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Extensively revised for 2015, Dodge Charger is America's four-door muscle car, full of presence and in some cases fury. It looks mean but rides well, is quite practical from a room and capacity standpoint, and can be had with all-wheel drive or packing a knock-out punch.
Though trimmed and slimmed around the edges and as distinctive and threatening as always, the 2015 Charger is no lighter or smaller than the outgoing version. Almost all the exterior is new for 2015 yet recognition is still immediate, day or night. No posers here, all the scoops, ducts, vents and spoilers on the performance models are fully functional.
Charger will carry four adults comfortably and child-seat in between without effort, and there's generous trunk to bring everything with you; unlike some sedans the rear seats fold for big-screen television load space. Unless you have a very small garage Charger can cover all your family driver needs.
Entertainment options include 276-watt Alpine, 552-watt 10-speaker Beats Audio, and 900-watt 19-speaker harman/kardon sound systems. Configurable driver displays and the Uconnect infotainment system have an excellent blend of conventional and touch-screen controls.
With about 300 horsepower and an 8-speed transmission the standard V6 Charger offers brisk acceleration and 30-plus mpg road-tripping. All-wheel drive is available for better inclement weather propulsion.
The 2015 Charger lineup includes three V8 Hemi engines across five models, all with appropriately authoritative exhaust notes and generous torque. They include the torquey 370-hp 5.7-liter, the bigger-is-better 485-hp 6.4-liter Hemi and a new supercharged 6.2-liter V8 with 707 horsepower. If descriptors like lunatic fringe or mental fit you and you don't mind new rear tires at every oil change, Dodge has your four-door.
Dynamic performance is very good with a controlled ride and little body lean in corners or heavy braking. Brakes are appropriately good across a lineup in which top speeds vary by 85 mph or so. Precise, fast electric-assist steering varies effort automatically and you can choose the baseline.
Regardless of engine, Charger feels solid, substantial and well put together. Big bumps don't crash through, annoying roads don't rattle the trim and we'd say the finishes match the class, but Charger's almost in a class of one.
Beyond the bodywork, interior updates and Hellcat model, the 2015 Charger now has seven airbags and a suite of safety features that can help cover-up inattentive driving, including lane departure warning, lane keeping assist and forward collision warning and mitigation braking.
Although there are a few rear-drive sedans in Charger's price range, most tend to have more luxury, less power, a higher price or all three. But Charger will be cross-shopped more with things like the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger than the likes of Cadillac CTS or Lexus GS, and a 707-hp Hellcat costs tens of thousands less than a BMW M5, Audi RS7 or Mercedes E AMG.
The only direct Charger competitors are the Chrysler 300 and the Chevrolet SS. The 300 offers similar power choices and is more formal than Charger. SS is offered only with a 415-hp V8, priced between a 485-hp Charger R/T Scat Pack and SRT392. In its favor, the SS will offer a manual transmission choice and is lighter than comparable Chargers.
Charger SE ($27,995) comes with a 292-hp 3.6-liter V6. It includes black cloth upholstery, dual-zone air conditioning, power driver seat, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, tilt and telescoping steering column, keyless entry/pushbutton start, LED cabin lighting, AM/FM/Bluetooth 6-speaker audio system with USB/aux inputs, SD card reader, 12VDC power outlets, 5-inch Uconnect display, configurable 7-inch color driver display, three-mode electric power steering, bi-function automatic halogen projector beam headlamps, LED running and taillights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, power mirrors/windows/locks and 17-inch alloy wheels. All-wheel drive Charger SE ($30,995) includes 19-inch alloy wheels, wider tires and R/T brakes. SE options include a moonroof, universal garage door opener, engine block heater, Sport Appearance group (RWD only) and Popular Equipment group.
Charger SXT ($29,995) and SXT AWD ($32,995) adds to SE with 8.4-inch touchscreen Uconnect Access, LED fog lights, dual-zone climate control, 18-inch aluminum wheels (19 AWD), 276-watt Alpine audio system with AM/FM/SiriusXM/Bluetooth, cloth sport seats, 12-way power driver seat, heated front seats, heated power mirrors, remote start, auto-dimming inside mirror and universal garage door opener. SXT offers nine option packs, and with the Rallye Appearance Group output rises to 300 hp. The SXT Plus group ($2,000) adds ventilated Nappa leather sport seats, heated steering wheel and second-row seats, HID headlamps, polished aluminum wheels, rear park assist system and backup camera.
Charger R/T ($32,995) comes with a 370-hp 5.7-liter V8. Above SXT it adds shift paddles, rear spoiler, firmer suspension, bigger brakes and 20-inch wheels. Options include six packages and a painted black roof. R/T Road & Track ($35,995) is an R/T with heated/ventilated Nappa leather or leather/Alcantara performance seats, 12-way passenger seat, 245/45ZR20 tires on aluminum wheels, three-mode stability control, Performance Pages, heavy-duty brakes, stiffer suspension, larger differential and 3.07:1 axle ratio, high-speed engine controller (145-mph limiter), power-adjustable pedals and heated steering wheel, driver memory system, rear park assist, security alarm, HID headlamps, matte black grille. Three-season performance tires on forged aluminum wheels, 552-watt 10-speaker Beats audio system and 4 option packs are available.
Charger R/T Scat Pack ($39,995) gets a 485-hp 6.4-liter V8, four-piston Brembo front brakes, 20x9-inch wheels, active exhaust system with four-inch round tailpipes, aluminum ducted hood, deeper front and rear fascias and side sills, satin black rear spoiler, black cloth sport seats with embroidered logos, 180-mph speedometer, backup camera, and Scat Pack and HEMI 392 badging.
