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2016 Dodge Charger R/T (USA)

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If you exclude the various specialty rental cars, such as the Porsches and AMG Mercedes that are in the Hertz US fleet, the Dodge Charger, and closely related Challenger are two of my absolute favourite cars from the array of well over 120 different models that are available to rent. I’ve always liked their looks, and a series of upgrades in recent years have eradicated the attributes which disappointed. The switch to the PentaStar 3.6 litre engine which came with the launch of the second generation model in 2011 made a massive difference to the way the cars drove, and a new interior for 2015 transformed them from well below par to class-leading among the US domestics and pretty good by any standard. The Charger is the more practical of the two. A conventional four door saloon, with rear wheel drive, it has been around in its current guise since 2011, having received a very substantial update for the 2015 model year which changed almost everything in detail. The last Charger I drove was in September 2015, and I was very impressed. I concluded my review with these words, though: “Pretty much the perfect large family car, then? I would say so. Though given the option of trying one with the V8 Hemi under the bonnet, I would expect it would not just hit my proverbial spot, but blast it forward straight into paradise. Please, Mr Hertz go and buy some!” Not long after, I noticed that there were indeed a few Chargers in the Hertz facilities, certainly at LAX and Phoenix, with R/T badges on them, suggesting that Hertz had done just what I had wished for. It’s taken a while, as the cars are understandably popular but I’ve now managed to secure one to sample.

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There’s very little to tell you that the Charger before you has a V8 engine under the bonnet rather than the less potent V6. Most obvious clue is the R/T badge on the boot lid, but look more closely and you will also see that there are Hemi badges on the front wings. Go round to the front, and you see a gloss black grille, that looks that bit more menacing than the SE and SXT models with their grey detailing features, and there is a subtle spoiler on the boot lid. After that, it is details that only a marque specialist would spot, and which would require more than a casual glance as you walk the rows of the rental facility or when you see one on the street, such as the larger 20″ wheels on which the car rides. This is a Q car of the first order – one which looks perfectly ordinary but has the capability to surprise those who do not realise that it is powered by something a bit special.

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Paperwork prepared, I headed over to the place where “my” Charger was located, and got in. Having adjusted all things you have to alter so you can drive comfortably and safely, I pushed the “Start” button that is to the right of the wheel. To be honest, I was a little disappointed. This is an enclosed space, and the roar of some potent V8 reverberating around the car park is a sound I have experienced on those occasions when I have collected something special. What I heard was more of a rumble, a fairly subdued one at that. Enough to be sure that there was a V8 lurking under the bonnet, but this was not as loud as I was expecting. Or maybe even hoping for. The other side of the exit gate and out on the surface street heading away from Hertz and back to my hotel, though, and I was in no doubt that I was going to enjoy this car. Even pressing the throttle quite gently rocketed the Charger forwards. 370 bhp is enough to get you into serious trouble with the law very quickly, even if in Charger-speak it is only half way to the most potent model that Dodge sell, the 707 bhp Hellcat.  I returned to the hotel and went to sleep, knowing that the following day was going to be a good one. And it was.

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Dodge have pulled off a great trick here. If you are pottering around town and in traffic, the R/T feels as docile as the V6, with just the different engine note to remind you that it is capable of more. Show the Charger some open road, though, and it will rocket forward with an urgency which could lead you straight to the nearest State Correctional Facility, or at the very least a conversation with the Arizona State Troopers. I decided to head east, up towards Globe, as there is a nice climb up out of the Valley, which is both a fun road, and great for photos, with loads of pull outs and side turnings. This is Route 60. The only downside is that it does seem to be more heavily policed than some roads in the area. Cruising on the straight flat freeway through the eastern suburbs of Phoenix, the Charger is a civilised and refined machine. Noise levels are low, the engine spinning at very few revs in the 8th of its forward gears, and even the fuel level needle does seem to be dropping down the gauge like I feared would be the case. The seats are comfortable, the Alpine audio system produces a good sound for something to listen to. The sun was shining. There was not even much traffic. All seemed very well with the world. But give the R/T its head, and as you press harder on the throttle pedal, it changes character. It’s not as raw or brutal as, say an AMG Mercedes, more of a subtle approach to going fast, and quickly getting there. And that is all part of the appeal, I guess. You would never tire of this, like I did – very quickly – of, say, the Mercedes CLA 45 AMG, but you would always enjoy the fact that when you can, there is a moment of madness to be had. Mostly, on public roads, that will be a burst of acceleration and then an easing off the throttle before you have too expensive a day. Anyone could drive the R/T and enjoy it. It has all the electronics needed to protect the driver and the rest of the world from imprudence, so when I made a fairly quick exit from a photo stop, I could feel the rear wheels spinning somewhat, but there was no drama as the Charger rocketed down the road.

