by David Zatz
long-awaited Dodge Charger has arrived amid heated debate on whether
the car “is a real Charger.” With four doors rather than
two, and ¨not much styling continuity from the most memorable Chargers
(1968-71), the current version - essentially a retuned, restyled
300C/Magnum - is different at first glance. But, like the original,
while based on existing vehicles, it is noticeably different; and like
the original, it combines rear wheel drive with both mild and wild
powerplants. The current Hemi isn’t a modified-for-the-street
racing engine, but its 345 horsepower drive the Charger from zero to
sixty in a bare six seconds, and the cornering is excellent.
The Charger Daytona package, which costs $2,500 on top of the price
of a standard Charger Hemi, also caused some consternation among the
faithful, still smarting after the four-cylinder Dodge Challengers,
Daimler takeover, end of Plymouth, and hundreds of other insults;
rather than being a 200 mph supercar, as the original was (plain stock
versions were capable of more like 180 mph), the Daytona is clearly a
stripe-and-small-spoiler package in appearance. However, additional
engine and suspension tuning make the Charger Daytona a true
improvement over the standard Charger, and one of the most fun,
exciting mass-produced cars on the market today. Indeed, if you need
four seats, the Charger Daytona is very hard to beat indeed - and
Dodge’s SRT-4 comes closest to the fun-for-the-buck prize.
from the 300C to the Charger required some work, as
the Charger is less expensive yet has better performance. Most of the
cost-cutting appears to have gone into the interior; the Charger
essentially uses the Spartan-looking interior of the Magnum, and looks
plain inside. The instrument panel is functional and attractive, with
even, greenish-white backlighting (of the Indiglo style, but set up to
be much less green) that is highly visible during the day and even more
so at dusk and at night. The pointers are a deeper red than in the
past, and thinner, for a cleaner look. In our Charger Daytona test car,
the interior was remarkably improved due to the simple addition of a
body-colored center stack and gearshift bezel (they are silver-metallic in the standard Chargers); since the test car was
Top Banana yellow, (a bright and cheerful yellow which would probably
be called Sunshine Yellow at a house paint store), those simple changes
brightened the inside and provided a good contrast to the
same-old-same-old mix of black and gray plastics. A small sticker on
the right side of the dashboard informed us that this was Top Banana
Daytona #8 of 4,000.
Charger’s exterior is a clear departure from the Magnum and 300C,
though it is made on the same platform and has the same underpinnings.
An effort was made to differentiate it further, and it has more rounded
styling, with a unique but clearly-Dodge grille - incorporating
dark-looking headlight covers a la Impala - and a Charger-like rise
near the back. The windows look larger, the back and side curvier.
The Daytona package again greatly improves the look of the Charger;
the tail blackout and side stripes strongly accentuate the body
contours, making the Daytona look much more like the classic Chargers
most of us hold in our memories (ignoring the very early Charger and
the later "formal style" models that could be mistaken for
Cordobas). This package is not for the shy, especially with the
huge HEMI labels on the hood. The effects seem to be accomplished with
a glued-on thick black vinyl.
Charger really is not a replacement for the Dodge Intrepid, a swoopy
sedan that combined sporty looks and a nimble ride with
fast-for-the-day powerplants and exceptional interior space. The
Intrepid had a rich interior and was far larger inside; trunk space was
quite large as well, and all passengers, front and back, were equally
comfortable. Though the Hemi Charger’s power is considerably
higher (the 3.5 V6 stays at the same power level but has more weight to
push around), and sound insulation, cornering, and ride are better,
rear passengers have a somewhat rougher time. In the back, the normally
confident feel of the Charger R/T becomes edgy, as though the driver
isn’t in control; and the base R/T stereo becomes more of a mono, with
all the sound seeming to come from the speaker just behind the
passenger’s head (no speakers are in the rear doors). The Charger is
lots of fun for the driver, but may be less so for the rear passengers,
even if they do get plenty of head, leg, and shoulder room (and a
better view than they would in a 300C).
