AW Cover Story - 2006 Dodge Charger

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  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Character Witness: From behind the wheel the new Dodge is a Charger all the way

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    KEVIN A. WILSON
    Published Date: 6/6/05

    Dash up the hill on the main straight at Virginia International Raceway’s south circuit with your foot planted firmly into 350-hp worth of Hemi V8, and the Dodge Charger Daytona R/T produces a distinctive roar not heard in the Dodge Magnum or Chrysler 300C. Get the entry to that straightaway right and you’ll touch 120 mph at the other end just as you crest the brow of the hill and enter the braking zone for the slow, tight right-hand Turn One. That means the car goes light, rising on its suspension just when you want it to settle down—this, we think, must be a fraught place in the midst of a race, when drivers would be tempted to make heroic passing maneuvers. The track map says the turn is named Bitch.

    We’re not racing anyone, not even a clock; just giving the Charger a workout. The big sedan wriggles over surface irregularities as we squeeze on the brakes to plant the car, giving it a full stomp to bring in the ABS. Hard right, right again, slight kink left and then wham, down the side of a hill in the Spiral, an ess bend reminiscent of Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew with less vertical drop.

    At just more than two tons the Charger’s mass poses challenges to its brakes and tires in track work, but the car feels smaller the faster you go, a trait it shares with some of Europe’s best. The Spiral reveals a sweet- handling sedan with nicely weighted and responsive steering, no noteworthy flex in the chassis, and an automatic transmission tuned to hold your gear rather than shift up when you modulate the throttle. With ESP stability control on, it’s no problem. With it off, we manage an old-school four-wheel drift, a little countersteer and throttle input just balancing the slide.

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    ESP never fully shuts off, stepping in to help you recover the car if you get it too far out of shape, but it allows the drift. It’s not intrusive
    ; we even managed a few fairly quick course-familiarization laps with the system on but never saw the indicator light or felt it engage.

    “You can do that, drive it pretty quickly, and as long as you’re smooth, it’ll never come on,” explained John Nulty, senior manager for development on the rear-drive platform. “Some systems just shut everything down when you try to pull out of a parking lot. We didn’t want that.”

    We might complain about that won’t-go-away electronic nanny if the car was a Viper, but it’s a sedan more likely to see teen learn-to-drive duty than track work. Similarly, while we could wish for a manual gearbox, we don’t think its lack will hurt sales in any significant way. The automanual lets you do what you need to do on the road.

    Point is, this new Dodge has got Charger character and attitude to spare. The Daytona R/T weighs about 120 pounds less than either of its platform mates, the 300C and Magnum RT, and by comparison to the latter model, especially, the balance is better—farther forward and lower. It’s near 50-50, a proportion no one could have imagined back in the muscle car era, when kids all wanted Mustangs but their dads wanted Chargers.

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    Chief engineer Burke Brown says the spring and shock rates are adjusted from Magnum, which has stiffer springs in back to allow for the cargo load. Having driven this magazine’s long-term test Magnum RT the day before our experience in the Charger, we can attest the sedan is more of a driver’s car. In short, it’s got the moves to help Dodge make a move in the car market.

    “Forty-one percentofthe [U.S.] market is still in cars,” explains George Murphy, Chrysler Group senior vice president for global brand marketing. “Dodge’s share of that is about 3 percent. That’s a problem Dodge has had for a long time.”

    Murphy worked at General Electric for years, and admits he isn’t a car guy in the Detroit sense of that expression, but he also says he is glad to be working on products that inspire emotional responses from consumers. “Compared to marketing commodities like light bulbs, this is a fascinating and complicated business,” he says.

    That business is about to get more interesting still. Before the on-sale date, June 1, Dodge had 28,000 orders in hand, meaning the Charger is off to a faster start than the 300, generally acknowledged as a smash hit. Of course, says corporate spokesman Jason Vines, the Charger has the success of the 300 and Magnum working for it. “People already know the 300 is a good car, where they weren’t sure when the 300 first came out; and they know the Charger is the Dodge version, so that helps.”

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    Murphy expects Charger to draw an older customer than Magnum, which tends to pull young families who have strollers and playpens to haul. The Charger, he says, will appeal to older families with older children.

    Moving Dodge away from its near-total dependence on trucks is a process that began with last year’s introduction of the Magnum sports touring wagon, continues with the Charger and then the Caliber (Neon replacement) in ’06. A replacement for the Stratus line follows in ’07. “In 16 months we’ll have replaced the entire car range,” says Murphy.

    With those goals, and with due respect to the emotional reactions of those who think a four-door shouldn’t be named Charger, another coupe wasn’t going to do the job Dodge needs to do.

    “Two-doors aren’t selling in any volume, and they have short lives,” Murphy notes. “We had to go for the heart of the market.”

