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Test Drive 2011 Dodge Charger R/T

 

When the Charger was reintroduced back in 2005 with four doors and an automatic transmission, Mopar fans thought it was near blasphemous.

“How could they do that to such an iconic car?” they thought. After all, it just wouldn’t be the same if Bo Duke had driven a four-door family sedan to run moonshine.

But somebody at Dodge was thinking correctly because the 2005-2010 Charger series by far outsold the 1966-1971 Charger. 

It also proves that even with high gas prices, Americans still love our big, rear-wheel drive sedans.

The original critics will like the new design of the Charger, thanks to a return of a “Coke bottle” side profile that harks back to the second-generation Charger. 

They will also like the other design features, which give a nod to Chargers of yesteryear, such as scallops on the front doors and hood. 

But the Charger is still a large car, and combined with the thick C-pillars, it creates a scary blind spot that is as big as an SUV’s.

Our test car had aggressive looking 20” Crager imitation wheels, which come with the enthusiast-oriented Road and Track package that includes other exterior modifications like a blackout grille with red R/T badges and a raised deck-lid spoiler that all give the Charger a more sinister look.

However, the most striking features of the new Charger are the taillights that now span the whole width of the car and are illuminated by 164 LEDs that give what Dodge calls a racetrack pattern. It is the most distinguishing aspect of the new Charger, and it is instantly recognizable even to those who aren’t car enthusiasts.

With contrasting French-stitching and appealing textures throughout, the Charger’s interior rivals the Hyundai Genesis and is far superior than offerings from Acura or Toyota.

The black leather seats with suede inserts are comfortable back and bottom and just beg you to take long cross country trips in them. 

You won’t hear too much complaining from the back passengers either because there is plenty of room for six footers all around. Of course, the fact that they are heated helps a bit, too.

Dodge didn’t skimp on materials either, as the piece that surrounds the GPS and gauge cluster (spanning about half the width of the dash) is not some cheap plastic meant to imitate metal. It’s actual aluminum, not bad for a sub $40,000 car.

You won’t get lost on your cross country trip thanks to the Garmin navigation system that proved easy-to-use and easy-to-see with its huge 8.4-inch touch-screen.

Other neat interior features that came on our test car included heated and cooled drink holders, a keyless push-button start, a backup camera and remote start which can be quite handy on cold mornings when you don’t want to go outside to heat the car up.

The 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 in the Charger R/T remains relatively unchanged for 2011, with a modest two hp jump to an even 370 hp. Torque remains the same at 395 pound-feet of torque, which is good enough to propel the 4200 pound car to 60-mph in 5.2 seconds –– plenty fast for most drivers.

The engine is smooth and effortless throughout the powerband, while still remaining nice and quiet at idle and under normal (not drag racing) driving.

Being a porky car with almost 400 hp usually doesn’t add up to great fuel economy, and the Charger R/T is no exception with an EPA-rated 16 mpg city, but it’s still on par with most other cars of the same size.  

Highway mileage is a commendable 25 mpg, which was helped by the engine’s cylinder deactivation feature.

However, if you’re more worried about fuel economy than how fast you can get to 60, you might want to consider the V-6 Charger with the new Pentastar 3.6-liter, 292-hp V-6 coupled with the new for 2012 ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. 

This grouping will provide an EPA rated 31 mpg highway, which is not only more horsepower than the similarly priced Toyota Avalon, but also better fuel economy.

At the moment, the eight-speed automatic is only available on V-6 models, so our V-8 test car was stuck with the outdated five-speed automatic. 

The transmission doesn’t live up to the refinement of the rest of the car with clunky shifting. It does at least downshift, although as harsh as a pile-driver, without hesitation when you floor the gas pedal.

This could easily be solved by placing the ZF eight-speed on all models, as well as offering a manual transmission in which case the clunky shifting can be attributed to the driver.

You can tell the new Italian owners of Dodge had some input in the revision of the suspension and chassis of the Charger by the level of finesse it had while managing the tight roads around Lake Sardis with just a mild hint of understeer. 

Even with its admirable handling and 20-inch wheels, it doesn’t sacrifice a comfortable ride and absorbs all road imperfections just like an American sedan should. 

In fact, I would dare to say it has the smoothest ride in its price range.

The new Charger still has all the muscle and good looks of previous Chargers, except with more civility and refinement. Plus, there’s plenty of room in the trunk for moonshine.

Test car provided by Chandler Dodge in Oxford.