Acceleration is, as one would expect, extremely good. What one would
not really expect is that it would be faster than the essentially
identical 300C and Magnum; but we suspect part of that was computer and
transmission tuning, since shifts felt considerably firmer, and
sometimes downright hard, in the Charger. In fact, expect a lot of
bump-and-grind from the automatic, which seems to have to noticeably
kick in on any moderate acceleration. This effect, by the way, was
absent in our Charger Daytona, and may have disappeared with normal
production changes from the normal Chargers as well. What did remain was a tendency to downshift slowly, so that after a burst of acceleration the car stays in low gear for a moment, shifts up, waits moment, and shifts again - presumably part of an anti-hunting routine but something to get used to. It does help if you need to accelerate, level off for a second, and immediately accelerate again.
The Charger Daytona starts with the R/T and moves up from there; the
cornering and acceleration have both been refined, and as with the move
from Crossfire to Crossfire SRT-6 (see our SRT-6 car reviews), the
change makes even normal driving much more pleasant and fun by giving
the car a more confident feel. Acceleration is instant and frankly we
rarely had the opportunity to put the pedal to the metal, as even minor
presses to the gas pedal shot the car forward quickly. Both engine and
transmission are responsive, with no delay between action and reaction,
accompanied by the thrilling burble (or scream) of the exhaust, tuned
to perfection, with the sound of a hot-rodded muscle car. Yet, the
Charger Daytona is quite capable of being driven gently without
roughness, and the engine noise does not get annoying over time on
highway trips. Neither do the open-mouthed stares and points of pedestrians and other drivers.
infamous Hemi engine makes good power in low rpms, but really comes
into its own at 3,000 rpm or so. The five-speed automatic
transmission has been retuned by Chrysler, and shifts firmly, usually
without hesitation, to move the Hemi into its power band. While the
transmission feels less smooth and silky than the Chrysler four-speeds,
it makes better use of the engine power and contributes to the Charger
R/T’s surprisingly good gas mileage. So does the multiple displacement
system, shutting off four of the cylinders on a regular basis, in a
manner so subtle few, if any, people can tell when it’s operating.
Hemi engine may be strong, but it’s also quiet, with a near-silent idle
and an almost perfect sound under full power. It doesn’t emit a
constant bass burble or drone, but it’s there when you need it, and it
sounds and feels terrific. The Charger R/T always seems ready to leap
forward at a moment’s notice without any effort, even though often it
takes a moment for the transmission to get into the spirit of things
(with a bump) - this was absent from the instant-on Charger Daytona,
whose only hesitation came in its first move from startup in the
morning. Indeed, acceleration with the Daytona is so effortless,
the roads suddenly seem much more filled with slow vehicles. It is
nothing at all to get to 40, barely an effort to get to 65. By the time
the engine gets tucked in, you’re going faster than the speed limit.
The Charger has the nice ride and good dry-road handling of
its LX siblings. The tires tended to chirp or squeal for a second on
acceleration and quick turns, but consistently grabbed the road, and
between the fat, wide, sticky tires and the active suspension with
traction control, we never sustained a squeal or broke the tires loose,
despite the considerable power up front. On the highway, the Charger
feels completely stable and in control. Around town, it can be driven
as gently as you like, but a ferocious leap forward is just a push of
the pedal away. The Charger gets more pleasant to drive the more you
The ease of pushing the Charger R/T, big as it is,
through tight or fast turns is welcome giving the relatively
well-cushioned suspension. The design seems to have been refined beyond
the Magnum, with an overall more comfortable ride and quieter interior.
On the whole, the ride is surprisingly good, with no major shocks
coming through - even as subsonic noise. For those who want more, the
Charger Daytona has a more tightly sprung suspension that increases
cornering ability without any noticeable loss of ride quality. Our only real gripe regarding noise and cornering
was the R/T tires’ tendency to have a loud deep-bass throbbing noise
on some types of pavement (usually for a few seconds or less) in both
city and highway driving. This did not appear in the Daytona.
The standard electronic stability
program operated subtly with handling on wet roads, but helped the
Charger to keep its footing even when we tried to knock it off kilter.
The standard all-speed traction control was no doubt part of that. The
slight oversteer that sometimes came into play around powered turns is
easier to deal with than the serious understeer that highly powered
front-drive vehicles tend to get. What’s more, the Charger Daytona
seemed supremely confident on wet roads, frankly ignoring the rain and
giving us no more slippage than ordinary cars would give on dry roads.
