The Dodge Charger is the eccentric uncle among large family sedans. It's a rear-wheel-drive muscle car with an available Hemi V-8 engine, and the updates it gets for 2011 don't change that. In some ways, they accentuate its personality.
The Charger has always been an aggressive-looking car, but the redesigned 2011 model raises the sedan's meanness factor. It starts up front with a restyled grille that has a lot more tension in its design — Dodge designer Mark Trostle described it as "Superman's chest" — and contributes to the furrowed look of the headlights. Much of the sheet metal is new as well, with hood and door scallops that are more visually striking.
Perhaps the biggest change is to the rear, which gets full-width illumination when the headlights are on. It helps make the Charger as distinctive from the rear as it is from the front.
Although a 370-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 and all-wheel drive remain options, the base engine is Chrysler's new 292-hp, 3.6-liter V-6, and that's the engine I tested in an SE Rallye Plus trim level.
One of the things I've noticed while driving different Chrysler models with this V-6 is the engine feels strongest higher in the rpm range. It takes a little while for the power to build. Once you rev it, though, it pulls pretty well — even in a big car like the Charger. Our test car's curb weight was nearly 4,000 pounds.
The V-6 teams with a five-speed automatic transmission, and it's a smooth-shifting unit. Just as important, it kicks down quickly when you need to extract more power from the V-6 for passing. Another editor who tested the V-8-powered R/T trim noted that car's civility in normal driving — along with its substantial amount of reserve power.
Three suspensions are offered: Touring, Performance and Super Track Pak. Our SE Rallye Plus model had the midlevel Performance setup, and it was fairly sensitive to road imperfections.
Despite the Charger's rear-wheel-drive layout, it has never felt as dynamic and tossable as the dearly departed Pontiac G8. The Charger feels like a big car, and it's more at home cruising than carving corners. The steering tuning reinforces this, as there's plenty of power assistance so it only takes light effort to turn the wheel, which provides some feedback.
The Charger has had one of Dodge's better interiors of recent memory, and the changes for 2011 are still welcome. From the tall dashboard to the steering wheel to the newly available 8.4-inch touch-screen, much has been updated. One welcome change is that the leading edge of the roof has been shifted rearward a little, making it easier to see stoplights when you're first in line. While I wouldn't say the Charger's new interior surpasses the Ford Taurus' cabin, which is pretty good, it definitely matches it.
The Charger's front bucket seats, which were finished in leather in our test car, are quite soft. They're a little too spongy for my tastes and didn't do much to keep me in place when cornering quickly; I easily slid over the limp side bolsters.
Like before, the Charger has a relatively large backseat to accommodate adult passengers. The rear seat has the same soft cushioning as the front buckets. Dodge says the new quarter windows improve visibility for rear passengers, but the fast roofline means taller passengers' views out the side windows are still limited.
Even though a rear-wheel-drive-based car like the Charger should offer livelier handling, I commend Dodge for sticking with the drivetrain layout and the available V-8, as well as upping the car's already aggressive styling.
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