The Dodge Charger is a full-size rear-wheel-drive sedan. It’s reminiscent of an old-school muscle car, a four-door longer in wheelbase than the two-door Dodge Challenger, with retro styling. Yet it’s comfortable and user friendly, with modern technology.
Charger’s body was last refreshed for 2015, and changes since then have been plenty but not major. For 2018, the Charger Hellcat gets a new grille and fender badges. There are some minor equipment changes for 2018: a rearview camera comes standard, a V6 performance package for the SXT has been added, and new colors are available for paint, wheels, brake calipers, and leather upholstery.
The scary-fast 707-horsepower Charger Hellcat gets the most attention, with a new grille and fender badges, and new options including aluminum wheels with a finish called Matte Vapor; brake calipers painted black, orange and gunmetal; gunmetal gray body stripes; and Demonic Red leather.
There are four Charger engines, all mated to an excellent 8-speed automatic transmission. The responsive 3.6-liter V6 makes 292 horsepower; the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 makes 370 horsepower; the 6.4-liter V8 (392 cubic inches) makes 485 hp; and last but hardly least comes the SRT Hellcat with its supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8 making 707 epic horsepower. It will go 204 miles per hour. It’s surprisingly composed for a beast.
The Charger strikes a brilliant balance between performance and livability, and it’s beautifully finished for the money. Though if it’s luxury you want, the Chrysler 300, which shares the Charger platform and powertrains, is the call.
The GT and GT Plus models are all-wheel drive, using an active transfer case and front-axle disconnect that can shift into rear-wheel drive to save fuel. The V6 engines in the GT models make a bit more horsepower, 300, to pull the extra weight of the system.
Shopping for a Charger could be very confusing if you’re not already a MoPar aficionado. There are many choices in equipment, so you have to be sure of things, in particular knowing what engine, suspension, exhaust and brakes you want. If you just want a Charger and don’t care about all that, the SXT works very nicely.
Fuel economy for the Charger V6 with rear-wheel drive is an EPA-estimated 19/30 miles per gallon City/Highway, or 23 mpg Combined. V8 models with cylinder deactivation get 19 mpg Combined, while the Hellcat gets 16 mpg Combined.
The Charger gets five stars in safety from NHTSA, while the IIHS gives it the highest score in every category, including rollover and side impact, but a Marginal in the small front-overlap crash test. Standard safety features include airbags for the driver’s knee and full-length curtain airbags, as well as active head restrains in front.
Safety features including rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitors, lane departure warning with lane-keep assist, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking are optional, or come with packages and higher trims.
Charger SXT ($28,495), SXT Plus ($30,495), and SXT Plus Leather ($33,495) come with the 292-hp V6 engine. Charger GT ($32,495) and GT Plus ($35,495) come with all-wheel drive and a 300-hp V6. Charger R/T and Daytona feature a 370-hp 5.7-liter V8. Charger R/T Scat Pack, Daytona 392 ($44,995) and SRT 392 ($51,145) get a 392-cubic-inch V8 with 485 horsepower. Charger SRT Hellcat ($67,995) gets a 707-hp 6.2-liter engine.
Unlike the Challenger, which is trimmer and more shapely, and still looks great for the times, the Charger’s retro boxiness seems to be wearing off. It looks dated. (We wonder ourselves why we think it looks dated, since its whole point is to look retro. But never mind.)
Charger rides on a wheelbase that is four inches longer than that of the Challenger, though the Challenger is only two inches shorter than the Charger.
Charger’s low nose with black grille and fascia has a storm-trooper look; that’s the Blacktop Appearance Package, available even on the SXT, offering a lot of style for the money.
Charger’s profile shows swollen hips, a high beltline, and hard-edged pillars. But its short overhangs and big wheels are contemporary, and the blunt ends make it look more compact. Those big hips, the rear fenders, are smooth and not bulbous, tapering to LED taillamps whose shape dates to the Sixties. At night, a rectangle of red light comes out, piping that traces the perimeter of the rear end.
Each model has its own style. We like the R/T’s restrained aggression. The Hellcat gets a new grille and fender badges for 2018.
The Charger is big, and comfortable for four. Legroom in the rear seat is less than some other full-size sedans, but it’s still decent. Headroom is good, although the high window line limits downward visibility out the sides.
The wide front seats with aggressive bolstering are race-inspired. The available retro hounds-tooth cloth upholstery isn’t. But Nappa leather is also available. Dodge brags that its top audio system is exclusive to the segment. It’s a 552-watt BeatsAudio system with subwoofer in the trunk.
The interior is simple, with above-average comfort, quality and technology. The surfacing is subtle, with soft-touch materials and trim accents in matte metallic. A 7.0-inch display screen is standard on the SXT, while other models use the Chrysler 8.4-inch touchscreen. But the SXT uses the same dashboard, center console, and door materials as the upper models. Which might not exactly be a selling point for them, since they cost thousands more.
The interior is quiet, with an active exhaust system allowing the satisfying soft rumble of the Hemi V8 into the cabin. In reviews of other Chrysler cars with that engine, we’ve called it plain loud. We think we’re right both ways, it depends on the silencing, and the Charger has it just right.
No worries about the 3.6-liter V6 in the Charger SXT and GT. It’s plenty quick enough to stay ahead of traffic, its 292 horsepower boosted by 260 pound-feet of torque. There’s a nice resonance to the exhaust note in the midrange.
The 8-speed automatic rifles through the gears with excellent shift action and logic. It can do its shifts in a very quick 160 milliseconds. On the SRT models it blips the downshift to match the engine and transmission speeds and make the downshift smoothly. The shifter is clunky, however.
The Charger GT offers all-wheel drive for winter weather capability.
Meanwhile, the 5.7-liter V8 will stay ahead of traffic at half throttle, using its 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque. It can accelerate from zero to sixty in less than six seconds, a brisk pace.
The 6.4-liter V8, a bored-out 5.7-liter Hemi, can do that time in a very quick 4.5 seconds. The Hellcat, with its supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi, can do it in a super quick 3.7 seconds.
The ride in some models is a bit soft, as after all it is a standard sedan, and there’s some body lean, but the handling does not feel retro at all. It’s capable and composed. The steering is accurate and nicely weighted. With so many available suspension setups, the ride and handling changes, but we have found all models will feel balanced within their limits.
The SXT gets an option to improve handling with the Super Track Pak, including Bilstein dampers, a 3.07 rear axle ratio, performance hood with air induction, performance front and rear fascias, sculpted side sills, and the Dodge Performance Pages data system and indicators.
The SRT with a firm suspension delivers remarkable control given its hefty weight of more than 4000 pounds. The SRTs use huge Brembo brakes with six-piston calipers in front, adaptive dampers, and a drive-mode system with Sport, Track, Default and Custom mode, allowing the driver to make selections for transmission, throttle, and steering. The Bilstein adaptive damping suspension also has modes: Auto, Sport and Track.
It’s this system that enables the 707-horsepower Hellcat to be civilized on the highway. There’s also a lock to limit horsepower to 500, which is 400 horsepower more than is needed for valet parking.
If you don’t feel like being civilized all the time, you can hammer the throttle of the Hellcat and burn rubber and slide the tail in the turns. It gets nervous chasing through canyons, the suspension dances on smooth roads. To drive it quickly, in any direction other than a straight line, it’s a handful.
The Dodge Charger won’t disappoint MoPar enthusiasts, and that’s what matters. It gets top marks for the engines, transmission, cabin, and handling. The entry-level SXT has all the right features, as long as you don’t need that V8 rumble under the hood. If you do, the choices are rich. Enjoy them.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.