Few brands are more overtly "American" than Dodge. Even when their parent group was owned by Germans (now Italians), Dodge somehow remained the embodiment of a certain Yankee style—big, loud, powerful, arrogant and completely unapologetic. A part of the U.S.A. brand as much as America is part of Dodge's identity, the bravado that attracted us to the "Mighty Dodge" as kids continues to turn our heads as adults.
We recently had the opportunity to test drive the new 2011 Charger R/T and from the moment we stepped into the Charger, it became apparent that the designers and engineers have done their homework, elevating these new cars over the outgoing models. The Charger has always been a blast to drive, and as we pulled out of Manhattan traffic and cruised up the West Side Highway it was clear that this year's model is no different. Dodge continues to mine its rich heritage for design cues, and it's nice to see classic Mopar (Chrysler parts) muscle-car looks appear on newer models. While the Challenger may be the purest expression of that design language, the Charger benefits from some trickle-down style.
Our model was an all-black version at the top end of an exasperatingly divided model range (topped next year by the insane Charger SRT8). The R/Ts feature a brawny 5.7-liter V8 Hemi putting out 370 horsepower. This makes for spirited merges, and as we cruised along the Saw Mill Parkway, it was almost impossible not to gun the throttle and feel the big V8 push us back into our seats. (Be warned: the Charger tends to attract the attention of local law enforcement.) Around town the steering can feel a little sluggish, which speaks to the Charger's "go fast in a straight line" heritage that a tightened feeling could easily overcome.
But, nowhere is this new ride more successful than in its the new rear end. The integrated, body-spanning tail light, ringed with 164 bright red LEDs, stunningly upgrades the previous model.
The results are less successful on the front end. In a bid to make an already aggressive face even more bad ass, the grill of the Charger bulges forward snout-like from the squinting headlights. That, coupled with some overt new sheet-metal creases near the front wheels give the Charger a slightly over-muscled look. Put it this way, if the 2010 was Vin Diesel, the 2011 is a pissed-off Rock.
Inside, the Charger is decidedly more subdued (unless of course you opt for the red leather), and a welcome upgrade from the plastic-parts-bin feel of older models. Every surface you touch is supple. The dash is built around an eight-inch touchscreen display that acts as control for the stereo, climate and Bluetooth interface with the option for GPS navigation. Amenities like heated seats, dual-zone climate control and heated or chilled cup holders make for a more comfortable ride overall.
In a class led by cars like the Nissan Maxima and Ford Taurus, the Dodge Charger remains a refreshing reminder that a large sedan can still be a fun drive, and more importantly, that a big car doesn't have to be boring. While other cars might offer better value or better quality, the Charger continues to be a potent alternative to the mainstream.