It has been called the modern muscle sedan, but like the Detroit-bred hot rods that preceded it, the Dodge Charger faces an era of austerity and downsizing.
Is there still room for a big V8-powered rear-wheel-drive sedan in this increasingly competitive marketplace? We sure think so, especially since the Charger has undergone some incremental changes since its 2011 model year redesign.
With these updates in mind, we decided to take a look at a mid-level Charger R/T - equipped, as so many are, with a special package. While the Charger R/T Daytona tested is a 2013, it essentially mirrors the 2014 model year Charger aside from its 2013-only stickers and paint scheme.
What is it?
Recalling Dodge's muscle cars of yore, the Charger R/T is distinctly more aggressive than most full-size sedans.
Riding on a heavily updated version of the original "modern" 2005 model year Charger's platform (which actually dates back to the mid-1990s Mercedes-Benz E-Class, of all things), the latest model remains a full-size four-door sedan. For those interested in something more luxurious, the Chrysler 300 is essentially the same car beneath its more stately sheetmetal and classier interior. The Charger, however, is cheaper.
Charger is offered with three engines. The 5.7-liter HEMI V8 tested here is bookended by a 3.6-liter V6 and, on the SRT8, a 6.4-liter HEMI V8. The V6 comes mated to a high-tech eight-speed automatic, but the V8s use a five-speed automatic. That's in contrast to some other Chrysler products that use the V8 but mate it to eight gears.
Our test car featured the optional Road & Track package that doesn't include a subscription to the magazine of the same name but does bring with it a host of convenience and performance goodies. A $400 Super Track Pack adds a more taut suspension and beefed up brakes and steering.
The Daytona package tested contains some retro-style add-ons like a matte black spoiler and stripes. It was a 2013-only package, but the Charger was otherwise unchanged for 2014.
What's it up against?
Charger's new rival is the limited production Chevrolet SS, which offers performance somewhere between the Charger R/T and SRT8. If you're not looking for something quite as sporty, it's worth cross-shopping the Hyundai Genesis and Kia K900 - plus the Chrysler 300, of course.
What's it look like?
Though the basic "modern" Charger look has been around for about a decade now, we still like it. Actually, the Charger was thoroughly redesigned for the 2011 model year - its entire body is different, albeit not dramatically.
Up front, the crosshair fascia presents a serious face to traffic. Big slab sides look good thanks in part to careful chiseling just aft of the front wheels. Out back, we love Dodge's "race track" LED tail lamp arrangement. Not only does it provide better visibility for other drivers, it also looks pretty cool.
Though it's now a moot point, one thing we didn't like was the Daytona package. Tacky black details and a blue paint scheme all too similar to Michigan's police cars proved off-putting. Other Chargers in more subtle shades are classier.
And on the inside?
Unchanged since 2011, the Charger's interior is cavernous and ergonomically pleasing, if a little cave-like swathed in black. Every surface bar the trim on the dash and center console is black, which makes this big interior feel more cramped than it should.
That said, there is plenty of stretch-out room for all five passengers - yes, even the middle seat rider in the rear is treated to good space here.
Chrysler's big 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system takes center stage on the dashboard, where it doesn't look especially well-integrated but does at least offer class-leading functionality. Quick-reacting and easy to sort through, it sets the standard for the industry. Moreover, it mates nicely to the 552-watt Beats by Dr. Dre audio system, although the big subwoofer does take up some trunk room.
On the design and materials front, we find the Charger's dash appearance to be a little cold up against more interesting designs found elsewhere. So to the materials, which feel about right on the dashboard but occasionally come across a little too low-budget elsewhere. Particularly egregious was our tester's leather trim, which felt plasticky and came across looking rather worn despite showing just 6,000 miles on the odometer.
But does it go?
Blasting to 60 mph from a stop in a hair under six seconds, the Charger R/T is, by all accounts, a very fast four-door. But what is even more impressive is the way it goes about its business - almost like a luxury car.
The 370 horsepower and 395 lb-ft. of torque are always on tap, but the Charger manages to feel more refined than the gaudy NASCAR-inspired Daytona package fitted to our test car would otherwise indicate. That said, you can still turn off the traction and stability control systems and burn Goodyear rubber with ease. The HEMI's exhaust comes alive as the tachometer needle chases redline, but, frankly, we thought it was a little too quiet at low speeds given its performance positioning. An optional two-stage exhaust system that opens up at high RPMs would really fit this car's character.
Big brakes fitted to the Track Pack bring things to a halt confidently despite the Charger's roughly 4,500 lbs. curb weight. Yet the taut suspension and nicely-weighted steering make the Charger feel more nimble than that heft might suggest.
The segment's standard-bearer, at least in terms of cornering, is now the Chevy SS - but the Charger hardly feels like a Detroit four-door of yore. The thick three-spoke steering wheel's hydraulic power steering doesn't filter out as much of the road as so many other sedans do today, but its steering feels more ponderous than the quick-witted SS' setup.
Underneath, the Track Pack suspension doesn't isolate passengers from every road dimple, but it is hardly punishing either. The long wheelbase helps smooth out wavy pavement. We found the Charger to be an admirable highway companion marred only by its fuel consumption. At 16/25 mpg, the Charger does (significantly) best the SS, but it really would benefit from the extra three cogs afforded by Chrysler's latest transmission. We had a hard time pegging the highway figure but matched the 19 mpg combined number in mixed driving.
Leftlane's bottom line
Go easier on the options - the tacky Daytona package is gone for 2014, for one - and the Charger looks like an awfully good value. It's easy to find one in the mid-$35,000 range, and we imagine a good negotiator could pay a lot less than that. Suddenly the Chevrolet SS may not seem worth the stretch (an SS stickers for about $44,000).
Refined road manners combine with a ferocious powertrain and more swagger than any other four-door to make this sedan worth coveting. We look forward to more updates to the interior and transmission, but there's still plenty to love about the Dodge Charger R/T.
2013 Dodge Charger R/T base price, $29,995. As tested, $41,645.
Plus Package, $2,000; Road & Track Package, $2,000; Daytona Package, $2,500; Navigation/backup camera, $1,195; Driver Confidence Package, $795; Super Track Pack, $400; Adaptive cruise control, $925; Power moonroof, $840 Destination, $995.
Photos by Andrew Ganz.