2011 Dodge Charger
2011 Dodge Charger; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

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By Paul Williams

Photo Gallery:
2011 Dodge Charger

San Francisco, California – Of the eight new vehicles presented by Dodge at their recent San Francisco launch, the 2011 Dodge Charger was the perhaps the most surprising. Not because it’s got more horsepower (of course it does), and not because it’s been re-styled (you’d expect new styling). No, the big surprise was the almost European sport sedan-like handling of this big, rear-drive car on the twisting roads of Northern California, and the smoothness of the new V6 engine under the hood.

But before gushing too much about the refined chassis and superior driving dynamics, I should say that we drove a Charger equipped with the “Rallye Group,” which includes a performance suspension, among other enhancements.

2011 Dodge Charger
2011 Dodge Charger; photo courtesy Chrysler. Click image to enlarge

Is that a game-changer? Perhaps not, as all 2011 Chargers feature a fully re-engineered suspension, with redesigned front and rear multi-link suspension geometries, more aggressive camber settings and higher-performance front and rear stabilizer bars. Judging from the experience of suspension improvements over the range of new Dodge and Chrysler vehicles, even the standard suspension tuning and chassis refinements will produce a significant improvement over outgoing models.

But that said, the Rallye Group — which includes 20-inch chrome wheels, performance tires, rear spoiler, performance suspension, nine amplified speakers and a 506-watt amplifier — can be had for a more-than-reasonable $1,500 addition to the $31,995 Charger SXT or $33,995 SXT Plus. Not a significant amount for some very nice additional features.

However, you can pay less and still receive an impressively specified $29,995 Charger SE, equipped with the all-new 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine making 292-horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, a five-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch aluminum wheels, electronic stability control with brake assist and traction control, LED rear tail lamps, active turn signals, dual zone temperature control, automatic headlamps, “Uconnect” media centre, capless fuel fill door, keyless “Enter ‘n Go,” six-way power driver’s seat and steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls.

2011 Dodge Charger
2011 Dodge Charger; photo courtesy Chrysler. Click image to enlarge

From the SE, it’s not a big jump to the Charger SXT ($2,000 to be exact) and its 18-inch wheels, heated seats, premium audio, heated mirrors, automatic dual-zone climate control and a universal garage-door opener, among other items.

And by opting for the SXT, or the $33,995 SXT Plus with leather interior and heated front and rear seats, you can add the aforementioned Rallye Group, which so impressed on the first drive of the new Charger.

The Rallye Group is not available on the $37,995 V8 Charger R/T, but like the V6 Chargers, it features a fully redesigned suspension, this one tailored specifically to the performance of the 372-hp “Hemi” V8. A notable feature of this engine is that in order to save fuel, it will run on only four cylinders when less power is needed (using Chrysler’s Multi-Displacement System (MDS)), with fuel economy further enhanced by the low 2.65 rear axle final drive ratio. Eighteen-inch wheels are standard, along with HID headlamps and a rear spoiler.

2011 Dodge Charger
2011 Dodge Charger; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

If sharper driving dynamics are desired, a $1,000 Road and Track package includes 20-inch wheels, a 3.06 rear axle ratio, a high-speed engine controller, as well as interior and exterior appearance enhancements. For $500 more (why not, you’ve made it this far), the $39,495 Charger R/T with Super Track Pack adds 245/45ZR20-inch performance tires, three-mode ESC (includes full off mode), performance steering, sport suspension and heavy-duty ABS brakes. The R/T is also available with all-wheel drive for $39,995. It is fitted with 19-inch wheels and an active transfer case with a front axle-disconnect system that can improve fuel economy by up to five per cent.

The exterior of the 2011 Charger has received a full makeover, with scalloping in the hood and at the sides that pay homage to the 1968-1970 Charger coupes. The grille is also redesigned, but the most obvious 2011 exterior feature is the rear tail-lamp assembly that refers to the distinctive wrap-around tail-lamp of the 1970 Charger. The 2011 version uses 164 separate LEDs that illuminate the entire rear perimeter of the trunk.

Responding to criticisms concerning the outward visibility of the previous-generation Charger, the 2011 version has 15 per cent more glass. This is achieved by using thinner pillars, greater windshield area, and rear doors with additional quarter-glass windows. The result is a car that looks less bulky than its predecessor, although it still has a formidable presence. Dodge refers to its looks (front especially) as “sinister,” with a “ready to attack the road” demeanour. I’m not sure how that plays for the average suburban family, but it is the brand image and it does separate the Charger from more conservatively styled competitors like the Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus and… what? Toyota Avalon? (there aren’t many affordable full-size sedans on the market, let alone rear-wheel drive examples).

2011 Dodge Charger
2011 Dodge Charger
2011 Dodge Charger; photos courtesy Chrysler. Click image to enlarge

The interior is likewise fully redesigned, with a one-piece instrument cluster and centre console. The seats, door panels, fabrics and materials are a significant improvement over the outgoing model’s rather bland interior, and soft-touch points are provided for an overall richer feel. The armrests, it should be noted, are nicely upholstered.

The Pentastar engine seemed fully up to the task of propelling the Charger in all driving situations. Accelerating onto a highway and passing were greeted with good acceleration and satisfyingly modern sounds from the twin-overhead camshaft V6. At cruising speeds, the low engine speed, laminated acoustic glass and effective cabin insulation produced a very quiet cabin. The suspension, as mentioned above, was smooth and firm, without being harsh. The electro-hydraulic power steering was light in parking lots and on city streets, but provides a firm on-centre feel at higher speeds.

All this adds up to a car that is comfortable to occupy and is much lighter on its feet that its size would imply. Dodge says it has targeted the 5 Series BMW for driving dynamics and Lexus for craftsmanship, and although they haven’t duplicated these vehicles, the 2011 Charger is going in the right direction.

Numerous options are available for the 2011 Charger, including an affordable Garmin-based navigation system with 21-centimetre touch-screen, cross-traffic detection (when backing up), Alpine premium audio, Blind-spot monitoring system, forward collision warning and “ParkView” rear camera.

Fuel economy is expected to be improved over the previous model, but official numbers are not currently available. The 2011 Dodge Charger is making its way to showrooms in December, 2010. It is built at the Brampton Assembly Plant, in Brampton, Ontario. It is the family sedan with attitude.

2011 Dodge Charger MSRPs
  • SE: $29,995
  • SXT: $31,995
  • SXT Plus: $33,995
  • R/T: $37,995
  • R/T AWD: $39,955
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