    Heart of the market, yes, but what Dodge has wrought has no direct corollary at any other manufacturer. Chrysler cites the Ford Five Hundred, Chevy Impala, Pontiac Grand Prix and Nissan Altima as competition, but none is a direct head-to-head match, though GM is bringing V8s into its front-drive cars. Pontiac’s decision to drop the full-size Bonneville, Murphy says, “may represent an opportunity for us,” but even that front-driver wouldn’t square up toe to toe with Charger.

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    For a rear-drive sedan with this much room and power, you either pay a lot more for a European import or you get a less exciting vehicle from the Ford stable. The Crown Victoria’s dynamics are underrated anymore (nowhere near as soft and sloppy as in the old days), but neither is it as driver-oriented as a Charger. Even Mercury’s short-lived Marauder wouldn’t make the grade against the Dodge, which draws on the strengths of engineering done for Mercedes-Benz. Some potential Charger buyers might opt for a GTO, but the low sales volumes Pontiac expects for its image machine makes the case against a two-door Charger.

    Why that name? Why not Polara or something? If what you’re looking for is a visceral, emotional response from the buying populace—what you need to make a Dodge dealer a blip on shoppers’ radar screens—there’s no name in the corporate quiver with more mojo than Charger. (Well, okay, Viper, but they’ve got that handled.) Setting aside the Omni-based front-drive Shelby model, the name was off the market for 28 years and yet 70 percent of Americans recognize it. What’s more, they know what it stands for: performance, style and a spacious interior.

    Those are the attributes Dodge designers and engineers set out to provide in the new sedan even before they named it. The Charger of the ’60s and early ’70s was a more practical alternative to a pony car, offering rear seat and cargo accommodation the smaller muscle machines couldn’t match. It was more adult than a Mustang, GTO or Camaro. In that context, a pair of rear doors isn’t a big departure from its heritage.

    The design tends topolarize people into love-it and hate-it camps, but there’s no arguing it’s distinctive and instantly recognizable. Polarizing style works for the 300C and Magnum, and Chrysler is counting on it to work for the Charger, too.

    It was drawn in the same studio as its LX platform mates, Chrysler’s Studio 3, under the direction of Ralph Gilles, by Mark Hall and Jeff Gale. Flying the flag for the design team when we got our first experience behind the wheel of the Charger was Gale, who told us the first car he owned was a Daytona C/S, the front-drive turbo coupe from the late ’80s.

    “I wore through the tires in a little over 8000 miles,” he remembered. “My dad was really mad about that.”

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    Dad would be Tom Gale, the retired vp of design at Chrysler. The younger Gale thinks his new car looks at least as sporty as that old model, door count notwithstanding, and points to a few cues that make it work.

    “It’s got that rear-drive proportion to it, with a long hood stretching forward above the grille. The grille tilts forward at the top, so it leans into the wind rather than back,” Gale notes. The beltline doesn’t carry the wedge-like rising angle all the way back as it does in the 300C and Magnum, but tips horizontally to meet the rising line of the rear haunch, which really emphasizes the drive wheels. In profile, the C-pillar recalls the curved shape of the original ’66 fastback, but if you view it from behind the backlight is set in a bit, borrowing the “sail panel” notion from the ’68 model.

    Gale points out that rather than separate fender “flares” like Magnum, the Charger’s fenders are wider to cover the fat performance rubber (the base wheel is 17 inches with 215/65 tires, while the Daytona R/T wears 18-inch alloys and 235/55s). Charger’s door handles are flush, and the cars share no sheetmetal. Gale says the hardest part to get into production was the headlamp/side marker assembly, which carries the fender crease down onto the front of the car. Getting it to work demanded two parts where most auto*makers are trying to use one, but it pays off in a sinister face that helps give Charger the sneering attitude the designers sought.

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    Back when the car was revealed at the Detroit show in January, we reported suggestions Dodge might soft-pedal the name’s heritage. That’s not happening. Particularly with the R/T and Daytona R/T models (the SRT-8 comes later), Dodge aims to capitalize on the Charger’s tradition. Opt for a $29,995 R/T (note the slash—it’s a return to the badging on ’60s muscle cars, denoting Road/Track, a graphic fillip the Magnum RT avoided), and you get the 340-hp Hemi, leather trim and such. You can also choose a $1,500 “road and track performance” package of suspension and appearance upgrades, and front brakes one-inch larger than on other Chargers. You’ll get a “nine-land steering gear,” which is a technophile’s way of saying the hydraulic-assist builds up faster and you’re less likely to get steering lockup in repeated, rapid maneuvers like a slalom. You also get an induction and exhaust tuned to give the Hemi 10 more hp, that more aggressive exhaust note, and a sticker of $31,495.

    For another $1,000 the Daytona R/T includes all the above plus exterior graphics (matte black hood and fender trim), a black-ed-out honeycomb grille, a rear wing and front chin spoiler (they really work—the Daytona felt more stable at 100-plus mph at VIR than did an R/T with the package), and some wild ’60s-like colors. You remember those? Like Plum Crazy and SubLime? Daytonas will be built in 4000-unit batches, one color at a time. First up is Go! ManGo! followed by Top Banana. In truth, the new Go! ManGo! does not resemble the color of a mango as much as the ’60s edition did. The ’06 is more a metallic burnt orange, closer to the shade formerly known as Come and Get Me Copper. We hear that “legal had a problem” with Come and Get Me Copper, which tells us lawyers have far too much power over matters that should belong to marketing and public relations. Think they’ll allow a Bullitt edition for those who want to chase Mustangs? Probably not.

