The Bluetooth phone, strong CD/MP3 stereo and navigation all worked well. There’s even a screen setting to show acceleration, braking, g-force and other readings. Other features include a sunroof, cruise control, auto HID headlights, front and side-curtain airbags, tyre-pressure monitor, keyless starter button, rear camera with parking sensors, capless fuel filler, a strong dual-zone a/c with rear vents and covered heated/cooled cup-holders up front.
The 6.4-litre nuke under that functional vented hood is probably the biggest motor you can get in a car at this price. Pumping out 470 hp at 6000 rpm and 637 Nm of torque at 4300 rpm, we managed a 0-100 kph of 5.8 seconds, if only because it’s tough to balance the revs just enough on Dubai’s sandy road surfaces without launching into a full-on burnout. But that would be underselling this engine. If you want to overtake while already cruising at 80 kph, putting the pedal to the metal generates such a massive punch that your colleagues driving twice-as-expensive German metal will quake in their plimsolls, doubly frightened as your active exhaust lets out the most insane of growls on kickdown as you take off towards a theoretical 280 kph top speed – or maybe just 120 kph, because that’s the speed limit on most roads.
That’s the SRT8’s biggest problem really. It’s got way more power than you could ever use legally. You’re not even using an iota of the engine’s potential when driving on city streets, but at least that means you don’t really burn as much fuel as you’d think. We got 15.2 litres/100 km, which is no worse than many V6-powered 4x4s. And that’s with just a 5-speed automatic. It’s got paddle-shifters, which aren’t the quickest to respond, but then again, the gears are surprisingly well-selected in auto mode anyway.
The rear-wheel-drive Charger SRT8 handles pretty darn well, as long as you keep your inputs smooth. It’s a car that requires skill to drive fast around corners, rather than the soulless point-and-shoot character of, say, an understeery all-wheel-drive Audi S6. With the Charger, you get solid grip with a constant throttle around curves, or you can tighten the radius by just pumping the pedal to spin the rear wheels and swing out the tail by a bit. The well-weighted steering isn’t sports-car quick, but offers a bit of feedback, while the brake-pedal feel is beautifully linear, making it easy to modulate the strong Brembo brakes. You also get the occassional bits of tyre squeal now and then on take-off at junctions and u-turns, which keep things exciting even when all you’re doing is going down to the market. The tyres themselves are sized “only” 245/45, likely to keep costs down, but they’re more than adequate and there’s room for wider rubber when you replace them later. There’s still a multi-level stability control system too, so things never get out of control.
It’s amazing how well the Charger SRT8 manages to keep body-roll at bay, while also retaining a near luxury-grade ride. We remember back in 2006, when the SRTs were overly harsh, but these new ones come with adaptive dampers, so the electronic nannies smooth out most road imperfections, while giving the option to go even firmer at the touch of a button. Mind you, it still rides a bit on the firm side, but it’s no firmer than a BMW 5-Series. Wind noise is virtually non-existent at legal highway speeds, but the engine does 2000 rpm at 100 kph and the aggressive rubber means there’s noticeable tyre noise, although nowhere near levels that would be annoying. Other issues we came across were the too-small side mirrors and the too-low ground clearance, although both can be trouble-free with a bit of care while driving.
The Dodge Charger SRT8 is unbelievably good for the price it’s offered at. It’s the kind of car that some other carmakers would jack up the price on, and offer as a full-on luxury sports sedan. The only real flaw we found was the compromised boot, but if it’s the price to pay for affordable super-sedan performance, just suck it up and leave the fifth wheel at home when you need that space. Because the rest of the time, your jaw will be hurting from the wide grin on your face every second you’re driving.
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