2011 Dodge Charger R/T

2011 Dodge Charger R/T 2011 Dodge Charger R/T
Instrumented Test From the August 2011 Issue of Car and Driver

The American road used to be lousy with full-size, front-engine, V-8–powered, rear-drive domestic sedans; now, with FoMoCo’s Crown Vic/Grand Marquis/Town Car gone, it feels like the big LX platform, which underpins the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300, ought to be in a zoo. This would be unfair to drivers and zoogoers alike.

Although not entirely domestic in origin—the first LXs (2005–10) relied heavily on Mercedes chassis and drivetrain components—these were some of the Detroitiest cars ever built, proud statements of retrograde power, size, and format. The new Charger and its Chrysler 300 stablemate owe a big debt to their predecessors. Sheetmetal and interior are all-new, but most of the powertrain, as well as the underlying structure and the suspension, is revised instead of redesigned. This is no bad thing, depending on how it’s done.

For the 2011 lineup, the Charger offers two engines as opposed to the four of the outgoing model. (Not to worry; there will be a third, the SRT8 392, in 2012.) The 292-hp, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 sits under the hood of the Charger SE (base price $25,995), Rallye, and Rallye Plus trim levels. R/T models start at $30,995 and come with the 370-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. The engine is essentially carry-over, last updated in 2009 with the addition of variable valve timing. All Chargers are saddled with the same five-speed automatic transmission found in the 2010 car, albeit with an updated shift calibrationThe new sheetmetal should seem familiar in concept but honed in detail, with a more pronounced snout and sharper creases throughout. Scallops in the hood and front doors are an attempted throwback to the 1968–70 Charger and offer a visual break from some otherwise large, flat panels. The full-width rear taillights are a direct nod to the 1970 model. Regardless of heritage, the 162 red LEDs that span the back of the new car announce its departure with authority.

Compared with the previous Charger, the new one looks lower and longer, but it’s a visual trick accomplished mostly by the faster rake of the windshield. The 2011 car is actually shorter and taller, by 0.2 inch in both cases. All trim levels sport dual exhaust tips. Except for the SE, which comes with 17-inch wheels, all rear-drive Chargers ride on 18- or optional 20-inch wheels. A V-6 Charger can be optioned to look like an R/T without the badge, if you so desire.

The performance configuration of our R/T test car encompasses the $3000 Road & Track Performance package, which comes with a 3.06:1 final-drive ratio. The “R & T R/T,” as it were, removes chrome from the grille but adds it to 20-inch wheels. It also brings heated and cooled front cup holders, power front seats, and heated rear seats. You’ll want the $400 Super Track Pak, too: Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires, upgraded brake pads, sportier power-steering calibration, monotube dampers, bigger front and rear roll bars, and fully defeatable stability control. Equipped with every option except extra-cost paint and an engine-block heater, our $38,940 test car represents, for now, the top of the Charger lineup. A similarly loaded R/T with all-wheel drive rings in just below $40,000.

Keen to demonstrate that the Charger can trade on more than just commodity-grade horsepower, Dodge has prepared an extensive list of standard and optional equipment. Highlights from our particular car include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, keyless ignition, remote start, automatic high-beams, and a heated steering wheel. And overall interior quality is Grade A. A single piece of molded plastic spans the entire dash, with a driver-centric arc containing the instrument cluster and the touch-screen infotainment system. That stuff that looks like metal? It’s real aluminum. The door armrests have an elbow-friendly scallop covered in stitched leather. The only flaw we noticed was visible heating-element wires underneath the steering wheel’s leather skin.

Cabin space is unchanged due to the fact that the Charger’s unibody retains the same hard points, such as seat-mounting locations. Ample use of high-strength steel offers increased chassis rigidity and improved crashworthiness as well as narrower A-pillars. Those pillars, and a windshield that stretches three inches higher, result in improved visibility and less claustrophobia from behind the wheel. Craning your neck to see stoplights, a popular pastime in the old Charger, is out. The rear seats are less gloomy than before and are still commodious for even the triple-cheeseburger set. Trunk volume is down 0.8 cubic foot to 15.4 mostly because gooseneck arms replace multilink hinges. Details in the trunk such as a plastic grab handle and grocery-bag hooks prove that somebody at Dodge is thinking about the little things.

Another impressive element is the uConnect infotainment system. A 4.3-inch touch screen is standard on the SE; all other models get an 8.4-inch LCD. The layout is straightforward, with large, tappable icons along the bottom edge of the screen relating the primary functions. In every mode, from radio to phone, the controls are consistent and easy to read. Just as important, the touch response is faster than any other system we’ve tried. It may lack some sophistication—the optional navigation is the same as that of a portable Garmin unit—but we’ll take speed and ease of operation over features we’ll never use.

In keeping with the interior, the engine is surprisingly well-mannered. Engine noise is subdued at idle. Moderate throttle applications result in a pleasing burble, but full roar requires a floored gas pedal. Audiophilic Hemi fans will either need to buy an aftermarket exhaust or wait for the more
in-your-face Charger SRT8 392.

No one would call the R/T quiet, but its voice is mellow considering the 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque coming from its engine room. Acceleration happens without any fuss, the Goodyears providing plenty of grip for a 5.2-second run to 60 and a 13.8-second quarter-mile. The curb weight is 185 pounds higher than that of the Charger we tested most recently [June 2008], but 70-to-0-mph braking is a short 163 feet with minimal fade and little pedal effort. The Charger behaves well on the skidpad, too, running the circle with moderate, stable understeer to achieve a nearly sporty 0.85 g.

The nonchalance with which it posts those numbers doesn’t mean the Charger is boring, just refined. All of the hoonage you desire from a modern muscle car is available if your intentions and driver inputs are deliberate. Otherwise, the Charger is as composed as the BMW 5-series, against which Dodge set many of this car’s benchmarks. We half-expected the Charger’s steering to have a big dead zone on center as in American sedans of yore, but it’s quick (2.6 turns lock-to-lock) and precise. Bumps and crags are filtered out before they reach your hands. The suspension likewise keeps the unpleasant parts of the road away from the vehicle’s occupants. We wish more cars had a ride this civil.

More so even than its predecessor, the Charger sheds most of the bad stereotypes of big American cars. The only one that remains regards fuel economy. EPA figures of 16 mpg city and 25 highway seem thirsty compared with those of the Honda Accord V-6: 20 mpg city and 30 highway. Our observed figure of 16 proves that a V-8 will still guzzle gas if given the opportunity.

But the Charger may be the best example yet of Chrysler’s resurgence under Fiat. With it comes the resurgence of the rear-drive, V-8–powered American sedan. Looks like it’s here to stay after all.