2010 Dodge Charger 3.5 SXT (USA)

The business world continues to get ever more competitive, and corporate survival is something that no organisation, no matter how large, can take for granted. In the automotive world, the Chrysler Corporation knows this better than most, having had a series of “near death” experiences over the past 30 years or so. Although restructuring and finance deals including the ill-fated merger with Daimler-Benz and the more recent acquisition by Fiat have played a part, on more than one occasion, the rescue has been enabled by the release of new product. Now derided, the “K” cars of 1980 did just that, and to a lesser extent, so did the “cab forward” trio of Dodge Intrepid, Eagle Vision and Chrysler Concorde when they appeared in 1991. More recently, it was the launch of the hugely desirable Chrysler 300C that stopped everyone from thinking of Chrysler as a lame duck as this was a car that had huge “want one” appeal. It was not long before the Chrysler version was joined by a couple of Dodge-badged products that shared the same underpinnings. The Magnum, a stylish sports tourer did not sell that well in America, but the Charger, a stylish full-sized saloon has done far better, and has been a popular car for private buyers and in the rental fleets ever since. Because I have tended to source my US test cars from Hertz, who has not featured Chrysler products for the past few years, the Charger has eluded me until now, but when I arrived at Denver Airport, I spotted a couple and managed to swap the RAV4 that had been allotted to me for a bright white Charger SXT. Time to find out if is as good as it looks.

Hopes that the test car would be a Hemi-engined model were quickly dashed, but then I was also a little relieved to find that it was not the entry level car with the 178 bhp 2.7 litre V6 engine, which I could well imagine would be a little underpowered. I had an SXT model, which is the middle of the range trim, and comes with the 3.5 litre V6 engine that develops 250 bhp. Sufficient for a full-sized car, though certainly not going to give you the thrills and aural pleasures of the 5.7 and 6.1 litre models. Nor does it generate the same level of thirst, though. On reflection, I realised that I had experienced the same engine in the Challenger earlier in the year. In that car, I opined that the engine was almost too “civilised”, wanting something a little more raw and exciting, but in a full-sized family saloon, then “civilised” is going to be rather less of a Bad Thing. It is an appropriate epithet for the installation in the Charger. It endows the Charger with brisk but not stunningly fast performance. You can rev the engine hard, but that is almost missing the point, and just driving it in the lower rev ranges does indeed make for relaxed cruising, as I found out on the I-25 freeway when the noise levels are low and the Dodge wafts along. Show it some hills – and I showed it the legendary Pikes Peak and the Trail Ridge Road across the Rocky Mountain National Park – and the ample reserves of torque mean that the engine does not have to work that hard to cope with with what the locals call “Steep Grades” (they are rarely more than 1 in 10!).
I achieved 26 mpg (US), which is not bad for a large car like this. Unlike most of its US class competitors, the Charger is rear wheel drive, though I think you would have to drive it rather more by the scruff of the proverbial neck than I was able to do on public roads, to be able to tell. What I can report is that the steering is well weighted with nice feel to it, and the handling gave me no cause for concern, which was probably just as well given the precipitous drops over the side of the Trail Ridge Road! The brakes are good, too, even if the foot operated parking brake is a bit of a pain to set and release. The Charger rides well, too. With the exception of the over the shoulder visibility which is rather limited by the kinked up rear side windows, it is quite easy to see out of the car, and easy to position in a tight spot. Dynamically, this car is so much better than Chrysler Corporation products of yore and at least as good as any of its most obvious rivals.
The one constant criticism of all Chrysler Corporation products of the modern era is the quality of the interior. Cast a quick glance at the Dodge, and you would immediately level the allegation at this car, too. However, look a little more closely, and you realise it is not as bad as you first thought. It certainly will not cause the likes of Audi to lose any sleep, but it is actually perfectly acceptable. Part of the problem, I think, comes from the actual design, with lots of rectangular shapes and hard edges to the design. All models in the range feature the same sort of design ethos, and it may be that now they have actually improved the quality of the materials more than a little, this is the real challenge. Fit and finish was actually no worse than anything else I have seen in this class of car, and the controls are all perfectly pleasant to use. Neither of these statements were true a model generation or so back. The main dash moulding is black, but there are touches of aluminium effect plastic on the dash and on the spokes of the steering wheel, to lighten the effect. The dials, of which there are 4, are in deep individual cowls, with the fuel gauge to the far left proving harder to read accurately when the tank was more than half full. A single column stalk, mounted a bit too low on the left of the wheel, just as it was in the Challenger does wipers and indicators, and the headlight switch is a rotary knob on the left of the dash. With the SXT model, you do not get climate control, but there is air conditioning, and it handled the autumn Colorado heatwave very well. Mounted above this is an XM satellite radio, which has a lot of buttons on it, but which gave out good sound and seemed to have a strong signal even in the more remote places where I took the car.
After the trials of getting comfortable in the more costly Cadillac a few days earlier, there were no such issues in the Charger. There is electric adjustment of the seat both fore and aft, and up and down as well as for the backrest. A separate lumbar support lever is mounted rather awkwardly on the side of the seat backrest. In case this is not enough for the driver, the pedals are electrically adjustable from a small switch in the side of the seat and the column adjusts manually for reach and rake. Once I had found the optimum position, I found the seat very comfortable, and with the low levels of cabin noise, the Charger was a comfortable freeway cruiser.
With its swooping rear styling, you might expect headroom to be at a premium in the Charger, but I was pleasantly surprised. True, your head actually has glass from the rear window above it, rather than metal, but I had no issues, and there is plenty of legroom, even when the seat is set well back (which, of course, it is not when I am the driver). There is a commodious boot, too, and the rear seat backrests can be tipped forward to extend the luggage space still further. Inside the cabin, the space for oddments is about what you find on most cars: door pockets, two levels of space in the centre armrest, a moderate glovebox and a few little slots around the gearlever and one on the dash that is so deep and narrow that I could hardly reach the end of it.
I liked the Charger. I am pleased to be able to write that, as when the model first appeared, it had a definite appeal that I feared might all have been destroyed when I got to drive one. I have no doubt that I would like it even more if I have been able to sample the R/T version with the 5.7 litre engine, though my bank account manager may not agree with this level of appeal over the long term. I’ve had a long wait to sample this car, though and a new model is on the stocks for launch later this year. The spy pictures that have been released recently suggest that it won’t deviate too far from the appearance of the current model, so if Dodge concentrate on fitting a higher quality interior, they could be onto a winner. A car to save the company. Again!

2010-10-14 16:25:40

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