Chrysler design boss Ralph GillesEnlarge Photo
Dodge's Ralph Gilles wants to win you over. His game plan: new or freshened Dodges. For example, the 2011 Durango gets a Jeep's unit-body platform. Meanwhile, the Charger undergoes a significant makeover. Gilles describes this as "waking up and doing what we can do."
Gilles told Chicago's motoring press recently that "Dodge is an extroverted brand; its epicenter is the Charger."
He adds, "we know it's a Charger, rather than a muscular four-door with an old name."
For 2011, the revamped version retains the muscle-car attitude tucked into new "effort-reducing" trimmer duds.
Improved driver visibility represents the Charger's newfound ease. For instance, Dodge altered the windshield angle. Plus it now incorporates Euro-style side-door welded-window frames. The result: larger window apertures.
The exterior: A 1968 Charger homage (scoop-like side and hood indentations). Nonetheless, Gilles argues, "the never been hugged as a child" look is "shaped by science." In particular, the new windshield angle, lowered nose and stretched bobbed tail reduce aerodynamic drag. This improves fuel economy. The retro-theme rear lamp assembly is an ode to Star Wars' Millennium Falcon spacecraft with 164 up-to-date LEDs. A laser-welded roof smooths the sedan's profile.
Family-friendly upgrade: doors open wider. Get in, you'll see an alloy dash bezel, rubber faced knobs, mood lighting, flocked glove box liner and tambour-door type center console cover. The Dodge boys ditched the Daimler-Benz-origin clumsy four-spoke steering wheel in favor a three-spoke one with easier-to-use buttons.
When Gilles referred to the 2010 Charger, he used four-letter "S" word no fewer than four times. His point: Dodge's insides were claustrophobic, flimsy and low-rent. That's changed. Even the trunk is now fully lined, hinges covered and its lighting improved.
Further refinements improve handling. For instance, suspension geometry has more negative camber, which improves tire placement. The steering rack is now solidly mounted improving road feel-"a trick learned," says Gilles, "from the Germans." Engineers also revised the power steering for better weighting.
The Charger, however, keeps (important argues Gilles), its power. Gilles says, "it can still do burnouts." Nonetheless, he maintains that Dodge no longer uses the V-6 engine as "bait to sell the V8." With its slipperier silhouette and further power-train updates, either engine induces 1960s-era Dodge fever. Now add the claimed $2,300 upgrade in content, such as alloy wheels on all models; you've got a cure for the common family car.