Dodge’s latest-generation remake of its Charger, a model name still recognized and revered by just about every car guy steeped in 1960s North American muscle car nostalgia, appears to be pretty much right on the money.
You get a street-level sense of how well Dodge has nailed the new Charger’s look when the guys at your local garage down tools to come out and have a look when you pull in for gas.
And when a couple at the B&B you’re staying at think it’s actually a restoration of an original. Okay, they weren’t particularly car savvy, but they knew it definitely exuded serious coolness. They also prove its 60s styling cues still resonate.
And when you get a way more positive response from kids on the sidewalk than if you’d driven by in a snarly slammed Civic or, in my part of Ontario, even a jacked-up pickup. These callow youths may not remember the classic B-Body Chargers of the late 60s, but they too recognize a rad ride when it rumbles by.
Of course it helped that the toxic orange pearl paint didn’t exactly make the test unit invisible and the exhaust note of the Hemi V-8 under the hood is readily audible through the dual pipes. Well, when you goose it a bit, anyway, to add a secondary sensory input to the experience for the sidewalk-bound.
And I liked it too, the updated-retro-tough-guy look and the every-ready power from its big V-8, even though in the 60s my idea of a neat ride was a 60-hp Mini Cooper and a 74-hp MG Midget.
That look-at-me paint job and pit-bull-crossed-with-a-special-forces-sniper front-end treatment leaves little doubt as to what this particular 2011 Charger R/T AWD is all about. And it’s not just talking the talk, but able to walk the walk – and in old-school, street-racer parlance “walk” the competition – with 370 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque tap-able from its 5.7-litre Hemi.
The application of which is a no-brainer, incidentally, thanks to something nobody would have dreamt of installing in a Charger back in the day, an all-wheel-drive system. Stand on it and the torque tsunamis through the five-speed automatic, finding its way to the rear wheels first. But it just starts to wind them up – maybe half a turn – before the system kicks part of the power to the front wheels, resulting in a very rapid surge of forward progress that doesn’t leave those tattle-tale black stripes on the pavement.
I’m told the Charger will burn up to 100 km/h in about 5.5 seconds, but with this system it will also be more likely to keep its wheels under it when the going gets slippery. With the right tires, a year-round muscle car in other words.
It’s also a little more socially responsible, well on the highway at least, where thanks to its multi-displacement and front axle disconnect systems its fuel burn is rated at 8.5 L/100 km. I recorded what I thought was an impressive (for a 5.7-litre Hemi anyway) 8.9 L/100 km at a keeping up with traffic highway cruise. That’s in the ballpark with some compact crossovers I tested recently. It’s not so good in the city though, where it’s rated at a thirsty 14.2 L/100 km.
Not all this latest Charger’s muscle is under the hood, you’ll find it in the wheel wells too, where the multi-link independent suspension has been re-tuned to deliver improved agility – aided by quicker steering – and a ride that even on the optional 19-inch wheels and low-profile tires didn’t prove too hard, although it doesn’t much like tar strips, which send jolts through its structure.
The new Charger’s dimensions are about the same as the old one and it weighs two 60s-style tons (1,796 kg) so response still isn’t all that agile, but it goes where you aim it and likely sticks well too. At sensible back-road speeds it’s a fun car to carve corners with.
If the Charger’s exterior was “toxic” its black-over-tan interior was just the opposite: roomy for four (rear-seat passengers heads are under the backlight, however, which is never pleasant) and interestingly styled.
The instrument panel treatment is particularly neat and it’s put together from better-looking and -feeling materials than its predecessor. Seats have flat-ish, 60s-style bases but bigger bolsters at rib level and are upholstered in supple leather, the climate control is effective, the audio system fine and sound levels low enough.
The Charger R/T AWD is priced at $39,995, but the tester came with $2,875 worth of options that included an audio upgrade, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding mirrors, tilt/telescope wheel, Garmin navigation, power pedals and park warning and rear-view camera systems, adaptive speed control, forward collision warning, blind spot and cross path warning, stability, hill start and various brake assist systems.
The Hemi-powered Charger R/T AWD may still be a bad boy’s car but there always seems to be an electronic “mom” looking out for you or chiding you if you attempt to do anything naughty or stupid. You can’t even “lay a patch” with the thing.
2011 Dodge Charger R/T AWD
Type: Performance sedan
Base Price: $39,870; as tested, $44,870
Engine: 5.7-litre, DOHC, V-8
Horsepower/torque: 370 hp/395 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.2 city/8.5 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Taurus SHO, Buick Lucerne CXS, Chrysler 300C and then a big price step to more exotic cars that offer the similar levels of performance