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There’s no getting away from the fact that the Charger is a large and heavy car. So there are some consequences. One is that if you put 8 cylinders amounting to a displacement of 5.7 litres of engine in it, it will require fuel. Quite a lot of fuel. The needle was quite slow to drop, but that is because there is a big tank. I drove the car 222 miles, and the gauge was still showing somewhat over half full, but it still 10 gallons to fill it up. That means that I averaged 22 mpg. The trip computer suggested that it had been rest, the average was 20,2mpg, so clearly I did a bit better than “average”. You are never going to make a car this size feel like a lithesome sports car, either. But it is still good to drive. There’s a nice chunky leather wrapped steering wheel to hold on to. The steering is well judged, with plenty of feel and weighting which is just right for the car. As well as going fast down the straights – all that the original muscle cars were intended to do, let’s remind ourselves – this one goes round corners nicely, too. There’s no roll, at road speeds, and the levels of grip are far higher than you can explore legally or safely. It handles well, but would take a track to get the rear end out and to revel in the rear wheel drive-ness of the car. Contact with the road comes courtesy of some chunky 245/45 R20 tyres. Despite the sizeable diameter, the ride quality is good. Very good, indeed, with a nice composure which contributes to making this car feel like the long-legged cruiser that it is. It will stop readily when you need it to. I had no occasion to find out just how quick, but even gentle applications of the pedal brought the Dodge smoothly to a halt. There is a foot operated parking brake. There were no particular issues with visibility, with a good field of view from the door mirrors. Slightly surprisingly, there is no reversing camera, but there is a good clue as to the where the back of the car is, as you can see the bootlid spoiler in the rear view mirror.

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The interior of this Charger was very much like the SE model that I sampled back in 2015, the only difference being the fact that it has a larger 8.4″ uConnect infotainment screen, which I will come to. There are lots of soft touch plastics here, with a nice texture to them, and the Dodge looks very much like its maker cares about the inside as well as what is under the bonnet, something that only came to pass very recently. There is a nicely integrated design to the cockpit, with materials chosen which complement each other. And there is no over the top adornment. The insert around the gear selector and the instrument cluster is a sort of dimpled metal effect in a very dark grey colour which Dodge call “Heptic Mesh”, It is unusual and looks good, far better than slapping on the carbon fibre as most brands do for their performance models. The instrument display is nice and simple. There are red linings to the dials and a red glow at night. There are two main dials, for speedo and rev counter, with smaller ones for water temperature and fuel level between them, as well as a digital display area, which you cycle through by pressing the buttons on the left hand spoke of the steering wheel. Some of the options have sub options. The right hand spoke has the cruise control on it. Behind the wheel are paddles for the gearbox should you wish to change gear yourself. There is only one column stalk, on the left, with wipers being a twist function. Lights are on a rotary dial to the left of the wheel on the dash. The centre of the dash has been simplified by incorporating some of the functions that can led to a profusion of buttons and switches into the uConnect system. This has touch sensitive and voice recognition interfaces, though I did not try out the latter. You use it for Audio channel selection, Bluetooth and phone services, some car settings, as one way of adjusting the climate control settings and for some car information. That means that under it all you need for the audio system are volume and tuner knobs, and there are also some very simplified knobs under these for the dual zone climate control. The graphics on the screen are clear and easy to use, though like all such set ups, better tackled when stationary or by a passenger rather than the driver (hence the voice control, I guess).

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At its heart, the R/T is Dodge’s large family car, and so it scores highly on practicality. It is easy to get in and out of, and it is comfortable. There are electric motors for moving the seat around, up/down, angle of the seat, as well as fore/aft and the backrest rake and a lumbar support. The seat itself proved very supportive, having a slightly wrap-around feel to it, and it was covered in a decent quality cloth. Adjusting the steering column is a manual process, but with a good range of movement up/down and in/out, it was quickly in the desired spot relative to my seat.

