Dodge Charger springs from history as a four-door muscle car

2011, Dodge, Charger

RALEIGH, N.C. -- On a flat slab of asphalt, a powerful edition of Dodge's revamped 2011 four-door sports sedan rips down the road at way-fast speed.

This modern muscle car -- flashing the menacing face of a bulldog with shapely body bulges and the sleek profile of a coupe despite a pair of doors hanging off each flank -- runs so swiftly it becomes a blur of red paint in a shade aptly labeled "Redline."

It carries the credentials of a race car: A taut suspension tweaked for performance, big and black Michelin MXM4 tires, and a powerful V8 engine that's a high-tech rendition of Chrysler's fabled Hemi plant with hemispheric combustion chambers.

It even bears the badge of a race car: Dodge, employing the nameplate of the 1966 muscle car icon and past NASCAR stock racer, calls this one the Charger.

The original Charger, stuffing a 426 Hemi V8 behind that rocket-shaped prow, ranks among the swiftest of street-legal cars, which perhaps is why TV's Duke brothers -- Bo and Luke -- always out-gun Boss Hog the sheriff in their souped-up "General Lee" Charger on "The Dukes of Hazzard."

And it was a Charger stock car -- #88, the Charger Daytona steered by Buddy Baker at Talladega Superspeedway in 1970 -- that first ran over 200 mph for a closed-course lap.

A modern race car called Charger competed in the NASCAR Nextel Cup, and in 2006 Dodge rolled out a street-legal version conformed as a four-door sports coupe.

Now for 2011, Dodge reinvents the Charger with a pair of powertrain choices and trim designations of Charger SE and Charger R/T.

The new version has a long wheelbase for big-car scale with the engine mounted up front and all torque applied to the back tires for a classic rear-wheel-drive (RWD) arrangement, although Charger R/T adds the option of electronic all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction.

Charger SE serves as the price-leader entry edition.

It scores the new Pentastar dual overhead cam (DOHC) 3.6-liter aluminum-block V6 engine mated to a five-speed electronic automatic transmission with AutoStick shift-it-yourself side-tap gear control like a manual.

The Pentastar six-pack delivers some impressive power numbers -- 292 hp at 6350 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm.

Despite high output of the Pentastar V6, the EPA fuel numbers look good -- 18 mpg City and 27 mpg Highway.

Charger's top trim sports the R/T badge, with the initials abbreviating a designation of "Road and Track" in recognition of Dodge's muscle car heritage.

Charger R/T totes the modern Hemi engine, a 5.7-liter V8 which produces 370 hp at 5250 rpm and 395 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm through the electronic automatic five-speed transmission with AutoStick.

And this Hemi comes with a multi-displacement system (MDS) which can switch seamlessly and transparently to fuel-saving four-cylinder mode when all of that horsepower is not needed for romping.

Fuel scores for the 5.7-liter plant net to 16/25 mpg (City/Highway) with the RWD version and 15/23 mpg (City/Highway) for the AWD R/T.

The re-do of Charger 2011 starts with a new E-segment chassis architecture which creates exceptional structural stiffness and torsional efficacy to deliver tight and precise handling characteristics.

Charger's standard suspension consists of an independent front SLA arrangement with high upper A arms plus coil springs over gas-charged monotube shock absorbers and stabilizer bar. The rear independent five-link design has coil springs and gas-charged monotube shocks plus stabilizer bar and an isolated rear suspension cradle.

Tires vary by trim designation.

Charger SE rolls on 215/65R17 Michelin Energy Saver BSW all-season touring tires.

Charger R/T RWD stocks 235/55R18 Michelin MXM4 BSW all-season performance tires and Charger R/T AWD scores 235/55R19 Michelin MXM4 BSW all-season performance tires.

Measures for passenger safety in the cabin extend from the sturdy safety-cage construction to front seatbelts with pretensioning apparatus, backseat restraints with anchors to mount two child seats, reactive head restraints and the cabin surrounded by hidden air bags -- up-front inflators for front seats plus seat-mounted side air bags and one more to shield the driver's knee, then curtain-style air bags mounted in headliners above side windows for the two rows of seats.

And Charger contains active safety systems to avoid accidents, including a big brake disc at each wheel linked to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA), plus a traction control system (TCS) and anti-skid electronic stability control (ESC).

Fresh sheetmetal shapes apply.

Charger's stub-nosed aluminum hood with dual scallops stretches long and the body's beltline on flanks seems high, with a roofline tapering toward the rear and shaping window glass to trapezoidal proportions. At the rear new taillights feature vivid LEDs ringing the width of the body.

The wheelbase is ten feet long so Charger's passenger compartment is of sizable scale. Layout of the cabin consists of two seats in front and a rear bench split 60/40 with 40 inches of legroom. Up front, the driver fits in a bolstered sport bucket which adjusts in multiple directions.

Charger SE edition stocks the 3.6-liter V6 engine and 17-inch alloy wheels with automatic headlights and air conditioning system, cloth upholstery, power controls for windows and door locks, a trip computer, cruise control, keyless ignition/entry and an audio kit with six speakers and AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA plus a 4.3-inch Uconnect touchscreen interface.

Charger R/T edition packs the Hemi V8 and 18-inch alloy wheels (19-inch for AWD), xenon headlamps and foglamps, automatic twin-zone climate controls, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth connectivity and a 276-watt Alpine sound system with 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen, voice control and Sirius satellite radio service.

Optional packages put more gear aboard, such as the Rallye Plus Package, Driver Confidence Group, Navigation Group and the Super Track Pak (with 245/45R20 Goodyear Eagle F1 performance tires and high-performance suspension and brake hardware).

Dodge sets the MSRP for 2011 Charger SE at $25,180, with Charger R/T RWD starting at $30,180.

By Bob Plunkett

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2011 Dodge Charger
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