Dodge brings back a famous model name from its muscle-car past for the 2006 model year. From 1966 to the early 1970s, Charger coupes were among the most potent — and most recognized — muscle machines on the market. Chargers equipped with the legendary Hemi V-8 engine really captured the imagination of countless young drivers.
The revived rear-wheel-drive Charger supposedly represents what the car would be if production had never stopped. But one basic element has changed: The 2006 version is a four-door sedan rather than a coupe. That Charger is related to the Chrysler 300 sedan and Dodge Magnum wagon.
Joe Eberhardt, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Dodge, described the Charger's bold, modern coupe styling at the 2005 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Claiming the new Charger isn't retro-styled, he said its "front end sneers at you as only a Dodge can." The lavish media presentation featured a NASCAR Charger and a special appearance by legendary driver Richard Petty.
Chargers come in base SE and performance-oriented R/T trim levels. An SXT package is also offered. Incorporating a fuel-saving Multi-Displacement System, the available 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 produces 340 horsepower, which is good for 0-to-60-mph acceleration in less than 6 seconds. A limited-production Daytona R/T that packs a Hemi V-8 with an extra 10 hp and other amenities debuts in summer 2005.
Dodge unveiled a high-performance SRT8 offshoot of the Charger at the 2005 New York Auto Show. With higher compression, its 6.1-liter V-8 develops 425 hp and 420 pounds-feet of torque, cutting the 0-to-60-mph time to about 5 seconds. Brembo brakes, a race-bred suspension and 20-inch aluminum wheels are installed. Its ride height is half an inch lower than the regular Charger's.
Charger sales began in spring 2005, with the SRT8 version scheduled for fall introduction. In February 2005, a Charger returned to the NASCAR circuit for the first time in three decades.
Dodge says the Charger combines modern coupe styling with four-door functionality. Mark Hall, senior design manager, said developers didn't want to create "a Magnum with a trunk" or a "retro car." Instead, they sought to "extract the essence" of the original Chargers.
The 2006 Charger has a bold crossbar front end and a short deck. There are minimal wheel flares, and a long bodyside crease meets another crease at the rear doors.
Dodge claims the car's front-to-rear weight distribution is close to 50/50. Three levels of suspension tuning — topped by a Road/Track Performance Group — are available. Standard tires are 17 inches in diameter, but 18-inch rubber is used on the R/T.
The Charger Daytona R/T will be finished in "Go ManGo" metallic orange — similar to the hue of the 1970 Charger — or in "Top Banana," another heritage color. Only 4,000 examples of each color will be produced. The Daytona version gets an exclusive front fascia with a chin spoiler and black honeycomb grille, a black deck lid spoiler and 18-inch polished wheels with painted pockets. Offered as an option on the regular Charger R/T, the Daytona's Road/Track Performance Group includes a revised steering gear, load-leveling shock absorbers and a retuned suspension.
The five-occupant interior features front bucket seats and a rear bench. A 60/40-split, folding rear seat is part of an SXT package. Viper-inspired tunneled gauges feature white faces and satin silver accent rings. A silver trim bezel surrounds the gearshift. The two-tone interior features a darker upper trim color.
Standard SE equipment includes front-seat lumbar support; a manual tilt and telescoping steering column; a power trunk lid release; remote keyless/illuminated entry; cruise control; and power windows, locks and mirrors. In addition to the split, folding rear seat, the SXT package adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, an eight-way power driver's seat, illuminated visor mirrors and a Boston Acoustics sound system. Leather upholstery goes in the R/T. Sirius Satellite Radio, a navigation system and a backseat video entertainment system are optional.
Daytona R/T models will have body-color accent stitching, a sequentially numbered Daytona badge, and performance front seats with suede inserts and embroidered Daytona logos.
Under the Hood
The Charger's base engine is a 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 250 hp and 250 pounds-feet of torque. The 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 in the R/T issues 340 hp and 390 pounds-feet of torque. The V-8 can alternate between four- and eight-cylinder modes in order to boost fuel economy by as much as 20 percent. Dodge's five-speed-automatic transmission incorporates an AutoStick feature that allows manual gear selection. The Hemi V-8 produces 350 hp in the Daytona R/T.
Antilock brakes, traction control and an Electronic Stability Program are standard. Side curtain-type airbags are optional.
It's not really in the same league as smaller sport sedans, but the Charger is a cut above traditional family sedans in terms of performance capabilities. With a Hemi V-8 and Touring suspension, the Charger R/T has a somewhat light feel, which seems a bit out of character. Response is quick and reasonably precise going around curves, but it doesn't feel entirely confident all of the time.
Vigorous Hemi performance is present when passing. The ride is nearly blissful on smooth surfaces, and rougher spots are dealt with appropriately. Except for a throaty exhaust sound when the gas pedal hits the floor, the Charger R/T is quiet.
The seats are comfortable. Aside from the trip odometer, the deep-set gauges are easy to read. Front occupants get plenty of elbowroom and legroom, and rear legroom is ample. Headroom in models equipped with a sunroof is good but not vast. Long side windows aid visibility, but the low roof and steep windshield can make it difficult to see some overhead traffic lights. Outside visibility for rear passengers may be obstructed by the C-pillars.
A Charger R/T equipped with the tauter Road/Track Performance Group suspension was surprisingly stable, flat and eager to roar out of curves on a racecourse. With V-6 power, the Charger qualifies as satisfactory and impressively quiet, substituting a humdrum growl for the Hemi's exhaust note when floored.