The redesigned 2015 Dodge Charger is a capable family sedan that looks better than previous Chargers and, with the addition of a 707-horsepower, supercharged V-8, it's a blast to drive on a racetrack.
If there's a need for a full-size sedan, Dodge is trying to address it with one model: its updated Charger.
Dodge says it wanted to create a sedan that could take on the best from BMW, Mercedes and Audi while still being able to take the kids to school during the week; no longer was it to be the other muscle car (after the Challenger) in the Dodge lineup.
As such, the Charger competes with a variety of cars, ranging from the Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus and Toyota Avalon (compared here) to sportier sedans such as the Audi S8 and BMW Alpina B7 (compared here). The Charger is only available with an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is not available on Chargers with the 707-hp Hellcat or other performance engines, but it is an option on SE and SXT models that feature a 3.6-liter V-6.
I tested an R/T model with a 370-hp, 5.7-liter V-8, as well as the 707-hp SRT Hellcat version of the Charger on a mix of highway and rural roads, as well as a no-limits racetrack.
You can compare the previous version of the Charger to the 2015 model here.
Exterior & Styling
If you saw photos of the Charger from the 2014 New York International Auto Show, you saw something that doesn't do justice to its new look. To me, that car looked too much like a Charger with a Dart's nose grafted onto it.
In person, especially when the grille is body-colored, it's a much better look that helps the Charger establish its own personality. The car looks lower, wider and more aggressive in person than photos might indicate.
That's the first thing I noticed about the Charger. The second was that the car looks significantly smaller. Dodge has said it "shrink-wrapped" it for a more efficient look, and I think it goes a long way toward making the Charger a more modern car. Previous Chargers always seemed to have a few odd angles, but with this new look things are more taut. Still, though, it does keep some of the old Charger DNA, with the scallops on the side, and that's a good choice.
Overall, the changes move the Charger from a car that looked like it was stretching to be a full-size sedan to one that's shed some extra bulk to get down to fighting weight.
How It Drives
I'll get this out of the way: Yes, I drove the 707-hp SRT Hellcat, yes, it was on a track and no, there was no speed limit. The SRT Hellcat is a fun car that feels smaller than it is, but you never forget that it's also a heavy car. (SRT Hellcat Chargers weigh more than 4,000 pounds.)
At the track, SRT engineers suggested we drive the Hellcat with a "slow in, fast out" approach to corners, and that kind of driving pays off in spades with the Hellcat. If you overcook it, the car tends to understeer and feel very heavy. But with attention to the braking points, a smooth entry and a smooth application of power as you exit the turn, the car really hooks up and slings you down the straights, where you get to really, really enjoy all the horsepower of the supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. (Both the engine and the supercharger sound glorious, by the way.)
Keeping the slow-in-fast-out approach in mind also helps through really tight, technical turns. Again: You're always aware of the car's weight, but it's still fun, and the "shrink-wrapping" tricks your eyes into thinking you're driving a smaller sedan than you are. The Hellcat wouldn't be my first choice to try to win an autocross event, but in the right hands it will surprise people.
While the performance, speed and fun of the Hellcat are all fine and good, though, that version is the halo car of the Charger brand. Most buyers will pick a sedan they won't get to drive in a no-limits track environment, so I also drove an R/T Premium model with the 370-hp, 5.7-liter V-8, a performance-tuned suspension and 20-inch wheels on a mixed drive through highways and slower, rural roads.
Here again it was obvious that Dodge didn't want the Charger to be a muscle car that would be great only at going fast in a straight line, rearranging your spine on every bump and requiring brawn to turn the wheel or press the brakes. The car felt taut but not abusively so on rough pavement and can perform as a comfortable cruiser.
The Charger has new electric power steering that dials up the assist for parking lots and allows more feedback at highway speeds. It's well done and unobtrusive in the Charger.
While the outside of the Charger has been radically changed, the interior got less dramatic updates. Despite this, there are now a whopping 19 interior trims available, ranging from cloth to leather to what Dodge calls sport leather, as well as SRT-specific interiors. There's a new T-shaped gear selector that's well-executed, as well as a new 7-inch display between the gauges, and a new steering wheel. SRT models get a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Overall, every interior was a solid mix of materials in the various models I tested. I was a bit disappointed in the lower set of climate controls in the center — they looked like they were carried over from other Chrysler Group cars — but everything else I used or touched was of good quality. It's a well-executed, if evolutionary, update.