The incredible abilities of the Charger Daytona on wet, slick roads are
so amazing we hope owners won’t get overconfident and forget that they
need brakes, too. (That said, the Charger - any of them - has excellent
brakes as well.)
AutoStack transmission provides a temporary override rather than making
you choose the gear the entire time it’s in manumatic mode. Say you
want to start in third for better snow traction, or downshift for a
long hill, or a potential passing situation: you can do that easily,
and after a while, the system reverts to Drive (or you can bump it up past
fourth gear, which has the same effect). You’re always in the system:
when in Drive, bump to the left to go down a gear, and to the right to
go up. You can do what most people will do and ignore it, and you will
get by just fine. We did have a problem at lower speeds with getting
the system to shut off; it would not do it when we tried the up-past-fourth method,
and we ended up quickly going back into Neutral and returning to Drive; they have probably fixed this problem by now. The automatic behaves
well enough to make the AutoStick unnecessary most of the time.
Visibility is good in all directions except for a massive
rear quarter blind spot similar to that of the Intrepid. We appreciated
the ease of using the sun visors - some cars make them hard to get out
of their default positions - and we especially appreciated the sliding
system which gives the sun visors "virtual length." Headlights are more
powerful than the Intrepid’s were and are quite satisfactory.
the Charger is smaller than the Dodge Intrepid it is nominally
replacing. However, there is plenty of room for four, with good
headroom in all seats; rear seat legroom is the main casualty, and it’s
still generous. Access to the rear seats is easy. The trunk is huge, as
one would expect from a full-sized car; a week’s groceries can all fit
in the narrow space protected by the net, leaving enough free trunk
space for four or five suitcases. We found the R/T seats to be
excessively firm and not particularly supportive, especially in
comparison with the 300M, but seats are always a matter of personal
preference, and chiropractors are common. The Daytona’s
leather-and-suede seats gripped and breathed better and were more
instrument panel is not unattractive, but it is interesting in that the
pods are deep and straight, not oriented towards the driver, so that
parts of the outlying gauges are cut off from sight, especially if your
head is anywhere near the roof. The black on white gauges remain that
way at night, when a perfectly even white backlight comes into play;
they are highly visible day or night. The gauge numbers are sensibly
large. The 160 mph speedometer means that the range most often used
(0-80) occupies about 1/3 of the dial, but keeping to any given speed
was still easy.
Inside the gauges, taking up the bottom third
of the circle, are black areas which hide the various warning lights
and the PRND (transmission gear indicator) and odometer. Press the
odometer button once and you get a trip odometer; press twice, and the
outside temperature appears. There’s an optional trip computer that
occupies the same space, which lets you more easily set the car’s
options and also provides a compass; it wasn’t on either of our test
The locks automatically activated when we
reached a pre-set speed. A quick look at the owner’s manual showed that
we could shut that feature off, but instead we opted to turn on the
automatic unlock - it opens all the doors when the driver’s door is
unlocked after the car stops. A number of similar features can be
turned on or off by following fairly simple instructions (we also shut
off the horn-honk-on-lock).
Speaking of options, our test car
included (standard) a tilt wheel that also telescopes forward and
backward for the ultimate in adjustability. The R/T also comes with
leather trim and a power driver’s seat, though for the power passenger
seat we had to wait for the Daytona.
The dash-mounted headlights made it through from the LH series, and we
liked the dash-mounted ignition, which is easy to find and use. The cruise control is
mounted above the turn signals, and on roughly the same axis, leading
to easy confusion; it also has an illogical collection of five
different movements, with mostly small labels (push in to activate,
pull to set speed, raise to accelerate, lower to decelerate, push to
cancel). On the lighter side, after weeks of driving various LX and
Crossfire models, we can say that it is possible to get used to
it. We did appreciate that when we first activated the system, it informed us of that fact both via stalk LED and dash display; and it told us again, on the dash, when the cruise was set (though that appeared once and then was replaced by the odometer/thermometer.)
spaces abound, with map pockets on the front and rear doors, a tray
under the climate control, a slot next to the gearshift, usable, a
large glove compartment and unusually large center console, and an
overhead sunglass holder. The center console includes Chrysler’s clever
coin holder, though it requires a little work for the driver to
actually use it (move elbow, raise lid, put elbow back); and now
there’s actually a slot for pennies as well as quarters, nickels, and
dimes. Two pen holders and a mini-tissue holder are incorporated in the
lid, with a removable tray at the bottom, and a power outlet in the
side of the console. Overall, it’s a more effective design than most.
