Do a walk-around (or better yet, a test drive) of the Dodge Charger R/T and you’ll come to understand why DaimlerChrysler isn’t having any trouble selling its cars as fast as it can build them — at a time when GM and Ford are desperately struggling just to stay in business.
Walk into your local Dodge store and for less than $30k ($29,320 to be precise) you could drive away in a ballsy-looking large sedan with an equally ballsy 340-hp V-8 engine (350, if you order the upgrade R/T Performance Group; more on that below) hooked to an immensely satisfying (and burnout friendly) rear-drive chassis. You’ll also get 18-inch rims, traction/stability control, dual exhaust, sport suspension, performance-calibrated 5-speed automatic, leather trim, 276-watt, six speaker Boston Acoustics premium stereo, climate control AC and “multi-displacement” cylinder deactivation technology that increases fuel economy by as much as 20 percent (to a very respectable 17 city/25 highway, outstanding numbers for such a powerful — and heavy — large sedan).
Nothing else on the market gives you all these fine things — at least, not for less than $30k.
The closest you might get are competitor models like GM’s blandly-styled (and front-wheel-drive) Impala SS sedan. It’s an ok car, but one with a lot less horsepower (just 303 from its 5.3 liter V-8) and nowhere near the curb appeal of the exuberantly muscular Charger — which despite its four doors has managed to be favorably compared with two-door performance coupes like the Ford Mustang GT and Pontiac GTO.
It runs that hard — and it looks that good.
Plus, you can take the family along for the ride.
The only other offering in this general class of vehicle (and price range) is the Ford Crown Vic and its more uptown cousin, the Mercury Grand Marquis. These longtime staples of the law-enforcement, taxi and Geritol set are also rear-wheel-drive, have standard 4.6 liter V-8s (albeit with 100 less horsepower than the Charger’s hoof-stomping 5.7 liter Hemi) and are very roomy (six passenger vs. five for the Charger). But comparing the Vic to the Charger is sort of like expecting a long-retired Pro Bowler (grey at the temples, middle-aged spread around his middle) to heave himself off the sofa and do a 50-yard sprint against this year’s 22-year-old Heisman Trophy winner.
Apples and oranges.
The Charger’s pretty much in a class by itself, looks-wise, performance-wise and price-wise.
Need a muscle car?
Then stand on the brake and ease into the gas (traction control off, naturally). You’ll feel the Hemi’s torque (nearly 400 lbs.-ft.) assault the holding power of the rear discs, which very quickly give up the fight. Now it’s up to you how long you want to smoke the tires — because the Hemi has the grunt to shred them to their cases if you want to, digging little ruts into the road to mark the event, enshrouding you in a mushroom cloud of smoke. That’s lots of fun — but you’ll save on tire replacement costs (and achieve the best 0-60 time) if you hold the engine against the brakes for just a moment before hammering the pedal to the floor, then side-stepping the brakes. Hold on tight as that long hood raises up and weight transfer does its thing; the rear wheels bite into the asphalt and the car surges forward accompanied by the bellowing fury of that Big Kahuna of an engine.
Less than six seconds later, you are at 60 mph — which is quicker, by the way, than most of the classic-era two-door Chargers of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Bo and Luke might just consider trading up.
Keep your foot in it and quarter mile is done with in about 14.5 seconds — again, as good or better performance than its muscle car forbears.
It’ll probably jump better, too — but I didn’t test that.
For ’06, you can up the ante beyond the already potent as-it-sits R/T with the $1,600 Road and Track Performance Group. A pair of rumbly-sounding low-restriction mufflers and revised air intake system are good for an extra 10 horsepower (350 vs. 340). The package also adds 18×7.5-inch rims, upgraded brakes and steering, a load leveling sport-tuned suspension system with larger front and rear anti-roll bars, plus a “high speed” engine controller that doesn’t pull the plug on those lonesome road top-end runs — so no more worry about getting away from Enos should the need arise.
If you want to relive the go-go Sixties, there’s also a limited edition Daytona Package for $2,675 that starts with all the R/T Performance Group functional upgrades and adds retro-muscle car styling touches such as a matte black hood/decklid treatment with huge “Hemi” and “Daytona” decals — finished off in “Top Banana” ultra-bright yellow or “GoManGo!” orange metallic paint.
Both the R/T Performance Group and Daytona package also get more supportive sport buckets and other interior cosmetic and exterior enhancements.
So effective is all this at ginning up the mystical muscle car ambiance that you almost forget the new Charger is a four-door sedan. It doesn’t feel like one — and it sure doesn’t drive like one. And insofar as how it looks, Dodge has done amazing work here, too. The hunky lines and angry brow up front say “don’t mess with me, city boy” as effectively as the absence of an extra pair of doors might on a lesser performance car.
And yet it does have four doors — so it can serve as a family car — something few other “attitude cars” can manage. Usually, it’s either-or. You take your pick — and you live with the compromises.
All for less than $30k to start — MSRP.
Now you know why Chrysler’s doing ok. It’s not about the unions; it’s not about
“unfair competition” from the imports. It’s about ass-kicking, gotta-have cars that beat the daylights out of the rest of the pack, whether the measure is performance, price or good old-fashioned curb appeal.
It’s as simple — and as complicated — as that.
Throw it in the Woods?