Time machine. Is any modern brand so adventurous and carefree as Dodge? Here's a company that, in the midst of an electric-car revolution, has developed a 700-plus horsepower supercharged V-8 and shoehorned it into every vehicle in their lineup. Watch any Dodge commercial or even glance through their product line: this is a company partying like it's 1969. And the life of the party? The full-size Charger.
As Dodge is an anomaly, so is the Charger. Full-size sedans have all but disappeared, yet the Charger lives on. Not only does it live on - it thrives. It's drunk on power and has sprouted widebody hips that look like something out of an old Need for Speed game. Forget lead sleds like the Grand Marquis; turns out that power and style are the secrets to making big cars cool. Funny, how that works.
Power - and a lot of it. Riddle us this: Dodge offers the Charger in six different trims. Of those, just two could be considered rational: the GT and SXT. They're the only choices in the lineup that are powered by less than six cylinders and offer all-wheel drive.
Unsurprisingly, these two trims drive most sales, but nothing about them is particularly exciting. The 3.6-liter V-6 they employ has been around since the beginning of the last decade and makes an adequate 292 horsepower. It routes power through an eight-speed automatic.
Despite its age, we can see why Dodge let it alone all these years. Why mess with a good thing? The Pentastar V-6, as it's colloquially known, is fairly refined and delivers enough power to make passing and accelerating non-events. It doesn't back up the Charger's mean looks, however - for that you'll need one of the V-8s.
About those V-8s: three different V-8s are on the table, with the most potent option offered in two states of tune. This is the meat of the Charger lineup. This is why someone buys the Charger over something like an Accord. Last we checked, righteous burnouts aren't on the menu with the family-friendly Honda.
The most pedestrian of the V-8s is the R/T's 370-horspower 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. The 6.4-liter V-8 in the Scat Pack churns out 485 horsepower. And the mighty supercharged 6.2-liter Hellcat is good for either 707 or 797 horsepower. All use an eight-speed automatic that gets beefed up accordingly for the higher-output engines.
Spoiler alert: every V-8 is a monster, even the 370-horse option. Across the board, power is satisfying as a Snicker's bar; on the Scat Pack and higher, stomping the throttle will leave you giddy and giggling. Hellcats are so potent that only drag strips tap into their prodigious potential.
That abundance of power takes precedent over handling. Simply put, the Charger isn't a fan of changing direction; it begs for straight, flat roads rather than winding passes through the mountains. Its size and bulk are partially to blame. Try to drive one fast through the curves and you'll find the experience a nerve-racking affair. As we said: the Charger is old-school. It leaves sharp handling to smaller, more nimble cars.
Downmarket Interior. In the relentless pursuit of power, Dodge seems to have overlooked the Charger's interior. Frankly, the grade of interior Dodge offers in their big sedan is depressing. We're sure more than one shopper interested in the $70,000 Hellcat was quickly turned away by the overwhelming amount of cheap plastic and Friday-afternoon build quality.
And that's the nicest iteration of the Charger. It's worse on the low end; it feels like Dodge builds the V-6 models exclusively for rental-car lots. Stepping up to the R/T improves things some, but overall the quality leaves much to be desired. The worst offender in the cabin is the huge swatch of cheap black plastic covering the entire passenger side of the dash. It's bothered us since 2011 and yet Dodge hasn't done a thing to address it.
Roominess is a sticky issue as well. Full-size, rear-drive cars are inevitably not as roomy as something based on a front-wheel drive chassis. The Charger gets a full 40 inches of legroom, but small rear glass and a large drivetrain hump intrude on that space. For two rear riders this isn't a problem, but three would be tight.
There is one bright spot in the cabin: the 8.4-inch touchscreen and its corporate Uconnect infotainment system. Chrysler has offered this system for years on the Charger, and yet only now are most companies catching up in terms of usability. It remains a leader when it comes to intuitive operation. Even the most tech-averse buyers will quickly find themselves instinctively tapping and swiping the big screen.
Class of one. These days, the Charger occupies a lonely space. Its twin, the Chrysler 300, remains in the market as a more traditional full-size car, one that's closer to the spirit of the long-deceased Lincoln Town Car than it is to the rough-and-ready Charger. Other than these two, the market of full-size, rear-drive affordable sedans has been wiped out by changing market tastes.
Alternatives? The Toyota Avalon is always an option, though it caters to an entirely different crowd. And for a limited time, the Kia Cadenza and K900 could be cross-shopped. However, those two are being shown the door at the end of 2021, two more victims in this collapsing segment.
It's better to consider the Charger as a four-door muscle car, something that provides the power and persona of vehicles like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge's own Challenger - which itself is a two-door riff off the Charger. The big Dodge is muscle and might wrapped in a four-door body.
Final thoughts. The Charger somehow defies market realities. It eschews concerns of fuel economy in an era where shoppers are swayed by efficiency. It is a full-size sedan in a world of crossovers. It has a mediocre interior that has shrugged off ten years of criticism. And yet still it sells relatively well and has legions of devoted fans. How?
Consider: this fireball of a sedan is more practical than most sport sedans thanks to its generous dimensions. It's also affordable for the everyman: R/Ts start at $37,000 or so. Yet it doesn't sacrifice personality or entertainment to attain that price point. It's a riot and a hoot and you can justify it to the spouse.
One of these days, the fervor around the current Charger will cool off, and Dodge will be forced to reckon with a future that cannot justify a brawling full-size four-door with a massive V-8. Until that day comes, we'll relish the Charger for what is: a relic, an anachronism, a nostalgic throwback, and an automotive celebration of outsized American excess. Let's enjoy it while we still can.
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