Old Name, Whole New Ballgame By Brian Moody Featured Specs: 350-hp V8 with the Road/Track package, $23,000 for base 250-hp V6 model (the V8 starts at $29,995), Daytona model offers interesting colors There's been a lot of finger-pointing since the 2006 Dodge Charger took a ride on the turn table at the most recent Detroit auto show. The car's four-door body style immediately pinched a collective nerve in the neck of muscle car purists around the world, and they've been writing poison pen letters to anyone and everyone at DaimlerChrysler ever since. Well, it turns out their blame has been completely misdirected. The blame for the new Charger's two extra doors should be aimed at a couple of good ol' boys named Bo and Luke Duke. You see, in consumer studies DaimlerChrysler found that Charger and Charger R/T were still recognizable vehicle names and even the average shopper associated the name with Dodge. In short, Chrysler has too much equity in the Charger name to keep it mothballed. Why is that? The General Lee, of course. An entire generation of consumers, many of whom are now married with kids, grew up watching an orange 1969 Dodge Charger fight the system every Friday night on CBS. They've always wanted a Charger, but can't fit their new families in a coupe, and so the four-door Charger was born. Dodge even admits as much. The Charger press kit says, "The target market for the all-new 2006 Dodge Charger includes trendsetting, young affluent males with incomes ranging from $65,000 to $90,000." Sounds like Dukes fans to us. Whatever the reason, the 2006 Dodge Charger is an excellent car, regardless of its door count. But it's based on the underpinnings of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum, so its competence should surprise no one. Lots of Different Flavors To suit almost any budget and personality, the Charger is available in four trim levels with three engine options. Dodge isn't offering the 190-horsepower, 2.7-liter V6 that plagues the 300 and Magnum because DaimlerChrysler officials say it isn't in keeping with the Charger's performance image. Instead, both the base SE ($22,995) and midlevel SXT Charger ($25,995) are powered by the same 3.5-liter, 250-hp V6 and a five-speed automatic with manual control found in both the Magnum and 300. Hemi lovers can choose between two models, the Charger R/T ($29,995) and the Charger Daytona ($32,495). Both get the same 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and the same five-speed automatic with manual control from the Magnum R/T and 300C. In the R/T, the V8 is rated at 340 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque, but it gains an extra 10 hp in the Daytona thanks to a less restrictive intake and bigger exhaust. As a result, the Daytona also has a deeper, throatier exhaust note, and we like it. The Daytona also gets huge flat-black graphics on the hood, trunk and flanks, a rear spoiler, a honeycomb grille and suede sport seats. Colors are limited to Go ManGo! or Top Banana, both of which are late-'60s leftovers. To back up that Hemi power on R/T models, Dodge adds larger brakes, polished 18-inch wheels, larger 225/60R18 touring tires and specifically tuned shock absorbers. If you want more, you can also opt for the Road/Track Performance Group on the Charger R/T. This is where it gets a little confusing because the Road/Track Performance Group does not come standard on the Dodge Charger R/T, but does come standard on the Daytona. For about $1,500 you can add the Road/Track Performance Group to a Charger R/T and you'll save about $1,000 versus the Daytona. Essentially, you get the Daytona's 10 extra hp, its firmer suspension, self-leveling shocks and larger performance tires without its crazy colors, decals and spoiler. Good on Road and Track In SE and SXT trim the Charger feels very much like the 300, big and heavy, but athletic for the class. Switch in the Charger R/T, especially when equipped with the R/T Performance Group, and the added firmness and quicker reflexes are noticeable. It's without question the one to have. Dig into the Hemi V8's power and wearing a smile is like death and taxes, it cannot be avoided. The rumbling exhaust may be mostly for effect, but we like it. It's one of a few traits that distinguish the Charger from the softer, quieter Chrysler 300C. On the highway and back roads, the Charger in any trim has a pleasing ride with more than ample power. Its interior is almost identical to the Magnum's, so it's plastic but pleasant, and outward visibility is compromised. On the twists and turns of the Virginia International Raceway, the Dodge Charger Daytona wasn't as rewarding a drive as we predicted. In that very demanding environment, the Daytona felt soft and simply oversized. Fling the Charger Daytona through an "S" turn at speed and its weight is obvious. It handles well enough, but at over 4,000 pounds, the Charger R/T doesn't come off as a nimble sport sedan. It Fits the Bill We have no doubt America will be impressed by the Charger's straight-line acceleration, muscular exterior looks and roomy interior. If you like the Magnum but don't dig the station wagon shape, or if you like the Chrysler 300 but want a little more of an edge, the Charger fits the bill perfectly. However, if you're still wigged out about the whole four-door thing, send your hate gram to: Bo and Luke Duke The Duke Farm Hazzard County, USA First Impressions: Although its unique sheet metal gives the Charger its own attitude, as we expected, it drives like a Magnum. And that is a very good thing indeed.