2011 Dodge Charger Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
December 4, 2010

The Charger R/T is a passionate play in a niche full of milquetoast four-doors. You don't have to wear a mullet to love it and own it.

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.

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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.

8

2011 Dodge Charger

Styling

On the outside, the 2011 Dodge Charger looks ready to attack; but inside, it's about function just as much as form.

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.

Still, the Charger shouts out for your attention, when you circle around that prow of a nose, and pan down the sedan's sideview. 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.

Spin to the side and the Charger's bracket scoops do plenty to relieve its tall sides--while they also remind us a lot of the Buick Regal, even the 2012 Ford Focus. It reads "forward thrust" even in Braille, and particularly in dark metallic orange, but it's almost a non sequitir. The now-pinched roofline has shades of zombie Pontiac in its angled window cut.

The best details are in back, where 164 LED taillamps span a tall, square-ish apple bottom sometimes topped off with a spoiler.

Pull up the non-Benz door handles (no pass-through for fingers, a pity) and plop into wide cushy bucket seats, and the Charger's new dash lays out a simple plan for you. It 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.

8

2011 Dodge Charger

Performance

The 2011 Dodge Charger isn't a stellar performer in most respects; but get it with one of the V-8s and it's a charmer.

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.

The transmission's a letdown on paper, still a five-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode, but it pairs well with the hugely torquey HEMI. Chrysler's working on integrating eight-speed automatics into all its larger vehicles; we hope they slap a set of paddles for shifting on the steering wheel, too, because the lever-controlled manual mode encourages one-hand driving.

The Charger's big-car feel isn't ponderous until you opt for Dodge's all-wheel drive system, which makes the steering more reluctant to unwind and gives the car a bulkier (in a bad way) driving feel.

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.

The R/T, by the way, rolls on 18-inch tires unless you pick up the optional 20-inchers, available on "Enforcer" or "Rallye" or "Rallye Plus" packages as well. A "Road and Track" package re-tweaks everything with bigger roll bars, Goodyear sport tires, stiffer monotube shocks and tougher brake linings, as well as an "off" mode for stability control.

8

2011 Dodge Charger

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Dodge Charger is quite comfortable; don't let the styling (or the name) make you think otherwise.

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. The only caveat to that is that the Charger's ride quality isn't quite up to par with cushy cruisers like the Toyota Avalon, or even a number of German sport sedans.

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.

8

2011 Dodge Charger

Safety

The 2011 Dodge Charger adds some important new features that should make it a better safety pick.

The Dodge Avenger has a pretty good record for safety, and we anticipate that the 2011 model will probably make some improvements in both occupant protection and accident avoidance.

Front-seat active head restraints have been added to the Dodge Charger's list of safety features, which already include electronic stability control, full-length side-curtain airbags, and a driver's side knee bag. Also available are adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, rear cross-path detection, and blind-spot monitoring.

The 2010 Dodge Charger achieved top five-star ratings from the federal government, under its former system. However tests and ratings have been revised for 2011 and it hasn't yet been tested under those. The Charger has been a less impressive performer in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests; the 2010 model had achieved only 'marginal' results in side impact as well as rear impact.

8

2011 Dodge Charger

Features

The 2011 Dodge Charger doesn't skimp on features, but it's a half-step behind on some of the connectivity ones.

The difference between the 2011 Charger trims comes down more to engines than it does to features. The Charger SE comes with V-6 power, and in R/T form with the HEMI V-8 and either rear- or all-wheel drive. An SRT8-spec Charger hasn't been on any public agenda, but you can bet it's number one on the secret agenda.

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.

5

2011 Dodge Charger

Fuel Economy

As a muscle sedan with big-displacement engines, the 2011 Dodge Charger was born to run fast—and not to be very green.

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Final 2011-model-year EPA fuel economy estimates for the Dodge Charger still hadn't been released at the time of posting. Last year's figures ranged from 18 mpg city, 26 highway (17/25 with the popular 3.5-liter V-6) down to 16/25 with the Hemi. We anticipate that figures with the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 might be up slightly from the former 3.5-liter, however mileage with the V-8s, which continue to get technology that can deactivate cylinders when cruising or coasting, will remain the same. That five-speed automatic (one or several gears fewer than most rival models) can't be helping either.

Final 2011-model-year EPA fuel economy estimates for the Dodge Charger still hadn't been released at the time of posting. Last year's figures ranged from 18 mpg city, 26 highway (17/25 with the popular 3.5-liter V-6) down to 16/25 with the Hemi. We anticipate that figures with the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 might be up slightly from the former 3.5-liter, however mileage with the V-8s, which continue to get technology that can deactivate cylinders when cruising or coasting, will remain the same. That five-speed automatic (one or several gears fewer than most rival models) can't be helping either.

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