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The Dodge Charger looks like family car, but it's actually a riot in disguise. It's a classic piece of Detroit style, a musclecar bristling with bravado, and a reasonable means of transportation with just the right amount of sophistication and refinement. In essence, it's the kind of car that restores your faith in the notion of a premium American-made car.
For the 2013 model year, the Charger hasn't changed much, but there are more features and a little more flair in some special editions, to go with the major gains in gas mileage and refinement posted for the prior model years.
The Charger has helped move the Dodge brand to a higher plane, and has brought a new kind of buyer into the fold, with its split personality. You can essentially go two ways with the Charger. Keep the bottom-line price down and get a V-6 model—it's economical, refined, and no slouch—or go with one of the V-8 models, which give its performance to rival some machines that wear M or AMG badging. The Charger SRT is a serious threat, at a much lower price.
The Charger's style hasn't changed all that significantly on the outside since it was introduced for 2005, but it still stands out as one of a kind. With a Coke-bottle look alongside, a high beltline, and the Dodge crosshair grille, along with its unmistakeable tail and bar of LED lamps, this sedan has a commanding shape, careful retro-modern detailing, and an aura of masculinity all around. Forget the Dukes of Hazzard and any NASCAR associations for the moment; this sedan looks curvy and exotic from some angles, blunt and punishing from others. A couple of years ago the dash was smoothed over, with a design that's less flamboyant but a lot more pleasant and practical—and driver-oriented.
The only Charger we might avoid from a performance perspective is the base SE, but only because it comes with a five-speed automatic while the eight-speed automatic that's included in SXT models is so much better. Otherwise, it's now simply a matter of whether you're okay with the V-8's extra price and thirst (and, perhaps, its less responsible image). Chrysler's new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, making 292 horsepower, is what powers base Charger models, and it's made better through a very smooth and responsive eight-speed ZF automatic. Paddle-shifters are included, and the combination gets up to 31 mpg highway. Go with the R/T and its 370-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 (and five-speed automatic) if you want more engagement, a lot more torque, and a classic burble, while for the most engaging, tire-scorching performance you should head straight for the SRT8; with its 6.4-liter HEMI V-8, with 475 horsepower and a five-speed automatic, it's good for 0-60 mph times of under five seconds and tuned, in some ways, we think, to sound like a classic big-block engine.
The SRT8 handles surprisingly well for a big, heavy sedan—with much more of a nimble nature than a Ford Taurus or Chevrolet Impala. There's not a lot of lean or body roll in any of the models, but the SRT8 and its new adaptive suspension has the best combination of ride and control (it's selectable, from comfort-tuned to aggressively firm).
The flamboyant muscle-car look doesn't impact interior space or usability all that much, although you do pay for that high beltline with outward visibility that's a little more limited than in other sedans. But thanks to the rather blunt, upright styling, there's plenty of headroom all around. Front seats are wide and well bolstered, and wide doors make ingress and egress easy. Legroom especially is a little tight in back, but if they complain too much you can remind them that it does meet police-car standards.
There's no reason to hesitate about safety either; the Charger has earned a five-star overall score in federal testing, and it's been an IIHS Top Safety Pick. A rearview camera system, active cruise control, and blind-spot monitors are available in addition to all the expected standard items.
The 2013 Charger is well equipped, especially from the SXT level and above. Even base SE Chargers include air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, locks and mirrors; a power driver seat; pushbutton start; and an AM/FM/CD player with a 4.3-inch touchscreen control. Other good tech options include navigation with real-time traffic and voice control (with improved graphics for 2013), as well as the option to plug a cell-network data dongle in and create a local wireless network.
You can add additional muscle-car color with a number of appearance packages, while this year a new Rallye Appearance Group and Blacktop Package ups power of V-6 models to 300 hp thanks to cold-air induction and a sport-tuned exhaust.