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Rear seat passengers will do OK, too. There is plenty of legroom, even when the front seats are set well back. Headroom is not a problem despite the sloping rear roof line, and the Charger is wide enough that three adults should fit across it. There is not too much of an intrusion from the transmission tunnel. A drop down armrest with twin cupholders is part of the package, and rear seat occupants also get their own air vents and a pair of USB connections on the rearmost face of the centre console. They have map pockets on the back of the front seats and bins on the doors. Up front, there is a split level glovebox, a very deep cubby under the central armrest with a moveable upper tray in it, a recess in front of the gearlever and a small one to the side of it, as well as bins on the doors. The boot is a good size. There is quite a high sill to lift things over, but once you do, the load area is long from front to back, and wide, as well as decently high. More space can be found under the floor, alongside the battery. Should greater length be required, the rear seat backrests fold forward, and there is a big hole through the rear bulkhead when you do this.

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Having undertaken a significant update for 2015, Dodge made no significant changes for their 2016 range. Chargers came in seven different versions. The range starts with the V6 models, the $27,995 SE and $29,995 SXT trim, with a choice of rear or for an extra $2250 and $2000, for the SE and SXT respectively, all-wheel drive. Next up are the rear wheel drive only R/T and R/T Road and Track models which have the 370 bhp 5.7 litre V8 Hemi engine. Sitting above these are two 6.4 litre cars which dust off names from the 1960s, the R/T Scat Pack and the SRT392. These have 485 bhp, and at the very top of the tree is the completely bonkers 707 bhp SRT Hellcat. Many of the features that were on the old SXT have now been applied to the SE, including 17″ alloys, the keyless start, leather wrapped steering wheel, and a power adjustable driver’s seat. UConnect system with 5″ touch sensitive colour screen, AM/FM radio, CD, MP3, USB and AUX ports, Bluetooth, 6 speakers, wheel mounted controls and various in-car information displays, bi-function halogen projector headlights with auto sensing, heated washer nozzles, dual chrome tipped exhaust pipes, dual zone air conditioning, cruise control and split folding rear seats. The SXT adds in a wider choice of colours both for the exterior paint and the interior trim, 18″ alloys, a gloss black front grille, what Dodge call “Hectic Mesh” inlay trim for the dashboard, cloth trimmed sports seats, heated mirrors, a heated driver’s seat, an auto dimming rear view mirror, LED illuminated map pockets, an upgraded UConnect system with an 8.4″ touch sensitive colour display, premium sound, including XM Satellite radio and upgraded speakers, fully automated climate control, LED front foglights, a universal garage door opener,  As well as the more powerful engine, the R/T trim brings with it sports suspension. 20″ satin carbon finished alloys, a performance exhaust system, a rear spoiler, steering wheel mounted gear paddles and a few other minor trim embellishments. The R/T Road and Track is $36,995. It adds a memory for the radio, seats and mirrors, an 8-way power adjustable seat for driver and passenger, rear seat heating, power adjustable pedals, polished 20″ aluminium wheels with black pockets and Alcantara Suede and leather seat trim, but strangely it does not have the lights for the boot or glovebox, or front reading map lights and it loses the 12 volt power outlet sockets that feature in all other models. Another $3000 will get you into the R/T Scat Pack, the first of the models with the 6.4 litre Hemi. You also get uprated performance disc brakes all round, and SuperDuty cooling, red brake calipers, an oil cooler, what is described as a functional air scoop on the bonnet, a bright finish to the pedals. Some of the items on the Road and Track model are not included here, presumably to keep the entry price down, so you get cloth seats, for instance, and seat heating is an option. It is the first model in the range to feature an alarm and a rear-view camera. The SRT 392 retails at $47,995, and for this you get the larger 6.4 litre Hemi, a combination of Suede and Nappa leather for the seat trim, and a number of other detailed styling and equipment changes over the lesser models. The Hellcat lists at $63,995, which sounds like a lot of money, but then you are getting a 707 bhp supercharged 6.2 litre V8 powerplant, and no other 4 door saloon car comes close to that, even for more money. Most of the equipment levels are the same as the cheaper models, though you do get distinctive matt black 20″ alloys as another clue that this is the Top Dog of Charger models.

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My expectations for the Charger R/T were high. I was not disappointed. In fact, I loved this car. It ticks pretty every much box for me. Nicely finished, spacious, comfortable, but with oodles of performance under your right foot and a pleasant engine note that is not so loud as to be wearing, but a constant reminder that you have got a Hemi under the bonnet. If I were picking a rental car for several days, this is the one I would pick. That Hertz categorise it in the same class not just as the V6 Charger but as all the four cylinder saloons such as the Camry, Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata makes it something of a bargain. There are not that many in the fleet, and they are understandably very popular, so your hardest task will be finding one.

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