2006 Dodge ChargerClick to enlarge picture

After a long hiatus, the Dodge Charger returns as a thoroughly modern performance sedan.

Dodge ChargerDodge

The new 2006 Charger is a thoroughly modern rendition of the old muscle car. It's the third model to be built on the very successful LX platform, shared with the Dodge Magnum and Chrysler 300. And, yes, the new Charger is a four door.

Initially DaimlerChrysler was up against some harsh criticism from the Charger community for producing a model that has four doors; many enthusiasts believe the new car should be true to its heritage and have only two doors. As controversial as it seems to be, the new Charger manages to cut a swath between the two camps by offering the best of both worlds—the styling of a 2-door coupe with the versatility of a big 4-door sedan.

Bold Styling
Although the Charger is built on the same platform as the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum, it has a look all its own. It is not simply a sedan version of the Magnum.

The recognizable Dodge grille on the front of the Charger angles forward, giving the appearance of forward motion even when the car is standing still. Angled headlights add to this aggressive look. The R/T and SXT trims have a chrome grille, while the SE gets a body-colored one.

"As the Dodge Charger comes up behind you on the road, there will be no mistaking the bold face of Dodge in the rearview mirror," said Mark Hall, senior design manager. "And when the car passes you on the left, there will be no mistaking the power and grace of the all-new Dodge Charger either."

The beltline angles up halfway through the rear door, while at the same time the rear quarter panel bulges, creating a large fender flare around the rear wheel. The roofline runs smoothly down from the center of the passenger compartment to behind the rear wheel, creating a very short rear deck. The rear window is actually more horizontal than vertical—as opposed to the Chrysler 300. The sloped roof combined with the bulging rear quarter panels help Charger pull off the coupe styling.

Chargers of the late 1960s and early 1970s were not small cars, and this new Charger continues that attribute. Weighing almost 4,000 lbs., this full-size sedan has seating for five. Both front and rear seats are quite spacious, with more than 40 inches of legroom for all passengers. The deep trunk can hold up to 16.2 cubic feet of cargo; however, the opening is a bit tight for larger items.

Although exterior styling is unique to the Charger, the interior shares a lot of components with the Magnum.

Yes, it has a HEMI
When the original Charger went on sale in 1966, the top engine was a 426-cubic-inch (7.0-liter) HEMI V8. Naturally, to Dodge this new version wouldn't be a Charger if it wasn't available with a HEMI.

The R/T gets a 340-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that features Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System (MDS). MDS seamlessly deactivates four cylinders in just 40 milliseconds when full V8 power is not needed, improving fuel economy by as much as 20 percent. Fuel economy for the V8 is estimated at 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Sure, the new Charger doesn't have quite the grunt of the original 426 HEMI, but the modern HEMI runs much cleaner and gets much better fuel economy.

For additional power, the Road/Track Performance Package or Daytona R/T Package adds a specially tuned exhaust and induction system that bumps horsepower of the 5.7-liter V8 up to 350.

Standard on SE and SXT trims, the base engine is a 3.5-liter High Output SOHC V6 producing 250 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque.

All Chargers are equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission—a manual transmission is not available.

Later this year, the Charger SRT8 will arrive, boasting a 6.1-liter HEMI V8 with 425 horsepower, which coincidentally is the power rating of that 426 HEMI from 1966.

Going for a Drive
Our first drive in the Charger was in a Black R/T equipped with the Road/Track Performance Package. In addition to 10 additional horses, the package enhances steering, includes wider 18-inch all-season performance tires, power-adjustable pedals, a leather stitched shift knob, and heated SRT-inspired performance seats. The suspension gets tuned to provide better handling and more feedback from the road.

Under acceleration the Charger's power is quite evident. This big car moves quickly with a wonderful V8 sound spilling from the tuned exhaust. With the automatic transmission and those big tires, it's almost impossible to break the rear wheels free during acceleration, even with stability control turned off. Not that we were trying . . .

