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Good things, it appears, come in threes. At DaimlerChrysler, it’s the LX cars: the Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum and now, the 2006 Dodge Charger. The newest member is big and brawny, but with sophistication it never had the last time it wore the name.
Returning to Dodge’s rear-wheel-drive roots, the Charger comes with a choice of five engines. In V6 power, there’s the anemic SE with a 2.7-litre (190 hp) and the much better SXT with a 3.5-litre (250 hp). The three Hemi V8 choices are the R/T’s 5.7-litre (340 hp); the slightly stronger Daytona R/T, also a 5.7 (350 hp) and the fire-breathing SRT8, with a 6.1-litre that makes 425 hp. (The name “Hemi”, first used by Chrysler in 1951, refers to the hemispherical shape of the combustion chambers.)
Of course, the bigger the engine, the more you’ll pay: the base SE starts at $27,495 and the SXT at $31,385, while the R/T begins at $37,550. I drove both the SXT and the R/T, and both are very good vehicles, but if the budget allows, the move up to the Hemi will definitely give you more “smiles to the mile”.
The Charger sits in the middle of the LX range: it’s not as flashy or pricey as the Chrysler 300, and while it shares most of the Magnum’s interior, it lacks the wagon’s functionality but has more nimble handling.
Its four doors make it practical, but they’re also grounds for a tempest in a teapot. Is it a “real” Charger, as Mopar enthusiasts whine about the rear doors? In that regard, no, it isn’t. And a BMW Mini isn’t an Austin Mini, and a New Beetle isn’t an old Beetle, and if you’ve ever driven a 1967 Mustang, you’ll know that pretty much all the new one shares is the styling.
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This is the evolution of the Charger name, not the Dukes of Hazzard, with a realistic configuration for the car’s target audience, which is older than those young bucks who jumped in through the General Lee’s open windows: easy access to child seats, shorter doors that you can readily open in parking lots, and no crawling over a folded-down front seat into the rear. Dodge has done its market research; and having hung around old-car guys for many years, I can tell you that the ones complaining the loudest wouldn’t spend the money to buy a new one even if it was a carbon copy of the 1969.
Okay, rant’s over. The Charger does represent a return to days gone by, in that it’s possible to get a number of engine choices in the same envelope; should you want to save some cash, you don’t have to squeeze everyone into a tinier car, and if you’re into horsepower, you don’t have to move up to a pricier performance sedan to get it. The Charger is a true five-seater, and what seats they are: I drove it on a trip for almost five hours straight, and got out as refreshed as when I started. Both V6 models come with cloth seats; all V8 models use leather, although the V6 SXT can be optioned up to it.
The 5.7-litre is a gutsy engine and a pleasure to drive; throttle response is immediate, and delivered through a five-speed automatic with manual shift mode. It features a Multi-Displacement System (MDS), which seamlessly shuts off four cylinders under light load, such as steady highway cruising. It’s virtually impossible to detect, except at the gas pumps: I spent much of my time on the highway during my week with the car, and averaged a surprisingly good 11.7 L/100 km (by contrast, the V6 SXT returned 10.3 L/100 km). The 5.7-litre also accepts regular fuel. However, the owner’s manual warns that if the battery is disconnected, the car must be returned to the dealer to have the MDS reset.
The R/T’s power seat and adjustable pedals came in handy for finding the right seating position – this car is big, and I’m not – but the Charger’s tall sides and relatively narrow windows may prove claustrophobic for some drivers. The back door’s kick-up is an attractive styling cue, but it brings the rear door window to a sharp point, and my husband complained that the small blackout panel inserted there always looked like a car in his blind spot whenever he glanced over his shoulder. That little rear panel is also where Dodge puts the lock button, and while it’s a very minor complaint, you can’t open the front door and reach in to unlock the rear one, as you could if it was positioned by the B-pillar.
