Durham, North Carolina - The Dodge Charger debuted for racing at the 1966 Speedweeks at Daytona. In its 11 years of racing, the Charger won 124 NASCAR Cup races and gave three drivers five championships, Richard Petty being one of them. Richard Petty won three of his seven titles behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger. It is this heritage of high-performance from the '60s and '70s that will appeal once again to its buyers. After 27 years, the Dodge Charger is back, in a 0-60 in six seconds flat, and a Hemi V-8 that can electronically shut down four cylinders when not needed, bringing that mpg up.
We were given a chance to drive the Chargers competitors at the Virginia International Raceway. I drove the Ford Five Hundred, Nissan Altima and Ford Mustang for back-to-back comparison. The Ford Five Hundred was roomier, and gets better mileage, but most people want to know how the Ford Mustang vs. the Dodge Charger. The suspension and steering are a little tighter on the Mustang. The numbers aren't that different, but the feel is. (Overall steering and lock-to-lock on the Charger are 16.1/2.75, while on the Mustang it is 15.7/2.83). The fuel tank for the Charger is 18 gallons, while the Mustang is 16. If you're Danica Patrick and have to go from first to fourth just to finish the Indy 500 that's going to hurt.
If you don't want a station wagon, but like the way the Dodge Magnum works you will like the Charger, it shares the same LX platform and almost all its mechanical and electronic components with the Dodge Magnum and the Chrysler 300. What does that mean? It means you get a great rear-wheel drive with a great all-independent suspension from Mercedes. "With proven rear-wheel drive technologies and the legendary HEMI engine, we are able to produce a modern muscle car with everyday functionality," said Craig Love, Vice President - Rear-wheel drive product team, Chrysler Group. "The all-new Dodge Charger offers the perfect blend of performance, safety and flexibility that today's market demands."
The new Charger comes with two engine choices mated to a five-speed automatic: the SE and SXT produce 250 horsepower@6,400 rpm, 3.5-liter, 250 lb.-ft of torque, with a V-6 that gets 19/27 EPA fuel economy rating. The R/T produces 340 horsepower@5,000 rpm, 390 lb.-ft of torque, 5.7-liter thanks to a Hemi V-8. The cylinder deactivation of 4-cylinders when not needed brings the EPA fuel economy up to a respectable 17/25. And saving the best till last, it runs on regular unleaded gas, not the 20 cents more per gallon premium type.
Pricing for 2006 models start with the SE at $22,995 which includes destination charge for the Charger SE; that includes all-speed traction control, four-wheel ABS, electronic stability control, 17" wheels bolt-on wheel covers, telescoping tilt-wheel, power mirrors, emergency trunk lid release, cruise. The SXT, at $25,995, includes a split folding rear seat, power driver's seat, fog lamps, premium sound system, 17" cast-aluminum wheels and heated mirrors. The Hemi (Charger R/T) starts at $29,995, including all SXT features and touring suspension, 18" polished aluminum wheels, heated folding mirrors, leather, and dual exhaust. Look for a 350-horsepower Daytona model with racy paint, a spoiler and special wheels and tires to go on sale for $32,495 this fall. A 425-horsepower SRT8 model with a 6.1-liter Hemi also arrives this fall. The price for the SRT8 hasn't been announced yet.
When I visited Jay Leno's garage one of the mechanics was standing in front of a Toronado and I remarked on its beauty. He smiled and said, "You should see what's underneath this baby, a 1060 horsepower engine." A lot of guys Jay's age are looking for that resto-mod (restoration-modern) type vehicle and the Manufacturers are giving it to them. The Charger has the performance of a pony car coupe and the sensibility of a powerful, but affordable sedan.