Dodge Charger: Good Buy

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Unfortunately, this Charger will make the perfect police car. It has plenty of room, a wide variety of potent engines, and a good platform for high-speed stability. The taxpayers are going to like it too as it starts under $23,000 (US). The bad news is that the bargain pricing is going to put a bunch of these in rental fleets making it difficult to separate the real from the vacationer. Bummer.

We tested the 3.5 liter six-cylinder Charger and came away with some strong opinions. First, this is a very large vehicle. It reminded of us the good old days when there weren’t compact parking spaces. Even the seats are large making them ideal for the individual who has more girth to tout. The V6 engine was more than adequate for all occasions, although when loaded and pulling up a mountain grade the Hemi V8 would be welcomed. As for the SRT 6.1 liter option, the 425 horsepower lavished on this sedan is overkill for those that drive to work and can’t afford the 14-mpg costs. However, if you’re late to work, there is no quicker ride for the money. The Hemi and 6.1 options may pay back the extra cost at resale (www.nada.com), but in daily driving the plus sized engines are wasting their attributes. We urge you not to get hung up on any of the engine choices offered with the Charger before you test all of them in real driving situations. Regardless of which choice the chassis is quite capable with its handling prowess and ability to corner, but you still feel the effects of physics on its 4000 pounds. If you really want to run with the big boys order the suspension upgrades as well as the bigger tires and rims.

Dad’s view: I never warmed up to the Charger. Although I liked its quiet ride and the obvious potential of the 250-hp 3.5-liter High Output V-6 and five-speed automatic with AutoStick, it just wasn’t a tidy ride even with the 17-inch wheels and tires. I believe that this is an exceptional highway driver and we consistently got over 21 mpg and sometimes nearly 25 when we could use the cruise control, but overall it is just too much car for commuting. On the other hand, it is a bargain. Indeed, with the SRT-8 option it is less expensive than any other so equipped Chrysler product.

My problem was its handling, obstructed rear visibility, and dull interior. The handling was good, but there was too much lean on friskily taken corners. Despite this it was a much better driver than the new Ford models. The rear headrests and a high trunk disrupt the view to the back. Backing up is never a matter to be done in haste. As for the interior, it is just plain dull. The gauges are fairly easy to read, although the indicators could be larger, but the overall effect is bland. Even the steering wheel manages to feel less than quality built with seams that can irritate your hands after a long driver even though the units tilts and telescopes.

Looks are everything when it comes to the Charger and many people expressed dismay when they found out this Dodge only comes as a four-door sedan. Nevertheless, we think Dodge did the right thing. The sedan is far more usable, looks nearly as sporty as a coupe, and saves considerable money as it uses many of the same ingredients as its Chrysler 300 sister. Those savings are passed on to you as the base price for this very large automobile with a spirited and economical six-cylinder engine is $22,320 (US). But be warned if you go for the more heavily optioned Daytona, Hemi, or super fast SRT-8 models you are looking at upwards of $32,000 (US). Of course, that gives you between 345 horsepower and 425 horsepower. Unfortunately, you are going to pay a two to eight mile per gallon penalty for this power. Gas mileage rating for our six-cylinder was 19/27.

Mom’s view: The seats need more lumbar and the lower pad is too short, but you have a good array of adjustments and can get fairly comfortable. The stereo is average at best, and the AM/FM switch is a long reach even for a six-footer. As usual, the Dodge has a system of setting radio stations that is frustrating. Holding down the push button just makes so much more sense. On the other hand the windshield wipers are very good. You just keep turning the stalk until you get the speed you wish. This is a great gift to those who have yet to figure out the ideal speed for delayed wiper sweeps featured on other makes. We tested the Charger in heavy rains and drizzle and the system was clearly superior.

The trunk remote does not work from enough distance, as you nearly have to be standing next to the car to get it to unlock. Furthermore, there is no place to grab the trunk lid so you have to slide your hand on the dirty rear bumper to gain lift it. As I have said many times, the trunk lid should open about three to five inches so that you can nudge it open with a grocery bag and not get your fingernails broken or dirty a long sleeved blouse or jacket. I might add that the trunk has a high lift over and is not as deep or useful as the competition.

Opening the doors is also exceptionally difficult as the painted handles are very slippery. Your only grip is a small ledge under the handle. The overall effect is not good, especially if you have long nails or your hands are wet. There is enough storage space inside with a fair sized glove compartment usable door compartments, and a deep center console. There is a nice place for sunglasses and the shifter is hefty and simple to use. The horn is another matter. It is difficult to activate it so I recommend you practice before an emergency arrives.

On the whole I liked the Charger very much. It brought back pleasurable memories and the strong brakes, comforting ride, and overwhelming size made it a family friendly vehicle. I would consider the Convenience Group Two, Road and Track Performance option, and still have a good car well under $30,000. You can also order some outlandish packages such as the Daytona with yellow or copper colors and a spoiler as well as other attention grabbers.

As my husband stated, the interior is too Spartan and borders on cheap looking. The cloth seats are not that easy to clean and none of my women friends were impressed at all. They thought the exterior was interesting, but once inside they had nothing positive to say outside of how quiet it was and roomy. Dodge probably figures this is a guy car, but it could be much more with some female designer influences.

Another concern, as with the new Mustang, are the very large A pillars that create large blind spots. While driving either car you simply cannot see a pedestrian standing on a corner waiting for a light to change unless you lean forward in your seat. Undoubtedly this was done to make the cars more rollover safe, but be very careful when turning right on a red light. By the way, the worst vehicles for this problem are the Hummers and the Dodge Durango A pillars of which the Charger’s look exactly alike.  Coincidentally, both these SUVs have the lowest real life fuel mileage we have ever gotten on a vehicle.

College going male’s view: Buy the 250 hp. 3.5-liter V-6 and you’re going to have all the giddy-up you’re going to need. The price is incredible and you can even pretend your in the “Dukes of Hazard County” thanks to a solid chassis, rack and pinion steering, Electronic Stability Program with brake assist, ABS, and power everything. Unfortunately, Daisy Duke might like the light steering, but I found it overboosted and that created a false sense of cornering ability in the Charger. This is a big car and the driver needs to feel that weight.

Dodge offers plenty of stereo options and even a DVD navigation system with CD/MP3 and six speakers powered by a 322-watt digital amplifier. The sound is good, but not great. The controls could be more clearly marked, too. I get the feeling that most of the money was invested in the chassis, brakes, and engine with little left over to spiffy up the interior.

Even on the cloth seated base model you get cruise control, a CD player, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, remote entry, air conditioning and power door locks, mirrors, and windows as standard. If you want to step up to the more performance oriented packages try the Road/Track option for $1,500 and get a much better suspension and a tuned exhaust. The brakes were excellent, although I never tested them severely due to the rain. By the way the ABS does work. Don’t ask. Overall, quite a buy for 4000 pounds of muscle.

Young working woman’s view: Not my type of car. It is too big and I didn’t find it that easy to drive in traffic or park in tight spaces. Just not as charming as the Chrysler 300. I think Daisy Duke types would like it, especially since with four doors they wouldn’t have to crawl through the window to get in and I don’t think Jessica Simpson would be interested anyway.

Family conference: There is no question this is good value and if the quality holds up the Charger is going to be a fine family vehicle. We only noticed one glitch when the engine hiccupped at a stoplight in our weeklong test. One can only image what variations buyers are going to do with this large canvas, but you can count on them being coveted by the local highway enforcement. It would certainly spoil the image to see Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane driving the Charger.

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