Gallant Ride: New Dodge Charger prances onto the jousting field
KEVIN A. WILSON
Published Date: 1/24/05
2006 DODGE CHARGER
ON SALE: Spring
BASE PRICE: $26,000 (est.)
POWERTRAIN: 3.5-liter, 250-hp, 250-lb-ft V6; rwd, four-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT: 3800 lbs (est.)
0 to 60 MPH: 7.5 seconds (est.)
There’s already plentyof buzz about the 2006 Dodge Charger, now being revealed to the public at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. While Chrysler would probably welcome a debate about its love-it or leave-it styling, or even about whether America needs another big rear-drive sedan with a powerful V8, most of the talk—still—is likely to center on the name. Particularly on the use of the name on a four-door sedan, even if it is a car destined to carry the Dodge badge into battle on the NASCAR circuit.
Critics of the new Dodge Charger sedan, who say it should be a two-door coupe evocative of the original 1960s models, have at least part of their story all wrong, says Chrysler design chief Trevor Creed.
“We didn’t set out to revive an old model,” he says. Instead, the company designed a Dodge sedan companion to the Magnum wagon, a parallel to the Chrysler brand’s 300C, and “the Charger name is the one that tested best in consumer clinics.
“We have two two-door coupes in our range right now—they’re nice cars, recent designs, but just dead in the marketplace,” noted Creed. So no, he says, no one ever intended to build a two-door Charger.
In Creed’s version of events, an effort to create a revived or retro Charger didn’t fail—the effort to create a new sedan succeeded, and got an old name with a lot of baggage attached. Probably more baggage than the company intended. Certainly the resulting outcry when drawings of the four-door were revealed recently was greater than anticipated, to the point where Creed even advised the marketing campaign completely ignore all previous models named Charger. “I didn’t want any heritage references at all. This car really has nothing to do with those. It is what it is.”
The new Charger made its world debut at the 2005 Detroit auto show.
The name has too much value to be ignored, though, particularly once the car gets to the races. And Chrysler surely can’t sit silent while the population of original Charger adherents is so vocal. Even if, as public relations chief Jason Vines has it, “These are people who are still arguing whether the ’67 or the ’68 is the best Charger. That’s nice, we’re glad any time people are passionate about our cars. But we have to sell cars in the 21st century, and two-doors are nowhere in sales. The bottom line? If you want a 1969 Charger, they’re out there in the marketplace. Go buy one.”
We’re just guessing, but we think this means you can kiss goodbye those dreams of a Bullitt special-edition Charger to go with your Mustang from a couple of years ago.
There’s certainly a core of truth to Creed’s story, but as spin jobs go, it would probably carry more credibility if Chrysler hadn’t been showing Charger-like prototypes and doing nothing to quiet the buzz for the past six years. The most popular was the 1999 concept, which looked like a coupe but had four doors (the back two didn’t have exterior handles).
The production design, by the team of Ralph Gilles, Jeff Gale and Mark Hall, is built on the LX platform that underpins the 300 and the Magnum. The design is all fresh, though— only the windshield is shared with the 300. Chrysler is calling it “modern coupe styling with four-door function,” and the way the rear roofline and quarter-panels are designed certainly treats the rear-door cut as a secondary element. But the upright Charger doesn’t look like a coupe; not nearly so much as the Mercedes-Benz CLS500 does.
On the other hand, that means the seating capacity and interior measurements are virtually identical to the spacious 300 sedan’s, and there is even more window area in the Dodge’s doghouse, countering one complaint about the Magnum and 300. Mechanically, it’s just like those cars, complete with the “multiple displacement” Hemi that shuts off cylinders to conserve fuel.
The major differences from 300/Magnum worth noting have to do with what you can’t get on a Charger: the 2.7-liter V6 or all-wheel drive. The smaller motor might be offered to fleet customers later, but the base engine for the Charger’s debut is the HO 3.5-liter, 250-hp V6, which means the base price might be a little higher than some anticipated. Still, a 340-hp Hemi is likely to come in under $30,000 when it arrives this summer, which makes it a lot of car for the money.
As for all-wheel drive: The hardware is there, and Dodge can respond if demand rises, but the take rate on early awd Magnums has been low. Customers are getting the message that with modern electronic traction control, stability control and the proper tires, rear-drive cars are much more manageable in bad weather than ever before. For now, the marketers determined that those interested in awd are probably also more likely to buy the Magnum, which has other SUV-like attributes, including not only the liftgate but a styling job more like that of a Durango than of the new Charger.
Dodge will offer three sus-pension tuning packages. Base is the Touring Package with 17-inch tires. Opt for a Hemi and you’ll also get 18-inch wheels and different damping, while a Performance Handling Group, a little more aggressive than the 300C suspension, offers firmer damping and enhanced steering response. The package includes wider 18-inch performance tires, a different steering gear and Nivomat self-leveling shocks. Pick the performance package, and you also get sportier front seats with perforated suede inserts offering more lateral grip. Craig Love, vice president of the rear-drive product team, says the package is aimed straight at the modern muscle-car enthusiast. Which brings us back to that heritage business.
As departures from Charger heritage go, the NASCAR-bound, rear-drive Hemi-equipped model that can dash to 60 mph in less than 6.0 seconds seems destined to find a place closer to Daisy Duke’s heart than did the 1981-87 Chargers, front-drive coupes that never topped 180 hp even when Shelby-tuned from the factory. After years of rejection, those cars have recently been admitted to the Dodge Charger Registry. The path to acceptability for the new one is surely shorter.
As for what else the future might hold—well, the SRT-8 package with the 6.1-liter Hemi is showing up this year on the 300 and Magnum, and it’s an easy transition to the Dodge sedan. That could go a long way toward building enthusiasm for a new generation of Hemi Chargers.