Non-Hemi Charger offers plenty of power, fun
Old-school purists will never quite get over the notion that the venerable Dodge Charger has come back to life in the form of a four-door sedan, even if it has been mixed up with the masculine angularity of current generation muscle car machines such as the Dodge Magnum and the Chrysler 300.And while some of those complainers may base their entire argument on the fact that you can’t really weld shut the doors on the new Charger like you could on a “General Lee”-era machine, those four doors actually makes the current model a more reasonable, family-friendly automobile, and still one tough-looking, easy-handling ride.Even I didn’t moan too much about getting a Charger tester curiously sans the fabled Hemi engine. Our SXT model, priced rather affordably at just under $26,000, featured a high-revving, 3.5 liter V6 that produced 250 horsepower and was capable of tackling hills and screaming down straightaways, and still got about 25 miles a gallon on the highway. Those with an unlimited budget for gasoline might opt for the standard Hemi (340 horsepower) or hold out for the new and largely insane SRT8 model, featuring a 6.1 liter Hemi producing 425 horses. That’s all up to you and your budget.
The new Charger doesn’t share a whole lot with its 1960s and ’70s ancestors, except the ability to proceed at a rapid clip and carry five people comfortably while doing so. The vehicle’s size, blocky outline and stocky stance make it seem much larger than it really is; granted, it’s still a substantial vehicle, with steering, braking and parking all reflecting a more retro-styled machine. Steering especially is a little loose, with a lot of steering wheel travel, but the whole package is still a lot of fun and feels very organic, especially compared to the overly computer-controlled machines out there.The six-cylinder Charger’s pedal needs to be hammered to the floor to get the full power from a dead stop or when passing someone while heading uphill, but there’s ample juice waiting for you there. And the most pleasant surprise was that we were able to get from Denver to Vail and back on less than a half-tank of gas, yet still travel along at a good pace.Design takes the Magnum’s blocky, low-slung lines and runs with them, with one mean-looking chrome grille and a large, forward-thrusting bumper set off by dual headlamps and small turn signals.
Eighteen-inch wheels riding on Continental ContiTouring Contact tires add to that big-shouldered feel, with the front wheels moved far forward on the chassis for an almost BMW-styled look. Tall doors and small side windows give the car a tough and potentially claustrophobic appearance – it’s really not so bad inside – with those sharply angled rear windows sloping into the fade of the roofline and producing some potential visibility issues. In the back, an angled deck lid creates a natural air dam, and super-huge tail lamps and a wide bumper accentuate the overall chunky look.The Charger’s interior, especially on the SXT model, is a likeable brand of austere, with big angles, simple design and little to get in the way of pure driving action. A broad, rubbery dash features a slight cowl over the instrument cluster, with four deeply recessed, black-on-white, chrome-rimmed gauges offering bare-bones info. An all-plastic and cloth interior is nonetheless enticing and sharply designed, from the chrome door handles and circular cups for the door pulls to the chrome accents on the shift gate. A painted silver finish covers the four-spoke steering wheel, shift knob and center stack. The audio system, complete with a single CD, 276-watt deck and six Boston Acoustics speakers, offered tons of volume; a simple three-knob manual heating and AC system was also easy to use and produced good mid-summer cooling. There’s a huge storage box in the center console.
Highly adjustable seating – almost two feet of back and forth movement, should you need it – included power adjustments on the driver’s side. The seats were just a tad stiff on the bottom and back, but proved refreshingly comfortable after a few hours in the saddle.Those 250 horses under the hood are linked to a five-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually with a click to the left or right, which is much easier than the manu-matic mode on many other vehicles. In the back, louver-styled window shading mixed with light-colored carpeting underneath the rear window also led to some minor rear visibility impairment, but didn’t create major problems.Not a bad cruising machine at a reasonable price – and cool looking, too. Let the old-schoolers cry in their beer … in this instance, four doors are way better than two.
2006 Dodge Charger SXTBest featuresCutting-edge design, even with four doorsGood power and gas mileage from V6 engine
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Simple, elegant interior Worst featuresShort windows and bright rear carpeting can mean visibility issues to the side and back
Could benefit from more detailed gauges and controlsPrice as tested: $26,145Includes: 3.5 liter high-output V6, 18 inch aluminum wheels, touring suspension, five-speed automatic transmission with manual mode, cloth bucket seats, fog lamps, split rear seat, 276-watt amplifier with six Boston Acoustics speakers, air conditioning, halogen headlampsStated mileage: 19 mpg city, 27 highway
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