Charger SRT392 ($47,385) uses the same 485-hp V8 but adds 15.4-inch 6-piston front Brembo brakes, 20x9.5 forged wheels, 275/40ZR20 P Zero all-season tires, three-mode adjustable damping, one-piece rear body-color spoiler, SRT Performance Pages with launch control, high-performance Nappa leather seats with Alcantara suede inserts, heated and ventilated front seats, unique SRT flatbottom three-spoke heated leather-wrapped steering wheel with power tilt and telescoping column, and red push-button start. It comes with a one day SRT Driving Experience school. Options include a moonroof and 900-watt harman/kardon 19-speaker sound system.
Charger SRT Hellcat ($63,995 including gas-guzzler tax) comes with 707-hp supercharged 6.2-liter V8. It includes two keys (to control output), unique SRT Performance Pages and steering wheel, aluminum interior trim, 200-mph speedometer, ducted/ventilated aluminum hood, Hellcat badges, SRT Driving Experience and forged aluminum wheels in matte black, brass monkey or dark bronze finish. (All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices and do not include destination charge of $995.)
Safety features on all models include dual front, front side, side curtain and driver knee airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, tire pressure monitors, hill-start assist and antilock brakes with brake assist. Optional safety equipment includes backup camera, rear park sensors, active cruise control with collision warning and mitigation braking, blind spot monitors, rear crossing detection, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, rain-sensing wipers and automatic high beams.
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Charger is a big, none-to-light sedan that feels it: Solid, stable, and quiet until you give a Hemi the boot.
The standard 292 horsepower multiplied by an 8-speed automatic are more than adequate propulsion for cross-country drives or putting around the city. Both are smooth, unobtrusive and excel at highway fuel economy: We've recorded 32 mpg, and in town the weight will show with values in the high teens.
The V6 is the only engine offered with all-wheel drive, a new system that runs as rear-drive unless needed, to improve highway economy. Operation is completely automatic and transparent, simply select D and go. However, do remember all-wheel drive does not improve braking or cornering nor repeal the laws of physics.
Most Charger models, not necessarily sales, come with a V8; it's the sound and effortless thrust many expect from this mean-looking four-door. The standard 5.7-liter Hemi delivers 370 horses and 395 lb-ft of torque, the latter the greater, more useful gain over the V6. Now coupled to an 8-speed automatic EPA ratings are up to 16/25 mpg, with our experience 26 on the highway, half that in town. Big, fast and heavy have a price.
Despite the power the 5.7 is easy to drive at moderate speeds, with linear power build-up. Under low-load conditions it shuts off half the cylinders, which like the V6's all-wheel drive is done automatically and most drivers will never notice. Mash the pedal and the gearbox quickly gets the most of Hemi power, dispatching slower vehicles easily in passing zones. The Road & Track R/T's shorter axle ratio makes it slightly livelier than the R/T.
Charger's solid structure shrugs off bumps and induces no fatigue. Ride quality varies by model in subtle steps, the R/T Road & Track's fairly firm suspension remains compliant enough for sub-par roads, though you may prefer the regular R/T if that's all you drive on. R/T Road & Track stays nearly flat even when braking, accelerating or cornering hard, and it does well at all those dynamics. While the SRT models have firmer suspension calibration and stiffer tires, they also have three-step adjustable damping so ride quality remains intact, greater stick and damping available for good roads and higher speeds.
Electric-assist steering allows less effort for low-speed maneuvering and more at highway speeds, and you can vary the effort to your liking in three steps. Meaty steering wheels deliver quick response and a commendable 38-foot turning circle, and haven't given up much, if any, precision to previous Charger steering.
Scat Pack ups the ante with a 485-horse 6.4-liter Hemi, ducted hood, more aggressive bodywork, wider wheels and Brembo four-piston front brakes. It's very probably the fastest full-size four-door near its $40,000 price. It's hilarious good fun, as linear and controlled as an R/T only faster and noisier.
Then there are the big boys from SRT. The 392 runs the same (391 cubic-inch) 485-horspower 6.4 as the Scat Pack but adds massive six-piston Brembo brakes, wider-yet forged wheels and tires, adjustable dampers and launch control. If the Scat Pack is built for straight-line speed, the SRT is more built for using the power with bends as well. There were plenty of places we found it the most enjoyable to drive because of better weight distribution than the Hellcat and it was the easiest to use all of it and leave nothing on the table.
Finally there is the 707-horspower Hellcat. With tires no wider than the SRT392 and 222 horses more, it struggles to find traction at full throttle until you're beyond legal speed, like driving a lesser car with four first gears. On a drag strip initially it's traction-limited and then drives past things like 580-hp Camaros and 550-hp Mustangs. On the road you need to tread lightly; keep pushing further on the gas pedal and it feels endless, even if you're already doing 120 mph. If you measure your performance sedans in bang-for-the-buck, everything pales in comparison to the Hellcat.
At full throttle, Hellcat's exhaust note completely hides the supercharger whine. Steering effort is lighter than other Chargers because it retains hydraulic assist, but if you've dialed back all the electronic chassis aids (take the SRT school first), you can steer it with a quarter-turn and your right foot.
The safety systems in the Technology package worked as advertised, lane keep assist ready to argue with a driver who couldn't use signals. The view out is good so we never needed any warnings. All can be defeated, adaptive cruise control works to full stop, and forward collision warning does full stop at less than 20 mph, warnings and collision mitigation braking at more than 20 mph. With all the racket from the Hellcat, the deer were well aware and out of warning range.
Dodge Charger offers more choice than any other rear/all-wheel-drive full-size sedan, with more than plentiful power-per-dollar at every step. Regardless of which version you choose, Charger is a roomy, solid, balanced performer available with all the features a family can use.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report from Washington, D.C.