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2006 Dodge Charger R/T - The Muscle Car Returns
Long-term Test; First Impressions
By Charlie Romero

(July 13, 2005)

Dodge Charger R/T

Dodge Charger R/T Rear View

Dodge Charger R/T low profile

Dodge Charger R/T Snorkel frontend

Dodge Charger R/T

Prowling through tunnel Dodge Charger R/T

Prowling through tunnel Dodge Charger R/T

Dodge Charger R/T

Dodge Charger R/T

Dodge Charger R/T It's got a HEMI

Hemi Power in the new Dodge Charger

Dodge Charger R/T

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2006 Dodge Charger R/T
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Like every leadfoot on the automotive journalist circuit, we've found ourselves smitten with Daimler-Chrysler's new line of mainstream sedans (and wagons) - the 300C, the Magnum, and the extra-hot SRT versions of each. So what better car to choose for our next long-term test than the newest, hottest-yet spawn of that E-Class-derived chassis, the Dodge Charger?

So, this month we gleefully hooked ourselves an off-white (officially "Cool Vanilla") 2006 Charger R/T. Over the coming year, we'll be posting periodic updates on our experiences with this muscle car, including long-term maintenance and ownership costs, thoughts on its performance in all four seasons, etc. In the meantime, though, it's time to jump in, take it for a spin, and give you our first impressions.

First of all, it's just plain terrific to look at. The Charger is its own animal, sharing no sheet metal with the 300 and Magnum, and it still turns plenty of heads. It's the most agressive design yet on this platform, displaying a certain machismo that appeals to a broad cross-section of the public - from average Joes to gangster rappers, and most everyone in between. (Even rapper 50 Cent finds the Charger pimp enough for his personal stable, having asked no less a personage than DCX CEO Dieter Zetche to send him a brand-new one.) The slab-sided design is typical of the American sedan at it's hey day; reminiscent of the late 1960's 'Coke-bottle' Chargers, down to the 'flying buttress' C-pillars. But sexy, modern touches make the design more ground breaking than merely retro. Although a four-door - which the MoPar purists can't seem to stop screaming about - the Charger evinces that classic 'long hood, short deck' look endemic to the original breed. The hooded headlamps, 'gun-sight' snout and oversize rims filling out the wheel arches are crisp, sexy details. The windows are flat and thin, like gun slits on an Army tank turret. It's not all about aggression, though - our unadorned Dodge is as much business like as it is in-your-face.

Beyond the styling, the powertrain is perhaps the Charger's most widely-admired attribute - and rightly so. A hot 340 horses and 390 ft./lbs. of torque are on tap from the 5.7-liter V8 in our R/T (Road & Track) model, which scoots our stealth Dodge to sixty in a scant six seconds. Despite the weight, the Hemi makes the Charger an all-around fun car, with more power than we probably ought to have at our beck and call -although at low loads, half of the engine's cylinders deactivate via a Multi-Displacement System, upping the mileage by 10% (EPA ratings are impressive at 17/25; but we're seeing only around 10 mpg - likely a function of us stomping on the go-pedal every chance we get). The economy-enhancing measure has proven entirely invisisble in normal operation. Behind the wheel, merging is no trick at all (thanks only in part to the fact that everyone just lets the car by - now we know what blondes in convertibles must feel like!).

The base motor, standard in the fleet special $22,995 SE and popular $25,995 SXT models, should satisfy most mainstream buyers; at 250 horses it provides adequate propulsion with decent mileage, and is smootherand more refined than most domestic sixes. Standard in all models is a Mercedes-derived five-speed "manumatic." Here again the purists will be lamenting the lack of a true manual, but especially in the commuter traffic we'll be piloting this Charger through, the slick self-shifter is actually a boon.

The R/T, with more power than all but the strongest of German sports sedans, runs only $29,995 - a bargain in every sense of the word. And for the real hot shoes, there's the $2,500 Daytona option. Although we weren't able to pick one of these up, we definitely dig the upgraded intake and dual exhaust that add an extra 10 horses - although its tape-stripe package might be a bit garish for some. (The mechanical goodies, plus sport seats and even stiffer suspenders, are also available via a $1,600 Performance Group option.) Whether R/T or Daytona, though, you gotta get a Hemi - if the wife questions the extra expenditure, tell her the bigger motor will pay for itself at resale time (and it will, after paying you back with ear-to-ear grins every time you get behind the wheel).

Needless to say, the Charger is a rear-wheel drive machine. Shortly, though, there may also be an all-wheel drive iteration in Snow Belt dealerships - Mercedes' 4MATIC system is already available on the Dodge's sister vehicles.

Inside, Chargers feature an attractive, modern and ergonomic design. We chose the darker slate grey interior scheme, instead of the lighter gray. At 200" long and 74.5" wide, it's a roomy car and not as claustrophobic as the low glass ratio might lead you to think. The materials used are generally impressive, belying the car's low price. Controls are straightforward and simple, from the stereo to the rotary climate control. The white-face gauges are wholly legible, and while perhaps a bit spartan, there's not a single ergonomic error here. Seats are supportive (though passengers will bemoan the lack of a grab-handle come track day), and the 270-watt Boston Acoustics six-speaker stereo system sounds pleasingly crisp and clear. Sightlines, given the smallish windows, are surprisingly good, except when monitoring high-mounted stoplights. In general, insidethe Dodge Charger is not a bad place to spend some time, reflecting DCX's new found leadership in the domestic race to match the foreign competition for interior quality.

The suspension is smooth and refined, much like the powertrain, and does justice to the German engineering it borrows from. Based on the Mercedes E-class suspenders, there are aluminum links, stiffened shocks & sway bars, complemented by 18" rims on the R/T model - all of which conspire to make this Dodge handle like it's a half-ton lighter than it is. Wheel-hop is utterly absent, and although understeer is prevalent, it's progressive and predictable. Traction Control and ESP are standard on our R/T, and these electronic nannies can't be entirely disabled, which does limit wheel spin (even when you want it). Still, they're not overly intrusive and for most buyers, their presence is probably a good thing. The Charger's no Viper, of course, butit is smooth and predictable, with good grip and manners, and it beats the best of those 60's autos, handsdown. Imagine - a muscle car with a penchant for corner-carving!

So, from our first days with this car, it's plain that the Charger evokes the poised and powerful sedans from the 50s and 60s - the ones that got us into cars (and into trouble) in the first place. Those cars had panache and presence - you were proud to parade one down the boulevard. That was the time when the Big 3 were the Masters of the Universe - and perhaps it was simply that confidence that made even their mainstream cars so great. Getting into our long-term 2006 Charger R/T, we can feel that confidence again - and it's a teriffic thing. As all these new DCX designs have proven, Americans really like the big old American sedan concept - it just hadn't been executed correctly in decades - and we're beginning to appreciate it as well. This Dodge really is leading the charge in what we predict will be a wave of American cars returning to American tradition - and if the inevitable imitators and competitors can match its technical prowess and driving enjoyment, that could well turn the whole industry on its ear. In the meantime, we'll be simply revelingin the experience. The Charger IS America. It is American boldness, American desire, and American splendor. It's good to be back, isn't it
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