One of the highlights of the brief merger that Chrysler had with Daimler (or the latter’s ownership of the former, depending on how you look at it) was some platform sharing that brought really nice sedans to the Chrysler and Dodge lineups. Specifically on the Dodge side, the Charger: a coupe name from the past assigned to an attractive 4-door.
While the chassis of the car was good — sharing suspension pieces with some Mercedes-Benz models — the interior left a bit to be desired. Expanses of cheap-looking plastic and vinyl, and an overall suggestion of “rental car,” especially as newer competitors came to market.
For the 2011 model year, the Dodge Charger has gotten a thorough makeover. The stuff that worked was kept (including the suspension and the R/T model’s wonderful Hemi V8), and many other items were revised for the better, most notably the interior.
Slide behind the wheel, and you’re now greeted by much more eye-pleasing shapes and materials. Just about everything has been re-done for the better, and while Chrysler’s engineers were at it, they made it a lot quieter too.
Under the hood, you no longer have to settle for a mediocre V6 engine if you choose the base SE trim level. Gone are the rather unsophisticated 2.7 and 3.5 liter pushrod engines, replaced with Chrysler’s advanced overhead cam 3.6 liter V6 called Pentastar (that’s also the name of the company’s familiar five-sided logo).
I didn’t get a chance to try a Charger SE with the new engine, but I have sampled it in the company’s other products, and I can say it’s really world-class in smoothness, power and refinement. The horsepower number is improved to 292, which is a significant jump from the 3.5’s number and a huge improvement over the anemic 2.7 liter.
For my first taste of the 2011 Charger, I was given a turn in an R/T model, complete with all the options available. While marketed as a kind of muscle car, the Charger R/T is now as luxurious as most other larger sedans, many of which cost a whole lot more. In addition to the aforementioned quietness, the amenities are numerous, including Chrysler’s Uconnect Touch, which puts almost all controls in a single touch screen.
That system is hands-down the most user-friendly I’ve tried so far. Many luxury brands have chosen to use a console-mounted wheel surrounded by other buttons to work things like audio, Bluetooth phone, climate control and so on. After some practice, those can work okay. But this Chrysler system is so easy to use the first time you see the screen that even the most technologically challenged driver could master it in mere minutes — it’s that good.
In addition to having luxury, the Charger R/T can really scoot when you call on the 5.7 liters of displacement and 370 horsepower. Throttle response is instantaneous, and the five-speed automatic is perfectly suited to get the power down when you want to, or provide docile, economical operation when you want to just cruise.
The R/T’s ride is a tad on the harsh side, thanks mainly to the low-profile tires that provide good performance and that super-aggressive look. If you prefer a softer ride, the suspension in the SE may be more up your alley. There are also optional packages for the R/T like “Road and Track,” “Max” and “Super Track Pak.” I didn’t have a data sheet on my test car, as it was as prototype, so the base R/T tire and suspension set-up may be fine as well.
Prices start at $25,170 for a base SE model, and the R/T starts at exactly five grand more, or $30,170. There’s also an all wheel drive version of the R/T model for $2,150 more, but that’s really meant for the Snow Belt states. If you loaded up an R/T with all the goodies like the one I drove, it would be just a shade under $37,000.
The previous Dodge Charger (2006-2010) was good. This new one? I’d call it upgraded to very good.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @davekunzcars