We all know V-8s in sedans are dying.
They once ruled the road, but have fallen from spec sheets around the world, victims to gas prices, turbochargers and a slew of other reasons.
Pretty soon, late-night television commercials will include some sappy song by Sarah McLachlan while Sally Struthers stands there, a tear in her eye, "For the price of a double macchiato with a single espresso shot a day, you can help save the V-8 from abandoning our highways."
But the 2011 Dodge Charger doesn't need your sympathy; it needs your lead foot. Redesigned from the ground up on the same platform that brings the elegant and similarly powerful Chrysler 300 the new Charger refines its ride, improves its interior and continues to roar down the road.
First is its appearance. The new Charger looks cleaner and lower. The previous generation was part of the Chrysler Husky Look in which many of the vehicles had chunky fenders and big butts. Over developed in some places and under developed in others, those cars resembled those people who go to the gym and only do curls.
The new Charger touts a well-toned and slimmer body. The new split crosshair grille makes the car's face more menacing with sparkles of chrome that stretch from headlight to headlight. The long front and short deck, reminiscent of all of those classic Mopar muscle cars of the '60s and '70s, adds plenty of modern wrinkles. The aluminum scalloped hood uses a few well-placed creases to provide nice details that help the Charger stand out in a parking lot of curvy sheet metal.
The rear end also helps make the Charger easily recognizable with LED tail lamps that pop the few times you find yourself hitting the brakes. At night, the red lights connect in a ring of red above two chrome-tipped exhaust pipes. It's truly a thing of beauty.
So is the interior, which is greatly improved over the outgoing model.
From the big front seats to upgraded materials throughout, the Charger feels like a premium sedan, but still Dodge tough.
The new instrument panel creates a driver-focused experience with the tachometer and speedometer right behind the thick three-spoke steering wheel. Everything is bordered by a simple piece of chrome trim that encircles the instruments. It also is a smart way to break up the one-piece dash and make it all look smaller.
The upgrade in dash materials is most noticeable, as well as all of those little sparkles throughout the cabin, such as the chrome trim on the faceplate of the gear shifter, the LED lights inside the door handles that shine a soft, blue light, and the intuitive heat and air-conditioning controls. There are also LED lights in the foot wells and cubby spots throughout the interior.
Perhaps the biggest improvement is with the next-generation U Connect system, known as UConnect Touch.
The optional 8.4-inch touch screen (there's also a smaller 4.3-inch screen) works as the infotainment command center though the USB connection and auxiliary jack are both properly located in the center console.
The system is easy to use and provides excellent high-resolution pictures. There are all of those high-tech features such as Bluetooth connectivity and voice-activated controls to operate some of the car's features. Many can be operated with steering wheel buttons, meaning your hands never have to leave the wheel. One feature Dodge carried over is the radio adjustment and volume buttons on the back of the steering wheel. It's a simple idea, because your fingers naturally reach back there. They are my favorite steering wheel controls on any car.
Most of all, the Charger offers a sports car ride the whole family can enjoy at the same time. There's more than 41 inches of leg room in the front and 40 inches in the second row (which have heated seats) and nearly just as much head room in both rows even with that sleek, sloping roof. Real people need real cars.
And if they're really lucky, they'll get a V-8 under the hood.
Yes, the base model SE comes with the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 that provides a respectable 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Mated to the a five-speed automatic transmission, the SE will get 18 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, which is still good mileage.
This engine is genius. It combines the dual overhead cam with variable valve timing to create a flat torque curve. All of that means there's great power no matter where you are on the tachometer something many engines lack as they put all of their power at the top end of the tach to save fuel.
But it's the Hemi that will get your heart racing. The 5.7-liter V-8 mashes out 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque. It will make you squeal with laughter when those back tires chirp just a little and the engine lets out a beautiful, deep-throated roar.
Really, this Hemi has two personalities. The mild-mannered Hemi shuts off four cylinders and tries to sip fuel as if it's a much smaller motor. (There's something still odd about a Hemi that includes an Eco Mode that clicks on when you're cruising on the highway.) It does manage to get 23 mpg on the highway.
But there's also the belly-churning acceleration this engine provides. It screams when you want it to scream and purrs the rest of the time.
The car's long wheelbase (120 inches), independent front suspension and five-link rear provide the Charger with a smooth but firm ride. There's hardly any body roll when you rip around a corner, and the rack-and-pinion steering holds its lines wherever you go. A few other changes enhance the car's performance, as well. Dodge improved the visibility in the Charger and made the ride a lot quieter.
But it's that powerful V-8 that brings this fantastic car to life. It might not be around forever, but it's been one heck of a ride.
The V-8 is dead. Long live the V-8.
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Overall: *** 1/2
Exterior: Excellent. New look is sleek and modern and pure Dodge.
Interior: Good. Great materials, well designed and intuitive. Lots of high-tech features and more space for everyone.
Performance: Excellent. Powerful engine and available all-wheel drive makes this a car for all seasons.
Pros: Beautiful look, low starting price and great interior make this car an affordable family sedan.
Cons: If you drive it like a race car instead of a family sedan, mileage numbers won't come close to the EPA numbers.
**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor
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