The cupholders are simple and hidden by a slider; rear passengers get
cupholders too, in the fold-down armrest.
include the folding outside mirrors, touch-on dome lights, dead-pedal,
and foot-operated emergency brake (which allows for more power to be
applied) with easy-release hand pull (again, carried forward from the
The base stereo in our first test car had strong but not muddy
bass which could be effectively lowered for talk radio, good stereo
imaging, and easy to use controls, but, again, rear passengers had a
dull, monaural sound. Our test Magnum and the Charger Daytona had an optional dual
driver/passenger heat zone climate control, using Chrysler’s infra-red
sensor for accuracy. The controls were largely self-explanatory, though
the a/c light only goes on when the vent control is in manual mode; in
auto mode, it presumably decides for itself when to turn the a/c on.
The fan has two auto settings, low and high, for those who prefer lower noise to faster action. Most normal fan
ranges are quiet, though. The air conditioning itself is good and
powerful - gratifyingly powerful - but the V8 hardly seems to notice
when it’s running. Our Charger R/T had the base single-zone climate
control, and it was simple and easy to operate.
Charger comes in a number of trim levels, but the V8 is only available
with the R/T and higher levels, so if you want Hemi power, you have to
get leather, an eight-way power driver’s seat, air, tilt/telescoping
steering wheel, keyless entry, Sentry Key, power windows, 18" aluminum
wheels, power heated mirrors, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, the
stability program with traction control, emergency brake assist (where
the computer decides if you’re panic-stopping and helps hit the brakes
harder), rear defroster, fog lights, tire pressure monitor, and of
course the eight-speaker Boston Acoustics speaker system that sounds
great up front and poor in back. If you have an iPod, there’s no built
in navigation-integration, but there is an auxiliary access jack, so
you can still play it through the speakers. All of this, including the
Hemi, come for just under $30,000, including destination - about the
same as the Dodge Magnum wagon, so if you can lose a little of the
suspension refinement, you can gain a lot of cargo space. For those who
just want a nice big sedan with superior ride and cornering, the 3.5
liter V6 provides that, with decent enough (between 8 and 9 seconds
0-60) acceleration and slightly better mileage. (Thanks to an efficient
design and cylinder deactivation, the 345 horsepower V8 gets about the
same mileage as some 250 horsepower V6 engines.)
Now, as for
whether this is a real Charger... the big question is, does it matter?
You can decide for yourself; a rose by any other name would smell just
It’s always hard to believe that the same car, with minor tweaks, can change its character so completely. The Matrix is a harsh-riding, noisy vehicle compared to the similar Corolla; but that’s also a different form factor. The Crossfire SRT-8 has a surprisingly different feel from the standard Crossfire, and in my opinion is far more pleasant even when not taking it anywhere near its limits - in standard day to day traffic-congested driving. But the Charger Daytona is really the prime example of this; it starts where the Charger R/T leaves off, and almost feels like a completely different car. The interior has but a single major difference, the body-colored panel between the seats and anchoring the center stack, but it feels brighter, more open, and more upscale than the plain-jane Charger, with its unrelieved gray and black plastic. The passenger also has a bright, cheery label (not quite as upscale as the old Shelby plaques) telling you which production number it is - our test car was #8 of 4,000.
On the outside the Charger Daytona, particularly in yellow, really accentuates the Charger’s curves. Had we seen that one first, with its black-matte stripes, rear blackout, and hood treatment, I think that the outcry over how the Charger is an outrage would have been far more muted. With a few simple touches, the Charger suddenly becomes, well, a Charger, replete with curves and looking as though it’s ready to tear up the track.
The suspension tells the story for the driver; again, minor changes (available also as a performance package on the R/T) to spring rates and such make a huge difference in feel. The Charger Daytona always feels ready to leap at a moment’s notice; the stability control provides a dangerous sense of competence on wet, slick roads, allowing full-throttle acceleration with nary an indication of the impending doom should the driver do something, well, even more foolish than hitting the gas hard on a wet road. (Remember, we test these things in great big pavement areas, and took 300Cs and Magnums around snow-covered test tracks at Chrysler’s invitation). On dry roads, the Charger is simply superlative, with a tremendously confident feel and a seeming inability to lose traction. It feels more like a Z06 than any four-passenger sedan has a right to.
