Monday, May 23, 2011

Auto: 2011 Dodge Charger

Dodge’s careful redesign brings some civility, but not too much.

November 2010 

Is there an angrier car on the road than the Dodge Charger?

No other car’s styling says, “Don’t f*&! with me” with such eloquence. There’s menace in the scowling headlights, the shield-like crosshair grille, and the shoebox-sized side windows. Those traits, and its fulsome dimensions, mean the Charger works perfectly as a police cruiser. Cops love the Charger because the car’s mere presence has drivers pulling over immediately, even if the lights aren’t flashing. Civilians love it for those exact same reasons.

But for all of its stylized rage, the outgoing Charger never really looked like a Charger. “It could have been an Intrepid, or even a Gran Fury, but we went with ‘Charger’ as it had the best name ­recognition,” president and Dodge-car brand CEO and senior vice-president of product design Ralph Gilles tells us.

The 2011 Charger is designed to be a Charger this time, but not just any one. “Forget the Chargers of the Eighties,” says Gilles. Dodge looked to the ­second-generation Charger (1968–’70) for the new body’s defining characteristics. “We went a little nostalgic in the look,” Gilles tells us. The most obvious throwbacks are the scooped-out hood and doors that recall the Gen-2 model. But those flourishes run deeper into the metal and are exaggerated here. Along the doors, the top of the punched-in crease becomes the shoulder line that broadens outward like a Coke bottle and defines the rear fender, another late-’60s Charger trait. The taillights, made up of 162 glowing LEDs, are a modern tip of the hat to the ’70 Charger. But aside from these design cues, the overall look avoids slavishly copying the past. If you want retro, buy a ­Challenger. The new car wears just enough vintage armor to satisfy the Charger gods, even if it still has two extra doors.

To make customers happy, all versions of the Charger get dual exhaust tips and the option of up to 20-inch wheels (17-inch aluminum wheels are standard). Choose the right options, and the V-6 Charger can look just like the Hemi V-8 version, spoiler and all. For those who can’t resist the lure of the Hemi engine, the 5.7-liter V-8 carries over from last year with an expected 370 horsepower. That engine has no trouble fulfilling the Charger’s muscle-car contract. But the V-6 isn’t the rental-fleet special any more. The corporate 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 and the 178-hp, 2.7-liter V-6 are dead, replaced by a new 3.6-liter V-6 that will make an estimated 292 horsepower. Both the V-6 and V-8 use a carry-over five-speed automatic; more gears are rumored for the future. While the six lacks the deep rumble and torque of the V-8, it can accelerate the Charger with plenty of thrust (we estimate 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds). Despite the added V-6 power, the new engine should achieve fuel economy in the neighborhood of 18 city and 26 highway, numbers that would match the far less powerful 2.7-liter V-6, thanks to the five-speed transmission (up from four) and the new, more slippery body.

Via aerodynamic tweaks, Dodge has attempted to address the No. 1 reason buyers reject the Charger: fuel economy. A lower nose, a deeper chin spoiler, wheels pushed out toward the fenders, hidden wipers, restyled exterior mirrors, and a raked-back windshield all contribute to a reduced drag coefficient. The V-8 Charger probably won’t enjoy improved fuel economy, but the drag reduction should allow it to maintain the previous ratings of 16 city and 25 highway, despite a slightly heavier curb weight. (Its compliance with stricter crash regulations should increase mass by at least 100 pounds, to about 4250.) The new windshield angle also helped resolve the second-most-common complaint: outward visibility. With glass now closer to the driver’s head, pilots no longer have to peep like a Tom to see hanging stoplights. Larger side glass, the small sail windows in front of the C-pillars, and the slightly lower beltline increase the glazed area by 15 percent and remove the previous car’s high-waisted, tank-like cabin ambience, especially in the back seat.

Dodge also addressed our primary gripe with the previous ­Charger: its Chinese-car interior quality. Dashboard plastics now have leathery graining, seat fabrics have moved out of the econobox realm, and all the pillars are now covered in headliner fabric instead of plastic. Plus, there’s real aluminum trim on the dashboard, and soft surfaces welcome resting elbows. A 4.3-inch touch screen is standard and controls the radio, climate, and vehicle settings. Opt for navigation, and the display grows to 8.6 inches of  big-screen glory. There’s noise-absorbing laminated glass in the windshield, and the front side windows are double-paned to further quiet the cabin. The last hints that Daimler once owned Dodge—the Mercedes turn-signal, wiper, and cruise-control stalks—are all gone, replaced by Dodge’s own parts. A new smaller-diameter steering wheel, wrapped in soft leather, hosts buttons for radio tuning, volume, cruise control, and the trip computer.


Although it rides on the same basic platform as before, the car has new roof pillars and uses additional high-strength steel to pass future side-impact crash regulations. Dodge left the brakes, the chassis layout, and the 120-inch wheelbase alone, which is fine by us. The multilink front and rear suspensions remain, but the Charger has been retuned to feel smaller, more agile, and sportier despite its full size and expected weight increase. Dodge will offer three suspension packages; the most basic Touring suspension will have more roll stiffness than before and will come with 17- or 18-inch wheels. Moving up to the Performance package further stiffens the Charger, adds heft to the steering, and brings 20-inch wheels. A Super Track package offers even more roll resistance and, as before, comes with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires.

A big part of  the Charger’s sportier feel is a new, quicker steering rack (2.5 turns lock-to-lock versus 2.8 turns in the old car) that now features electrohydraulic assistance to save fuel. Effort remains on the light side, but the prompt steering makes the Charger feel more manageable and smaller than it used to. Turn-in is more immediate, and the wheel loads up slightly in response to cornering loads. Pointed straight, the precision of the new steering makes the previous car feel as if it had a vintage, recirculating-ball system. All-wheel drive remains available, but the feature is now a stand-alone option. Previously, all-wheel drive meant a raised ride height that would elicit the question, “Where’s the flood?” For 2011, Dodge has lowered the AWD model’s suspension by one inch, bringing its stance nearly in line with that of other Chargers.

A careful mining of  Dodge’s past gives the new car enough retro touches to tie it to the Chargers of  yore. But Dodge didn’t throw out what so many people loved about the previous generation. Though they’ve been tweaked a bit, the forward-canted crosshair grille, the glaring headlights, and the fighting-bull stance remain. Yes, the Charger’s still a bad-ass, but it’s now a better car to live with. In other words, it is managing its anger quite well.


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