New 8-speed helps Dodge Charger go the distance
by Ken Glassman
Imagine our disappointment when a Charger SXT was delivered for us to test, rather than the SRT8 we were expecting. Instead of 470 rip-snorting horsepower and a massive dose of torque from a simply huge 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine, we were left to settle with the base 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. In fact, we were so bummed, we didn’t even drive it for two days.
Eventually I did, and at home neighbors began dropping by to ogle the car. And these are the same folks who are used to seeing all kinds of new cars in my driveway. Friends who stopped by didn’t want to come in the house until they’d spend 15 minutes circling the Charger and gushing over the styling.
Unlike the Challenger, this is no retro homage, but rather an update of the basic aggressive shape of the previous model. And it really works.
The first thing you notice is the pronounced shark nose front snout, with the four quadrant blacked-out grill. The lower front fascia with integrated fog lights and wide air duct completes the aggressive front-end styling. Picking up on the shark theme are the gill-like sculpted character lines that run from the front doors to the rear wheels. And that theme is also evident on top of the dual scalloped aluminum hood. The tapered silhouette roofline integrates nicely to the rear deck ending with an aggressive rear deck spoiler. The “racetrack” taillamp design incorporates 164 LED lights. Dual trapezoidal chrome exhaust tips peek menacingly out from the lower rear fascia. And the optional 20-inch wheels fill out the wheel wells like Kim Kardashian fills out a pair of yoga pants.
Twenty-five years from now, when people go to collector car auctions, they won’t be bidding on Camrys, Accords and Passats. But they will have their checkbooks out for this car.
CAPABLE V6 NOW FRUGAL TOO
We were impressed with the styling, but it wasn’t until we got behind the wheel that we became genuinely enamored. The Pentastar V6 is an outstanding powerplant. No it’s not the Hemi fire breather, but with 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque there is plenty of get-up-and-go available at your right foot. You can still chirp the tires when leaving a stop light and have plenty of throttle response when powering out of a corner on your favorite set of twisties. There’s even a nice exhaust note, more reminiscent of a V8 than V6 when you press down hard on the “go” pedal.
Thankfully, however, it’s definitely not like a V8 in the fuel economy department with a 19-mpg city and 31-mpg highway rating; both figures confirmed by the cars MPG computer.
Some of the credit for the excellent gas mileage and performance goes to Dodge’s new 8-Speed transmission. It allows for excellent off the line power, while delivering the gas mileage of a much smaller less powerful car. The shifts are smooth, and while in normal D-mode the transmission will try to up-shift quickly for mileage purposes. In Sport mode you’ll see higher rpm before up-shifts for more spirited motoring. We used the paddle shifters a lot, and found it programmed for quick and immediate up and down shifts, and of course appreciated the ability to hold a particular gear when desired.
One thing we don’t like about the transmission is the electronic joystick shift lever that requires the driver to push a button while shifting into Drive or Reverse. It seems a bit too finicky, and we often had to really hunt and peck before getting the Charger into the proper gear.
A JOY TO DRIVE: FAST OR SLOW
The Charger SXT Plus weighs in at nearly two tons, and it feels like it – but in a good way. It is solid as a bank vault cruising down the road, but it handles like a car weighing much less - perhaps in part due to the performance suspension that comes with the Rally Appearance package. That package includes the aforementioned 20-inch wheels and paddle shifters, amongst other goodies.
It corners flat with little body lean, and it almost feels tossable in side-to-side transitions. And being rear wheel drive, it allows for some entertaining driver-induced oversteer when the stability control is turned off. It’s a fun car to drive aggressively and still offers the excellent ride quality that is easy to live with every day, in all driving conditions.