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Reborn with the help of some Daimler running gear, the 2005 Charger neatly stitched itself back to the 1970s muscle cars that still give the chicken skin to car followers and daydreamers. It's as if the 25 years in between never happened. No Reagan revolution. No NASCAR explosion. No Omni pollution.
With the 2011 Charger, Dodge has gone even more overboard. Not all the change in the Charger is quite so graphic, but the Charger's new flares and filigrees "pop" on camera and strike a deep masculine nerve, like finding out Catholic girls'-school uniforms are suddenly back in style. The Charger shouts out for your attention; the front end tilts dizzyingly forward like a Leaning Tower of Crosshairs; the headlamps have such angry eyebrows you might need to apologize first, and ask why later. Dodge says it's "ready to attack the road"; maybe a restraining order is in order.
The Charger isn't quite as flamboyant on the inside; the new dash lays out a simple plan for you that involves big dials hashed in red, a plain piece of metallic-printed plastic to cover over some structural points that probably couldn't be changed inexpensively, and a big LCD screen for infotainment features. The dash face itself downplays in-your-face looks for clarity, much appreciated, and the materials used have taken a big ol' leap into the latest vein. The plastics give with just the right amount of squish, the chrome-y trim is applied with a pro makeup artist's restraint, and a minor qualm or two (window switches that pull up way too far, exposing switch edges) doesn't diminish the sophistication baked into the Charger's cockpit.
While the V-8 engines in the R/T and SRT8 remain the most desired models, much of the 2011 Dodge Charger model line is V-6-powered. This year, the Charger gets an all-new Pentastar 3.6-liter with 292 horsepower that replaces both the old 2.7-liter and 3.5-liter V-6, outpacing them both in output by either 63 or 16 percent, respectively. Those V-6 models are respectable performers, but the V-8s are the stars of the lineup. Not many sensory perceptions can equal the throb of a massive V-8 in full mating call, and the HEMI V-8 is the equal of Ford's Mustang V-8 for its lascivious racket. Play around the 2000-rpm to 3000-rpm range and the HEMI connects with your inner lothario. The 5.7-liter belts out 370 horsepower with the thrilling force of great gospel music—and you won't be shocked if the 0-60 mph numbers flying around put this R/T in the 5.5-second range.
With updated steering—it's now a hydraulic pump spun by electric motors—the Charger's ride and handling stays true to character with a slightly beefy touch to the controls. Upgraded shocks, control arms and bushings don't seem to release any road feel while touching up the Charger's ride quality lightly. This is a big sedan, mind you, and while you can't overcome the laws of physics, the Charger R/T can fudge around those laws with a nudge on the gas, and a little heart-healthy rear steer.
Despite the highly emotional styling of the 2011 Dodge Charger, which might just turn off some sensible, comfort-minded shoppers, the Charger doesn't fare too badly as a stock American-issue sedan. Big door cut-outs, a tall roofline, wide and lightly bolstered front seats and fairly spacious back seat put the Charger near the front of the line for all sorts of pedestrian uses, from police duty to real-estate caravanning. If you can humble the HEMI's throaty rumble—Chrysler's damped it a little with thicker glass and more soundproofing—it's fine domestic transportation down to its high airbag count and high-tech safety grafts, like active cruise control, rearview camera, and blind-spot monitors.
Feature-happy Chrysler is following hotly on Ford's heels, if a step or two behind. The 2011 Dodge Charger opens up USB ports for plug-in dongles that turn 3G into in-car WiFi; a Garmin navigation system calls up directions on the LCD screen, though it's a barely factory unit that has some maddening paths to finding maps and programming instructions. The Charger has Bluetooth and can be optioned up to Sirius TravelLink, so you can follow sports scores, lottery numbers and movie times while driving (not so great an idea in print, better and less distracting in practice). Some systems can be controlled by voice, but the Dodge setup is nowhere near as complex or as hands-free as Ford's SYNC.