2015 Dodge Charger (© Motor Trend)Click to enlarge picture

2015 Dodge Charger

With all of the pre-New York Show buzz about changes to Dodge's Mustang-rival Challenger timed to coordinate with the original pony's semi-centennial birthday, the much more dramatic revisions to its muscle-sedan sibling, the Charger, came as a bit of a surprise. Practically every panel above the floor is new — and even a few beneath the skin, to reinforce for small-overlap collision performance. Exceptions include the rear doors, roof, and windshield.

It's interesting that one goal of the redesign was to make this unabashedly large car look smaller. Dodge did this by taking an imaginary angle grinder to all four corners of the styling buck, visually pulling the "corners" of the car closer to the wheels by as much as 6 inches. Actual dimensions don't change much, but the car has a nimbler, more lithe look we're told is more in keeping with its agile dynamics.

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Up front, the new family face launched on the Dart is applied, with a piano-black "mask" on R/T, body color on SXT. As on the Challenger, the big overall shape of the grille is repeated in miniature to form the grille mesh — an "Easter egg" feature the likes of which the designers at Chrysler-Fiat enjoy slipping into their designs. The headlamps feature de rigueur LED surrounds (15 in each) that double as daytime running lamps. The hood features twin-bulge sculpting that enhances the Charger's "hairy-chested" look, and the surface is unmarred by windshield washer nozzles. They're relocated to just beneath the trailing edge of the hood, where keeping the nozzles from freezing is a bit more of a challenge, but we're reassured that problem has been solved with heating.

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Coming around to the side, the marker lamps are integrated into the wheel-opening surrounds and the dramatic character line on the front door has been softened a bit. There are 10 wheel designs, spanning from 17 and 18 inches on V-6 models, to 19s on all AWD models, to 20s on all V-8s. (The V-8 AWD option has been dropped for lack of interest, but it is now available on base SE and Rallye V-6 models.) Nearly all chrome has been replaced with black trim. And in the back, new taillamp lensing technology presents an even smoother looking "racetrack" with only 72 LEDs (down from 164). Fascia-mounted dual exhaust tips are standard on all models, and a new three-piece low-profile spoiler helps the airflow separate cleanly. The center stop lamp moves out of the spoiler to the top of the rear glass.

Inside, the 2015 Charger gets a general spiffing up with new colors and materials, the 7-inch TFT instrument-cluster display with hundreds of screen options (need to know your instantaneous horsepower and torque readings? Air-fuel ratio?), all of which are tailored to the Charger, with different graphics and design than you get on Challenger and other group products. Satin chrome replaces chrome nearly everywhere, and real aluminum trim in two finishes (brushed, or "Hectic Mesh") adorns the dash and console. Sport cloth is the entry upholstery, with leather on the upper models. The infuriating electronic shifter has been replaced with a new one that moves through unmistakable gates, and right next to it is a rubber mat with the vintage Dodge Brothers "DB" in an octagon and the inscription "Dodge Brothers — Designed in Detroit."

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Other changes include electric power steering assist and an upgrade to an eight-speed 8HP TorqueFlite 8 automatic across the board, bringing improved fuel economy and performance. There are no power/torque revisions to report, though Dodge points out that all the Scat Pack Stage upgrades announced recently bolt onto a Charger as easily as they do a Challenger. The 3.6-liter V-6 produces 292 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, or 300 hp and 264 lb-ft with the Rallye Appearance Group. The 5.7-liter V-8 is good for 370 hp and 395 lb-ft.

The Road & Track package gets a 3.07:1 axle, sport transmission and engine calibration, and the Performance Pages (launch mode, Christmas-tree countdown quarter-mile timer, etc.). The Charger benefits from all the same electrical architecture upgrades that are making their way through the Fiat-Chrysler lineup: standard rear-view camera with dynamic gridlines and optional adaptive cruise, forward collision alert, blind-spot detection, Uconnect with 911 assist and smart-phone connectivity to provide remote unlocking and other features. There's also lane-keep assist that's selectable for strength of assist and sensitivity, and it can be switched off. According to Dodge brand president and CEO Tim Kuniskis, one-third of Charger buyers don't cross-shop any other car except perhaps the Challenger. Some 39 percent of buyers are new to Dodge, they're young (median age 46), and once onboard they demonstrate class-leading loyalty. These cars are not niche players — Dodge built its millionth modern L-platform Charger/Challenger in April. This latest round of improvements and enhancements should keep the faithful buzzing around Dodge dealers for years to come.

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