– Aggressive styling
– Cabin space and quality
– Good ride and handling
– Weak low-end power
– Some multimedia quirks
– Bit limited rear visibility
The Dodge Charger has always been a cool car. The original was cool. The reborn sedan was cool too. But the new-for-2011 one, a heavily-updated version of the outgoing model, is simply something else, moving beyond duking it out with other Americans and straight-up hitting the Europeans where it hurts.
The new Charger retains some of the previous model’s styling elements, mostly up front, but goes for a conservative side profile, while going flamboyant on the rear end, with its 164-LED tail lamps. Our tester is the V6-powered Charger SE, and it looks every bit as premium as the V8 models. This is a big car, so even the SE’s 18-inch alloys look a bit small.
While the flip-up door handles look cheap, they’re actually modern, with intelligent keyless entry offering access at a touch-and-pull. The cabin itself is thoroughly original, and while some may like the design and some may dislike it, the interior is undoubtedly trimmed in premium soft-touch materials more generously than in a pricier Audi A5 Sportback even, with a padded dash, upper door trim and even the centre console, going even further with real metal lining a big chunk of the dashboard. The doors and armrests were also lined with swaths of leatherette, although the seats themselves were cloth in our V6 tester. Build quality is very good, with only one or two panels looking like they’re out of line, well within Lexus standards.
The styling may be swoopy, but the Charger is still a large car, so there is no shortage of headroom or legroom, both front and back. The front seats are mildly bolstered, with only the driver’s one power-adjustable, and with a steering wheel that adjusts to an alarming degree, finding the best driving position is a piece of cake. The luggage boot is also sizeable, and the rear seatback folds down for more cargo-hauling capacity. 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 different-sized coins.
On the tech front, the Charger is the first Chrysler product to benefit from their new multimedia system, housed within a big 8.4-inch touchscreen display. With big icons and colourful graphics, it is easier to use than Ford’s SYNC, although we didn’t play with any voice commands. The Bluetooth phone, strong CD/MP3 stereo and navigation all worked well, although we noticed some minor issues. The USB port occasionally didn’t read our fancy “slim” flash drive, and the nav screen sometimes takes time to redraw the maps as the car moves along. 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, and a strong dual-zone a/c with rear vents. Higher trim levels get a powered passenger seat, leather and heated/cooled cup-holders.
The Charger SE is powered by a 3.6-litre “Pentastar” V6, good for 292 hp at 6350 rpm and 353 Nm of torque at 4800 rpm. The numbers are decent, but having to move a 1796-kilo full-size sedan with only a 5-speed automatic sending power to the rear wheels, we managed a 0-100 kph time of 8.2 seconds during our May test. We lay the blame on the tall gearing, seemingly intentional to improve fuel economy, and the slightly-delayed manual gear-changing isn’t very satisfying. But drag-run numbers don’t mean much, because while the Charger takes off at a leisurely pace, there seems to be an uncanny burst of power beyond 3000 rpm, so the car actually feels like a V8 on the highway! There is power where it counts, so overtaking is an effortless affair, and the engine is never stressed. The fuel consumption is remarkable too, as we got 10.6 litres/100 km with a fair bit of highway driving. Maybe that tall gearing has its benefits after all.
Chrysler has nailed the ride and handling balance too. With meaty 235/55 tyres on 18-inchers, the ride quality is smooth with a tinge of firmness on certain jittery surfaces, and no floatiness over bumps and dips on the road. More surprising is the Lexus-rivalling levels of quietness at highway speeds. Of course, it takes some care slipping into a parking space due to relatively-limited rearward visibility, but it’s handled with the help of a rear camera.
Handling is very good too. Body roll is never prominent, and whatever roll shows up is quickly quelled as soon as the road becomes straight. The steering is slightly firm and fairly direct, but offers limited feel. The ABS-assisted disc brakes do their job pretty decently. All of it is about as much as you’d expect from a big Mercedes-Benz sedan, and from what we gather, Chrysler has reserved the real sporting balls for the R/T model.
By now, you may have noticed the amount of name-dropping we’ve done, mentioning Audi, Lexus and Mercedes in, of all things, a Dodge review. But that really is how good this car has become. Looking beyond performance figures, if all you need is an entertaining, entry-level luxury sedan, the Charger SE can give many luxury brands a run for their money.
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