New & Used Dodge Charger: In Depth
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The Dodge Charger is one of Chrysler's large rear-drive cars. Its relatives currently include the Dodge Challenger two-door muscle car and the Chrysler 300 sedan; it also had the Dodge Magnum wagon as a sibling for a short time. Today's Charger is available with rear- or all-wheel drive, and with a wide range of engines—from a sensible V-6 to huge V-8s for the SRT versions. The Charger name is steeped in history, having been attached to performance two-door models for much of the past.
For 2015, the Charger has also staked its claim as the fastest four-door in the world. This doesn't apply to the V-6 version or even the basic HEMI V-8; the car that launches itself into the stratosphere is a new SRT edition. Christened the Charger SRT Hellcat for its new engine—a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 making an astronomical 707 horsepower—it is capable of a top speed of over 200 mph. Thanks to its superior aerodynamics, the Charger SRT Hellcat is faster even than its Challenger Hellcat sibling, even though the Challenger is a somewhat lighter car. Dodge also continues to offer the 6.4-liter normally aspirated SRT engine in the Charger SRT 392 as well as in a new non-SRT Scat Pack model.
MORE: Read our 2015 Dodge Charger review
The original Dodge Charger was built in 1965 as an option package for the Dart GT, then from 1966 to 1978 as a rear-wheel-drive, two-door muscle car. It was built in four generations over that 12-year run, though the second-generation car, built from 1968 to 1970 is probably the most recognizable. This version was, and still is for many, the iconic Charger. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Charger was available with the same engines as the Challenger, including the 426 cubic-inch Hemi, the 440 Magnum, and 440 Six-Pack.
From 1983 to 1987, the Charger was re-envisioned as a compact hatchback, a popular seller spun off from Mitsubishi mechanicals--but whether or not it was a true Charger is still up for debate. From the end of that model's run, the Charger name was put on ice until it returned in 2006.
Based on the same platform as the Dodge Challenger muscle car, the 2006 Charger sedan made legitimate claims to the Charger heritage, with design cues that reinforce those ties. In base SE form it featured a not-so-muscular 2.7-liter V-6 engine paired to a four-speed automatic, but still delivered the size and comfort of a large sedan. The SXT trim level substituted a 3.5-liter V-6 and added Sirius Satellite Radio, traction and stability control, plus a power driver's seat among other options. The R/T package added a 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine rated at 368 horsepower, and a special AutoStick automatic transmission, a performance exhaust, plus steering wheel-mounted audio controls, power/heated front seats, and power heated folding side mirrors. The range-topping SRT8 featured a 6.1-liter HEMI V-8 with output of 425 horsepower, capable of hauling the big sedan to 60 mph in the low-five-second range.
For 2011, Dodge gave the Charger a redesign, with a more outrageous take on the exterior styling, combined with a more modern and contemporary dash that felt far better detailed that the old interior. Chrysler's Pentastar V-6 was introduced as the base engine, making 292 horsepower, while HEMI-powered models were bumped up to 370 hp and the top SRT8 was boosted to 6.4 liters and 470 hp. The Charger also became more tech-proficient, with a new Garmin navigation system, an in-car WiFi system (using USB dongles), and got some safety-related systems like active cruise control and blind-spot monitoring.
More powertrain changes come for 2012, with V-6 models switching to a much more tractable eight-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox not only aids refinement but boosts fuel economy compared to the five-speed unit it replaced, managing up to 31 mpg on the highway. For 2013, Dodge added Rallye and Blacktop appearance packages that also included a 300-hp version of the V-6; the extra power came by way of a performance exhaust and cold-air intake. The same year, a Beats by Dre sound system was made available as an option, as was a black-painted roof, and the Garmin-based nav system received an enhanced feature set.
For 2013, a new Charger AWD Sport edition became available on both the V-6 and V-8 (non-SRT) versions, with added power on the six-cylinder car and 19-inch wheels and tires. Dodge also launched the 2013 Charger Daytona edition with new graphics, a more aggressive exterior look, and small tweaks to gearing and suspension for sharper performance.
For 2014, the Charger saw few changes: a new Redline Package emerged with a tuned version of the 3.6-liter V-6, packaged with a few styling tweaks and an upgraded audio system.
The Charger SRT Hellcat is 2015's big news. With the same supercharged V-8 as the Challenger SRT Hellcat, the Charger's actually quicker, thanks to smoother aerodynamics. It accelerates even quicker (0 to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds, officially). And its top speed is a holy-rolling 204 mph.
Charger SRT Hellcats have a new Drive Modes feature, with Sport, Track, Default, and Eco settings that alter transmission shift points, paddle-shifter behavior, traction controls, and suspension. They can also limit power; the Charger Hellcat includes a red and a black keyfob, with the black one offering reduced engine output. There's also a Valet Mode--as there should be for a sedan priced from $61,000.
The 6.4-liter HEMI remains in the SRT lineup for 2015, now in a model now called the Charger SRT 392 as a nod to the engine's displacement. It also benefits from some of the upgrades made for the Hellcat version, including the new eight-speed automatic. The SRT models retain their hydraulic-assist power steering, while the rest of the Charger models move to an electric system. Dodge also offers a version of the R/T called Scat Pack that uses the SRT 6.4-liter engine, providing similar straightline performance for a lot less money.
The 2015 model year also brings revised styling inside and out to all Chargers, SRT or otherwise. The exterior is a grown-up version of the Dodge Dart's styling, and the interior gets updated materials and design tweaks to keep it looking fresh. Dodge managed to make a pretty significant change to the Charger's look without touching the middle of the car; the doors and body shell carry over, while the front and rear see big modifications.