The Charger runs smoothly, and seats are big and comfortable, as is the driving position. Similar to the Magnum, gauges are easily read black numbers on white background. Steering feel is a bit vague, but the Charger handles twisty roads rather well for a two-ton car.

Much of our drive was on freeways and back roads through North Carolina as our pack of journalists found our way to Virginia International Raceway (VIR).

Later in the day we drove the V6-powered SXT. The 250 horsepower in the SXT is adequate for everyday driving, but considerably more distance is required for passing on two-lane roads. A few wide, sweeping turns revealed the same issue with the steering that we discovered in the R/T—it's very light, with almost no feedback from the road.

On Track
At VIR, we had the chance to drive R/T Chargers equipped like our earlier model, as well as the limited-edition Daytona R/T Package. The Daytona versions are real attention-getters, painted with either an orange metallic "Go ManGo!" or a bright yellow "Top Banana." We heard one of the proposed color names was "Catch Me Copper," but Dodge officials decided that name would be too politically incorrect.

"These bold paint colors with expressive names will bring back fond memories for many driving enthusiasts," said Darryl Jackson, vice president of Dodge marketing for the Chrysler Group. "We want to elicit some of the fun of driving bold and expressive cars like the new Dodge Charger Daytona R/T."

In addition to the equipment on the R/T Performance Package, the Daytona R/T gets a throatier exhaust sound as well as a rear spoiler.

A fine performer on the back roads of North Carolina, the Charger is not really a "track car." More than one journalist expected the Charger would have a sportier feel, more so than the Chrysler 300 or Dodge Magnum, but this doesn't seem to be the case.

There is no question about the Charger being fast. On the straight at VIR, drivers found it easy to top 110 mph. But at the end of the straight sits a tight right-hand corner, which took a lot of braking power to slow the 4,000 lb. car from triple digit speeds. The brakes did not feel linear—applying a little would not slow the car enough, and applying a bit more activated the anti-lock brake system.

Granted, the brakes are very strong, but it was difficult to judge how much braking was necessary.

The Charger's steering has a similar problem: not enough feedback to know what would result from varying steering inputs. The steering seems just as light in hard turns as it does on the straights. Again, the Charger is perfectly capable of handling high-speed turns and did so with very little body roll; however, it took a lot of practice to gauge steering input through corners.

Prices and Features
The Dodge Charger will start as low as $22,995 (including destination charge) for the SE. This version has the 3.5-liter High Output V6, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), traction control, four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS), 17-inch steel wheels with bolt-on wheel covers, an AM/FM/CD radio system with four speakers, remote keyless/illuminated entry, speed control and a tire pressure monitoring (TPM) system.

Priced at $25,995, the Charger SXT adds aluminum wheels, a leather steering wheel and shift knob, eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, fog lights, a Boston Acoustics Sound System with six speakers and 276-watt digital amplifier, a chrome grille and heated mirrors.

The HEMI-powered R/T adds performance brakes and suspension tuned for added "touring" performance, 18-inch aluminum wheels with all-season performance tires, dual exhaust pipes, heated/folding mirrors and leather seats. The R/T has a base price of $29,995.

For those who really want to be noticed, there's the Charger Daytona R/T, priced at $32,495. This limited-edition Daytona is available in either "Go ManGo!" orange or "Top Banana" yellow. In addition to the wild colors and ten extra horsepower mentioned earlier, the Daytona version gets an exclusive front fascia with a chin spoiler and black honeycomb grille, unique black "Daytona" and "HEMI" decals, and a black rear decklid spoiler.

Inside the Daytona are performance front seats with suede inserts and embroidered "Daytona" logos on the front headrests. Body-color accent stitching appears on front and rear seats and the leather-wrapped steering wheel. A matching body-colored center stack bezel, a "Daytona Limited Edition" display on the electronic cluster and a sequentially numbered limited-production Daytona badge on the instrument panel round out the details.

The "Go ManGo!" Daytonas will be sold first, followed by the "Top Bananas."

Pricing and details for the Charger SRT8 have not been announced. The rest of the Charger lineup is arriving in showrooms now.

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