So, despite the ricer spoiler, lack of aerodynamics, and two extra doors...perhaps this really is a Charger Daytona after all. We didn’t try to get it to 180 mph... so that score remains to be settled. But it is a truly impressive vehicle, nearly as far above the Charger as the Charger is above the Avalon to the performance-minded. And while it may not have the mind-blowing raw power of the 426 Hemi or 440 Six-Pack, it does have pretty darned good power, thank you - more than we could use, a frustratingly large amount of instant-on power that meant that we couldn’t hear the engine roar for more than a few short seconds before having to lay off the throttle. The Daytona sounds like a 1970 NASCAR car - but at idle, the roar is muted enough to not be annoying over time. It’s quite a vehicle.
The best part is - the Daytona package is just $2,500. Sure, that sounds like a lot, but it comes with a lot. (A cheaper version is the R/T with performance handling package.)
We’re still ambivalent about putting the Daytona name onto this Charger, especially so prominently, when it has neither the styling, the aerodynamics, nor the “best Chrysler builds” engines which are reserved now for the SRT. But at least we can say with confidence that the Charger Daytona deserves to be called a Dodge Charger.
Charger (by Daniel Stern)
Our rental car (from Enterprise) is a 2006 Charger.
Having lived with it for a week and 800 miles now (it had 900 miles on it
when I got it), I must report that I don’t like it. Editor’s note: this review refers to a rental car, which is built with different specifications than standard Chargers — mainly, it uses the 2.7 liter engine rather than the 3.5. It might also have different tires and suspension settings.
Too many controls aren’t well thought out. The cruise control is on a stalk, which is a giant step backward. Chrysler was among the first to
put the controls on the steering wheel when they went to the Accustar
column in 1990. That was an enormous improvement over the previous stalk
location. Now they’ve removed them from the wheel and put them back on a
stalk. On their own stalk, which occupies the space normally reserved
for the turn signal stalk, displacing the latter downward at a bizarre
angle and into a bizarre position so you have to grope for it. The cruise
stalk itself works as a control device, but it should’ve been put on
the right, somewhere in that vast plain left empty by the ignition switch’s dashboard location.
The turn signal stalk, meanwhile, controls the signals, headlight beam
selection and the windshield wipers, but not the parking and headlamps,
which are on their own rotary switch on the dashboard. Nothing too grossly
objectionable here, I guess, but it’s a nonstandard grouping. The beam selection is achieved by pushing the lever forward for high beam,
pulling rearward for low beam, or pulling extra rearward for high beam
flash. That’s how Japanese cars do it, so it must be better, right?
Wrong! Way too easy to bump the lever to the high beam position by
mistake when operating the turn signals or wipers, thus becoming one of
those annoying gits who drives around in traffic with high beams blazing.
The car comes with about 70% of the average Buick’s
nanny devices; five minutes’ effort with the glovebox manual and
the ignition key shuts off some of them (auto lock, auto unlock) but not
others. It’s still too much. This car has hyperactive IP warning lamps and
Start the engine with belt fastened but take the car out of Park before
releasing the parking brake, the brake warning lamp flashes urgently and
the chime sounds. Release the brake, and *ChimeChime!* Congratulations,
you released the brake all by yourself.
The parking brake itself is a pedal type unit, with a hand release. The
pedal itself feels as if it’s connected to nothing at all. Put your foot
on it, and it flies to the floor. It holds the car OK, not as well as
others I’ve used. At least it’s not one of those obnoxious kick-to-apply,
kick-to-release types or the import-copycat spacewasting hand lever.
Sometimes you get a *Chime!* or *ChimeChime!* for no apparent reason.
("Congratulations, you’re super!")
