September 6, 2006 Review and photos by Jil McIntosh When Dodge reintroduced the Charger, enthusiasts were, to put it mildly, not happy. What was the company thinking? Didn't it know that a real Charger has only two doors? The reality was that, historical accuracy aside, the Charger was aimed squarely at its audience: those who fondly remembered the '66 and later versions, but were a little too long in the tooth - or too wide in the side - to be leaping through open windows a la 'The Dukes of Hazzard' boys. (If anyone had fond memories of the Peugeot-powered 1983 Omni Charger, they wisely kept silent.) Nostalgia not withstanding, four doors are simply more convenient when you're buckling the baby into your muscle car's child seat. For 2006, Dodge ups the fun factor with the Charger SRT8, putting its Street and Racing Technology treatment across the board on its rear-wheel drive cars. If you're an absolute purist, you can hold out for the upcoming Challenger coupe, but you're missing out on some serious fun in the meantime. The SRT8 package adds a 425-hp 6.1-litre Hemi engine, 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, sport-bolstered leather seats with suede inserts, 300 km/h speedometer, performance tuned-steering, lowered suspension, Brembo calipers, unique fascia, hood scoop and spoiler. That knocks the price up to $45,120, a hefty $10,045 over the base 5.7-litre R/T. 'Go-fast' costs, although it sure is fun. It also costs more at the pumps: the 5.7-litre Hemi features Multi-Displacement System (MDS), which deactivates half the cylinders under light load for improved fuel economy. Unfortunately, the 6.1-litre has a high-lift valve-train that isn't compatible with MDS. That means an average fuel economy of 11.3 L/100 km for the 5.7-litre, and a bump up to 13.7 L/100 km for the 6.1. I averaged 14.4 L/100 km, and might even have done better if I'd kept my foot out of the oil pan most of the time - but then, what's the point of having muscle if you don't flex it? The sole transmission choice is a five-speed automatic. With any luck the Challenger will get a pistol-grip standard gearbox, but even so, the automatic is tuned to shift at the right places, and if you want to play, there's an Auto/Stick manual mode feature. The exhaust is pitched just right, too; it's quiet at idle, but erupts with a lovely, throaty roar when you mash the throttle. The electronic stability control is calibrated for the SRT8, and lets you have a little more fun before it puts you back on the straight and narrow. Hit the button, and it will lower the threshold even more; but if you delve into the owner's manual, you'll discover that holding the button a few seconds longer until it beeps will turn off the system entirely. You never quite appreciate what ESP does, until you turn it off and take a turn hard, whereupon the Charger's tail tries to trade places with its nose. Unless you're tuned in and fully concentrating on your driving, or very well-insured, you're best to leave it on. Like all of the Chrysler LX cars, the Charger features a four-wheel independent suspension; the SRT package adds beefier anti-sway bars, specially tuned dampers and spring rates, 20-inch wheels, and a ride height that's half an inch (12 mm) lower. The ride is firm, but the steering is quick to respond to commands, and cornering is relatively flat for the car's size. It's no sports car, but then, it isn't meant to be; this is huge, raw muscle in the finest Detroit tradition (although it's built in Ontario), a big car with a big engine, and if you keep that in mind, you'll like the way it performs. Fans of Japanese and German engineering won't be overly impressed, but that's comparing apples to oranges; this is the "no replacement for displacement" school of design. The huge brakes, vented front and rear, have Brembo four-piston calipers, and they're simply awesome; there's no fade even after repeated hard applications, and Chrysler's published numbers are 96 km/h to zero in 33.52 metres (60 to zero mph in 110 feet). The down side is that they'll have to be factored heavily into the operating budget; in my week with the car, I had to clean the wheels twice to remove the brake dust. If you're going to drive this car hard, make sure your dealer has plenty of pads in stock. The SRT8 includes interior upgrades: heavily bolstered and comfortable seats, a 300-km/h speedometer (it flashes the logo when you start the car), and badging throughout. Larger drivers won't mind, but I found the wheel too thick for my small hands; I'd also like the spokes to be lower, for a more comfortable 9-and-3 position. The Charger has the narrow greenhouse common to the three LX cars, and the sloping C-pillar makes for a large blind spot over the shoulder; there's a lot of room in this big car, but it still manages to feel a bit claustrophobic. The rear seats fold, increasing the trunk's available cargo length from 110 cm to a sloping 182 cm, and there's a small storage bin under the trunk floor. There's lots of small-item storage space as well, including big door pockets, two open cubbies, and a huge console box. The Charger's interior is based on that of the Magnum, with lots of textured plastic lightened with metallic inserts. Unlike the more sensible exterior grab-handles on the 300 and Magnum, the Charger has lift handles; they feel flimsy, and they're not deep enough, and so your fingers tend to slip out of them. (As disclosure, our household includes a paid-full-price 2005 Magnum R/T; its owner loves it, but admits its fit-and-finish isn't up to that of the 2001 PT Cruiser it replaced.) Normally I'm not a fan of spoilers - so named, I'm sure, because they spoil one's rearward vision - but the Charger's tailfin suits it, as does the gnarly front fascia. While I've always liked the regular Charger's appearance, I like the SRT8 version better. So is it worth the ten grand to upgrade? In reality, the R/T's 5.7-litre, at 340 hp, does just fine in this car, and for $3,000 over the R/T you can have the Daytona, which makes 350 hp and features a long list of unique appointments. In day-to-day driving, the 6.1-litre is really more about bragging rights, and its price-tag - along with those posted at the fuel pumps - will keep this car's sales numbers small. Still, I have to admit that, with a stretch of open road, the stereo cranked and my foot close to the floorboards, I had one huge grin on my face. I think I even said, "$&#!*, I love this car!" out loud. But then, if you're a fan of big, traditional American muscle like I am, that's pretty much what you'll say too.