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Inside, while the Charger’s fit and finish is quite good, there is also a great deal of hard plastic; the dash is functional and all controls are easy to use, but it’s not particularly elegant. That’s probably to be expected, given that the upscale Chrysler 300 naturally gets the full treatment, but I can’t so easily forgive the hood, which is held up by a prop rod. All the mounts are there, since the other LX cars have struts, but if you want to show off the Hemi (and you will), you have to hold up the hood and struggle with a metal pole, which seems more suited to an econobox than to a car hovering around forty grand.
Still, it’s possible to outfit the Charger with numerous luxuries; my R/T contained a navigation system that proved very accurate and simple to use, and a console-mounted rear DVD system, which should be left in the showroom; not only do children get more than enough electronic crap spewed at them and should have the privilege of time without it, but it also elevates the console to the point that I didn’t find it as comfortable an armrest as without when I was tapping the Auto/Stick transmission shifter and had my hand down to reach for it.
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Of course, it all comes down to the driving experience, and the Charger definitely delivers. It’s more muscle car than exotic road machine, although Mercedes-Benz’s influence is definitely there; there’s less body roll than expected in corners, given its size, and while the steering is relatively light, there’s still enough input that you know what the front wheels are doing. The R/T comes with a “touring-tuned” suspension that feels more big-car luxurious than the SXT; the V6 version has a firmer ride that’s not unpleasant, but isn’t as smooth and doesn’t soak up road imperfections as easily as the R/T. The R/T’s “performance” brakes are easier to modulate than the SXT’s, which tend to be grabby; both are four-wheel discs with ABS. Some first-year 300s and Magnums can have a tendency for the front wheels to pull to one side, but neither Charger I drove exhibited this; perhaps Chrysler has solved whatever geometry problem was to blame.
Moving from the V8 into the V6 was noticeable, of course; the SXT works fine under most driving conditions, but you’ll have to kick it down hard to get real passing power out of it, and it works hard to deliver. Although I didn’t drive the 2.7-litre in the Charger, I have in the Magnum; unless you’re really strapped for the financial move up to the bigger V6, the smaller one isn’t a good choice, working much too hard when you need any power out of it.
The SXT comes well-equipped, including air conditioning, traction control, rolling locks (overridden by the interior handles, as all should), electronic stability control, CD player, eight-way power driver’s seat, leather-wrapped wheel, heated mirrors and 17-inch aluminum wheels; the R/T adds automatic dual-zone climate control, heated leather seats and 18-inch aluminum wheels.
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The 60/40 rear seats fold on all but the SE model, turning the already-huge 114 cm trunk into a 197 cm cargo area.
Of the three LX cars, the Charger is the least noticeable on the street, lacking the 300’s chrome flash and the Magnum’s nasty, low-slung stance. It’s not a pretty car, and its rear end is too close to that of the Sebring; only the uplifted rear fender line saves it from being overly slab-sided.
But it still has an attitude, and one it can back up once you slip the V8 under the hood, put your foot into it, and watch the smoke come out from the correct wheels, just like the automotive gods intended. Is it a real Charger? Why, yes. Yes, it is.
Technical Data: 2006 Dodge Charger R/T
|Options||$6,940 (Electronics convenience group $765; Boston Acoustics sound package $695; smoker’s group $50; power sunroof $1,050; navigation radio $2,895; Uconnect hands-free communication $295; rear seat video system $1,190)|
|Price as tested||$45,790 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger full-size sedan|
|Layout||Longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive|
|Engine||5.7-litre V8, OHV, 16 valves|
|Horsepower||340 @ 5000 rpm|
|Torque||390 lb.-ft.@ 4000 rpm|
|Tires||P225/60R-18 Continental all-season touring|
|Curb weight||1860 kg (4100 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||3048 mm (120.0 in.)|
|Length||5082 mm (200.1 in.)|
|Width||1891 mm (74.5 in.)|
|Height||1479 mm (58.2 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||459 litres (16.2 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 13.9 L/100 km (20 mpg Imperial)|
|Hwy: 8.8 L/100 km (32 mpg Imperial)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/ 60,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|