    So far we’ve been talking about all the high-end, high-profile Chargers, not least because when it offers the option, Chrysler has found that more than 45 percent of buyers choose a Hemi engine. Charger might even top that take rate, but that still leaves half the cars in the base SE ($22,995) and the uprated SXT ($25,995) trim levels.

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    The SE and SXT use the 3.5-liter 250-hp V6 also found in mid-grade 300s and Mag-nums. The 2.7-liter used in other base models is not offered on Charger. In addition to avoiding the 2.7 and its meager 190 hp, Dodge opted to make all Chargers with the five-speed transmission based on a Mercedes design and built in Kokomo, Indiana. The 300 Limited with the 3.5 comes with a four-speed, with the five-speed optional, but Dodge determined if it was going to name the car Charger, it best make sure even the base model had some performance character.

    And it does. We drove a couple hundred miles in V6 Chargers and while the car doesn’t excite us the way a Daytona R/T does, it provides more than acceptable performance. It should be quite the contender in the mass-market sales race, especially since it comes with the full panoply of safety equipment and NHTSA’s five-star crash rating. The V6 model has “smart” airbags (side airbags are standard, side curtain airbags are optional), belt pretensioners and a full array of electronic safety aids. While there are basically five configurations and a lot of options, even base cars are well-equipped with air conditioning, cruise control, power seats, power windows and power locks (including a power trunk release).

    So, the early word looks good for the new Charger, both on the track and in the dealerships. We’ll be sampling production models in routine driving and instrumented testing in the near future. If the open question was “Is this gonna be a real Charger, or a pretender?” the answer is in: It’s the real deal.

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    2006 DODGE CHARGER DAYTONA R/T
    ON SALE: Now
    BASE PRICE: $32,495
    POWERTRAIN: 5.7-liter, 350-hp, 390-lb-ft V8; rwd, five-speed automatic
    CURB WEIGHT: 4031 lbs
    0 to 60 MPH: 5.5 seconds (est.)


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    Last edited: Jun 6, 2005
  2. Dodge guy

    Dodge guy OT Supporter

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  3. GTO2050

    GTO2050 OT's Ol Man™

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    I read that yesterday and I still want a Magnum!!!
     
  4. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Awesome. :cool: :cool: :cool:
     
  5. erobbins

    erobbins Active Member

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    :coold: I have got to test drive one of these
     
  6. Type2

    Type2 Active Member

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    I would take that over a GTO.
     
  7. Urinal Mint

    Urinal Mint bourbon afficionado

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    I saw a Charger on Saturday with 22" wheels. Talk about changing the look completely. :wackit:
     
  8. ZoominRex

    ZoominRex New Member

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    looks great in the front. Not crazy about the back half of the car yet though.
     
  9. Pro Street

    Pro Street New Member

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    STILL has two doors too many.
     
  10. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Completely different body, some interior trim, and features.
     
  11. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Deal with it! :p
     
  12. Inti

    Inti OT Supporter

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    that car is MEH!
     
  13. Lasu

    Lasu 2.0

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    Sideview reminds me a lot of the 05 Mustang. :dunno:

    Looks nice overall. :)
     
  14. CrosseyeLion

    CrosseyeLion delight in our youth...

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    :cool:

    Funny thing is I've still only seen one Charger on the road and that was in March. I expected to see a ton by now.
     
  15. spooled2.2

    spooled2.2 OT Supporter

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    :ugh: umm fuck yeah it is...
     
  16. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    It's no Civic, but what is? :rofl:
     
  17. Inti

    Inti OT Supporter

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    It's junk that's what it is
     
  18. Type2

    Type2 Active Member

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    I'm telling you. Cancel the GTO and pick up one of those in Black. drop it an inch and put some nice wheels on it. Thing will look MEAN.
     
  19. Derek

    Derek OT Supporter

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    I don't like it, but I do like it :dunno:
     
  20. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
     
  21. Type2

    Type2 Active Member

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    I like it becase it doesn't make an attempt at looking "pretty"
     
  22. 02SS

    02SS New Member

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    that looks pretty :cool:
     
  23. Pro Street

    Pro Street New Member

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    NEVER! I will be old and gray and still bitch about it :hs:
     
  24. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    I think that's exactly what Bolicious is planning to do. :noes:
     
  25. Nutro

    Nutro O|||||||O Austin Jeep Crew

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    I get more ass than a toilet seat

    :bowdown: :bowdown:

    I'd like the Charger R/T, dropped, tint, 20's, some mods done to it

    :bowdown: :bowdown:
     

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