08/03/05 — Charger lives up to its storied name

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Charger lives up to its storied name

Dodge Charger (2006)

Statistics sometimes point out that the good old days weren’t as good as we remember them when it comes to the cars we drove. They were certainly OK, particularly at the time. But compared to these really good times we’re now experiencing, they were rudimentary.

Nostalgia plays a big part in glorifying old cars such as, for instance, the 1968-69 Dodge Charger.

Dodge Charger, 2006

And perhaps statistics can’t trump nostalgia. We’ll get to those statistics in just a minute.

The Charger is one of the most storied names in the Chrysler inventory. Even if you didn’t own one of the originals or know someone who did, you very well might remember one of the greatest movie chase scenes of all time between a 1968 Charger and a 1968 Mustang GT in “Bullitt.”

Or you were a fan of the “Dukes of Hazzard” television show and one of its stars, the General Lee, a 1969 Charger.

Our best recollection is of a sleek, fast and furious Charger coupe doing battle with Steve McQueen’s rumbling, tire-smoking Mustang until the Charger and its occupants met their end in a fiery gas station explosion.

So with those thoughts in mind, it was with some disappointment to many car buffs that the all-new 2006 Dodge Charger was introduced with — egad, can you believe it? — four doors.

But the folks at Dodge convincingly pointed out that big two-door cars are not exactly flying off car lots these days, and a well-sculpted four-door is more practical and will yield far greater sales numbers.

The new Charger, built on the same platform as the popular Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Magnum wagon, has sleek lines and the proportions of a coupe with a sloping roofline. It comes with a healthy 250-horsepower V-6 as standard equipment or the rocking Hemi V-8 with either 340 or 350 horses — depending on trim level — as optional equipment.

Now let’s get back to the statistics and at the same time debunk some of the exaggerations that have grown up around the original Charger.

For one thing, the old Charger coupe was a big car and in many dimensions bigger than the new sedan. The 2006 Charger may seem big because of its ample rear-seat legroom and large trunk, but it’s 10 inches SHORTER and two inches narrower than the 1968 Charger. The new car’s wheelbase is three inches longer meaning the wheels have been pushed farther to the corners than on the 1968 iteration.

The Charger of legend makes the new sedan look almost compact.

So now let’s do some debunking if your image of the old Charger is of a rumbling hot rod capable of eye-popping numbers that will blow the doors off the new four-door version.

The old Charger, even with the “Bullitt” stunt men behind the wheel, can’t match the performance of the 2006 Charger equipped with the big V-8.

According to numbers recently published by Motor Trend, the 1968 Charger R/T with a 375-horsepower V-8 will climb from 0 to 60 in 6.5 seconds and complete a quarter mile in 14.9 seconds at 95 miles per hour.

That’s fast even by today’s standards, but the 2006 Charger with the 350 horsepower Hemi can complete a 0-to-60 run in 5.6 seconds and finish off a quarter mile in 14.2 seconds at 101 miles per hour.

Although the 2006 Charger probably doesn’t fall into the handling territory of a modern sports sedan, it acquitted itself quite nicely on the twists and turns of our usual rural blacktop road course. Its stick-to-the-road manners would surely be good enough to put the old Charger in its rear view mirror after a couple miles of S curves.

And the new Charger can come to a complete stop from 60 miles per hour in just 129 feet, a stopping distance unimaginable 35 years ago.

Now that we have established the ’06 Charger’s qualifications to wear the storied name with pride, we highly recommend the sedan to the family man who longs for a Mustang GT, but can’t convince his wife that the Mustang is the car to buy for a family that includes a couple of toddlers.

Despite the fact that the Charger can’t be purchased with a manual transmission, there is joy in the new 5-speed automatic, which can be shifted manually if desired.

But be forewarned, you must pay as much as a $5,000 premium for the privilege of driving the Hemi V-8. The Charger, with the 250-horsepower V-6, starts at $23,000, and a fairly well equipped V-6 in SXT trim level goes out the door for $26,000. That may be the best buy for the guy who wants the Charger persona with adequate performance and without the extra cost of insurance coverage.

The R/T with a 340-horsepower V-8 begins at $30,000, about the same price as a well-equipped Mustang GT. You can get 10 extra horses, a stiffer suspension, load-leveling shocks and performance steering by adding the Road/Track Performance Group for $1,600, or opting for the Dayton R/T package, which also brings flat-black graphics, spoilers and a Hemi orange engine cover.

The straight-ahead performance of our 350-horsepower test car was exhilarating. The sedan will surge from a stoplight under the direction of a heavy right foot. We were even challenged at a highway stoplight by a Volkswagen Passat, presumably with six cylinders.

It gave us the chance — and the satisfaction — of putting some guy squarely in his place and in our rearview mirror.

The ride in our R/T was well mannered, and we had no complaints on the big car’s handling traits. The Charger holds a steady line without the need for course corrections.

We found the big front seats comfortable for wide bodies, and the dashboard simple and neatly laid out. Our Charger was equipped with navigation, but unlike many cars with the nav system the climate and stereo controls were not bundled into the screen. Changing a radio station was as simple as hitting a pre-set button.

The four-gauge instrument cluster is easy to read with black numerals on white faces. And we particularly enjoyed a readout directly in front of the driver that dispenses such information as outside temperature, radio station and the trip mileage.

The interior is starkly plain with blacks and grays. It’s an attractive but minimalist layout. Even though the center stack features a large amount of brushed aluminum, the cabin could use an interior decorator’s touch.

Some critics have fussed about the visibility from inside the Charger and its Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum cousins. Yes, the windows are slightly smaller than a typical sedan in an obvious compromise of form over function. But we never had a problem seeing out the front, side or back. And that about covers all angles.

When you opt for the R/T you get 18-inch wheels, larger brakes, dual exhausts and leather upholstery. Our test car included the Road/Track Performance Group, navigation and several other options bringing the bottom line to $35,400.

The new Dodge more than lives up to the storied Charger name, even with two extra doors. It looks like another hit for the Chrysler division.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on August 3, 2005 3:28 PM