The accelerator is a spring-loaded dimmer switch mechanically connected to
nothing at all. Feedback, there is none. Also, when using the cruise
control, the pedal stays at the idle position. Want to speed up just a
little to pass another vehicle? Sure, but you’ll have to grope around
through the accelerator’s travel to find the point past which additional
acceleration happens. It would’ve been a simple matter of programming to
move that point to the top of the accelerator’s travel when the cruise is
engaged, but they didn’t. Instead, they spent their time carefully
programming the drive-by-wire so that a very small pressure
on the pedal causes the car to lurch. Vroom vroom! Powerful acceleration
feeling, vroom vroom! I’m sure it makes for impressive test drives, but it
makes parking garage maneuvering spastic and difficult to control. The
cruise control continues this theme; the "resume" function causes the car
to lurch (charge?) ahead with needless alacrity and a jarring and noisy
downshift. A more gradual return to the previously-set speed would be more
The horn is all the way in the middle of the steering wheel, coincident
with the airbag cover. Not a good place -- not a safe place. The wheel
itself is well shaped. Someone specified nominally-intuitive rear-hinged window switches (push down to lower the
window, pull up to raise). Fine idea, poorly implemented. There’s nothing
intuitive about the feel of the switches, and they are all crammed together. You have to look down at them to get the correct switch and
operate it properly, and even then, if it’s the driver window you want
lowered, there’s almost no detent at all between "down" and "auto down", so frequently the window drops out of sight when all that was desired was
a 2" air gap.
The manual door lock knobs
in the rear doors are at the rear, not the front, of each door. They
cannot be reached from the front. Sure, yeah, they’re power, so what?
Sometimes it’s necessary or desirable to unlock one rear door without
futzing with the power buttons. Or, for that matter, to look through the nearest window to check if the doors are locked or unlocked. You cannot
see the rear lock buttons from outside.
The ignition key is in the dash, almost where
it belongs. You have to insert it at a weird a 10:30/4:30 angle; the "run"
position has the key vertical. This isn’t a major irritant, just a minor
The fast windshield rake angle seriously restricts the view outward and
causes the rearview mirror to obstruct far too much of the important part
of the forward-rightward view when I adjust my seating position for proper
vision to the sides and rear. Lower the seat so the rearview mirror no
longer is such an obstacle, and sideward/rearward visibility is
proportionally hampered. I take especial care to adjust all the
adjustables to fit me when I get in a car not my own, and even so, a two
hour highway drive left me cramped in the leg, ankle, left shoulder and
neck. And I’m right smack in the middle of average height! Body fixtures
and interior materials are marginally better than they were in the
Chrysler products of the early 1990s, but only just. Legroom is acceptable
for a 6’5" passenger.
Noise and vibration is at about the same level as it was in my 1992 4-cylinder LeBaron
sedan, which is unacceptable given the interceding 17 model years’
supposed advances since my 1992 was designed, and the fact that my ’92 had
almost 150k miles on it when I bought it, while this car had 953 miles
when I picked it up. Something under the
hood puts out a constant buzzing, grinding whine that changes pitch with
engine speed and is audible inside the car with all the windows up.
I’ve heard this
noise on too many other new and recent Mopars to dismiss it as a one-off.
The sill is rather too high for one’s arm to rest comfortably on the sill
for any length of time -- if you adjust the driver’s seat high enough that
this becomes (marginally) possible, your forward visibility is chopped off
by the windshield’s header panel and your forward-rightward view of street
signs, businesses you might be looking for and pedestrians about to behave
stupidly is blocked by the rearview mirror. The usual rearward-visibility
problem exists due to the trendy wedge shape with the deck lid plane way
up in the air. Those oddly-shaped rear door windows don’t hinder outward
vision nearly as much as they look like they would. And on this
nearly-new, still-got-its-paper-temporary-licence-plate example, there’s a
front suspension rattle that reminds me of when the sway bar bushings
would go away on my ’92. I’m sure, though, that it’s only the finest
precision German DaimlerChrysler rattle.
The V6 engine has adequate acceleration, with a Taurus-like warbling V6
engine note that I find very offputting. Unfortunately,
I find the rest of the car so infuriatingly unpleasant, so poorly designed
and built, that the substitution of a V8 engine wouldn’t even begin to
make me like it. It is not fun, relaxing, comfortable rewarding or easy to
The poor design decisions, lousy ergonomics, ill-conceived controls and
poor outward visibility make the car repellant. It handles OK for a car of
its size, neither abjectly poorly nor outstandingly...so what? Being rid
of it is the only part of the end of this vacation I’m looking forward
to! All in all, I give the car a grade of about C.
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