Two adults. Two kids. One ridiculously fast muscle car.
When I picked up our Dodge Charger test vehicle – sporting a 370-hp V8 engine, 19-inch aluminum wheels, rear spoiler and "toxic orange" paint job – my first thought was: What if some dude pulls up beside us at a stoplight and wants to drag?
As a family man, the only time I've been known to race is when I'm trying to get to the next rest stop so my kids can go pee. And while I've owned numerous muscle cars over the years, they've all had the words "Hot Wheels" stamped on them.
Turns out nobody challenged us to a duel as we toured the back roads of Ontario, although plenty of people did compliment us on the Charger's sporty good looks.
After a week driving the Charger, I can also say that it's more than just a pretty muscle car; it's also a solid family sedan, with a secure ride, quiet and spacious interior, decent handling and, of course, loads of power. Think of it as a Hot Wheel for grownups.
NEW FOR 2011
The Charger received an extensive makeover for 2011 that improved the car's appearance and ride.
The most obvious change are the hood and side "scallops" that give the car a retro look reminiscent of the classic Charger coupes of 1968 to 1970 (the most famous being the orange '69 model that starred in The Dukes of Hazzard TV series.)
Chrysler also increased the car's visibility by 15 per cent, tightened up the suspension and steering and upgraded the interior, which features high-quality materials, comfortable seats and ample storage bins and cup holders for family road trips.
In addition, the company introduced an all-new V6, with more horsepower and torque, on the SE and SXT rear-wheel-drive trim levels, which start at $29,995.
LOADS OF OPTIONS
Our top-of-the-line Charger R/T all-wheel-drive model, with a base price of $39,995, came with the upgraded 5.7-litre V8 Hemi engine – cranking out a 0-to-60 mph time of less than 6 seconds – and loads of standard equipment including remote starter, heated and cooled front console cup holders, heated seats all around and one year of Sirius satellite radio.
Other goodies including rear back-up camera, park assist system, rain-sensitive windshield wipers, blind spot detector, navigation system and upgraded nine-speaker stereo with subwoofer pushed the price of our Charger R/T AWD to $44,870.
Having lots of features is nice, but one of the best things about the Charger is the spacious interior. The car has ample room for a family of four and can comfortably seat five with the folding rear console in the upright position.
Up front, there was so much leg room that my wife was able to put her knapsack and a bag of snacks at her feet without impeding her movement.
"In most cars, it's cramped up there but in this one it wasn't," she said.
The whole family approved of the Charger's cool styling, but after sitting in the back seat for a few minutes my eight-year-old son announced that there was a problem: "When I look out the window, I can only see the second storey of buildings."
The cuplrit was the Charger's high "beltline" – the line where the side windows and lower body meet. A high beltline gives a car an aggressive look, but it makes it difficult for shorter passengers to see out the windows.
We got around the problem by having my son sit in a booster seat, but it's something to consider if you're taking kids on long road trips.
Another small issue I had with the Charger was that it was hard to tell when my cup holder was in cooling or heating mode, because the indicator light was faint. Not a big deal, I suppose, but I'd hate to buy an iced cappuccino only to have it melt a few minutes later because I accidentally pressed the wrong button.
WATCH YOUR FUEL
Fuel economy is another factor to consider.
The Charger R/T AWD is rated at a respectable 8.5 litres/100 km on the open road, thanks to the fuel saver mode that switches to four cylinders when cruising at highway speeds. But in stop-and-go city driving, the car consumes 14.4 litres/100 km.
The V6, by comparison, is rated at 7.3 highway and 11.7 the city.
Mindful of soaring gas prices, I found myself accelerating slowly and watching the onboard fuel economy computer to keep my fuel consumption to a minimum. That sort of defeats the purpose of owning a powerful V-8, of course.
I couldn't resist the temptation completely, however, so on the way home I warned my wife and kids to hang on and I punched the accelerator to the floor. The V-8 let out a menacing roar and the Charger blasted down the road, pinning me to my seat as the scenery whizzed by.
It lasted all of a few seconds, but my knuckles are still white.
2011 Dodge Charger R/T AWD
Type: Full-size sedan
Base Price: $39,995; as tested, $44,870
Engine: 5.7-litre V-8
Horsepower/Torque: 370 hp/395 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.4 city/8.5 highway; regular gas