Visibility in the new Charger is largely good. The roof pillars aren't the smallest, but I never had an issue on either my track or road drives. I also felt like there was a lot of glass to see out of, rather than feeling like I was sitting in a bucket trying to drive.
It helps, too, that with the exterior changes the Charger feels smaller than it really is. It's a good thing that makes living with the car a lot easier, especially if you live in a city.
There's ample space in the Charger, which is interesting and almost unexpected given how much smaller the car looks from the outside. Both I and my front passenger had plenty of space between our shoulders up front. Headroom was also fine for me, at about 6 feet 2 inches tall.
Space in the backseat was also a pleasant surprise. I had plenty of leg, shoulder and headroom, though I did notice that my head was under the rear window section of the roof, not the metal part. I'm not sure why that bothered me, but it did a little bit.
Ergonomics & Electronics
We've found the Uconnect multimedia and information system to be pretty easy to use in our tests. For 2015, there's either a 5.0- or 8.4-inch touch-screen in the center control panel. Sadly, though, those screens are still the only way to control the optional heated and ventilated seats.
Cargo & Storage
At 16.1 cubic feet of volume, the Charger's trunk is on the smaller side, but still competitive with other sedans; the Impala, Taurus and Avalon have 18.8, 20.1 and 16.0 cubic feet of space, respectively.
Up front in the cabin, there's a large center storage bin as well as two cupholders. The storage areas seemed usable enough for day-to-day commuting and weekend road trips.
The 2015 Charger gets an EPA-estimated 19/31/23 mpg city/highway/combined with the 3.6-liter V-6 engine, 18/27/21 with the 3.6-liter V-6 engine and all-wheel drive, and 16/25/19 mpg with the 5.7-liter V-8 engine. The 6.2-liter, supercharged Hellcat V-8 used in SRT models is rated 13/22/16 mpg, and the 6.2-liter, non-supercharged V-8 engine is rated 15/25/18 mpg.
The 2015 Dodge Charger received the highest rating, good, in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's side, roof-strength, moderate front overlap and head restraints/seats crash tests. You can learn about its safety features here.
Value in Its Class
Does the Charger offer value in its class? Yes, though it's important to note that the Charger really can compete in two very different classes.
As a family sedan, lined up against the Impala, Taurus and Avalon, the Charger is competitive on price and mileage, offering 23 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive and a V-6. That compares with 21, 23 and 24 mpg combined for the Impala, Taurus and Avalon when equipped with front-wheel drive and a V-6 engine. The Charger — like the Taurus — also has optional all-wheel drive if that's your thing.
What sets the Charger apart is that the Impala, Taurus and Avalon are very subtle, understated — bland, in other words — sedans, and the Charger, with its aggressive styling, is always going to stand out more.
When it comes to the Hellcat, which competes against cars such as the Audi S8 and BMW Alpina B7, price and mileage are not criteria to consider. If you're buying a fast sedan at that end of the spectrum, you want a fast sedan, period. Mileage and cash concerns are for the little people. (Though I'll still note that the Charger Hellcat is cheaper than either the S8 or Alpina B7.)
With that as the backdrop for its competition, the Charger has unique charms. It's not a hyper-smooth, muffled European sedan; it's a throaty, brash butt-kicker. It's unfair to call the Charger SRT Hellcat unrefined — its handling is too good for that — but it's definitely not buttoned-down and is just plain more fun to drive than its European rivals.
That sense of fun will be what carries the day for the Charger, whether you're shopping the base model or faster versions. Yes, as Dodge takes great pains to point out, it's the quickest, fastest, most-powerful production sedan on the planet, but it has to be said: As a sedan, it's not a knockout winner or loser in any concrete, data-driven area. It wins (or loses) on its ability to charm you.
So if bold, brash and powerful — but still practical — are what make you weak in the knees, prepare to be smitten.
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