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Sunday, May 8, 2011

2011 Dodge Charger Rallye Plus, an AW Drivers Log:

a Dodge Charger.
The V6 in the Dodge Charger is rated at 292 hp. A Charger R/T is shown.

EXECUTIVE EDITOR--AUTOWEEK.COM BOB GRITZINGER: If $4 per gallon gasoline becomes the norm, I could see cars like this (and V6 Camaros and Mustangs, etc.) becoming the top choices for enthusiasts. Will the V6-powered Rallye slap you back in the seat like an SRT8 Hemi? Heck no, but its fuel consumption also won't drain your wallet at the same rate either.

It used to be that these lesser-powered models were just that, lesser-powered, meek, mass-market models for the wannabe set. But today, with V6 outputs pushing at or near 300 hp, there's enough power there to get even a 3,900-pounder like this Charger up to speed in a reasonable hurry. The car still handles and corners much like its higher-output sibling--it's not great, but the steering is quick and precise, and the car sticks to the road fairly well. I often find the weight balance and lesser power delivery of V6 models like this make them much more driveable vs. monster motor V8s that constantly put you at risk of breaking loose and spinning into the nearest ditch.

Top it all off with an exterior styling and paint job that is eye-catching and sporty, and a fully optioned, well-made and high-styled interior that features lots of quality materials, and it's hard to find something that's not to like.

I think most owners would love to go out and fire up this “lesser” Charger everyday and enjoy their drive, knowing that they have all the bells and whistles, a sharp package, and a more fuel-efficient engine under the hood. The price of entry is steep, but how much is an SRT8 these days?

AUTOWEEK.COM EDITOR DALE JEWETT: Take a look at Bob's comments: This Charger won't “slap you back in the seat,” the handling is “not great,” and the “price of entry is steep.”

I can't get past all three of these factors.

Sure, the 3.6-liter V6 is cranking out just a smidgen less than 300 hp--but it never feels strong from the driver's seat, even when working the transmission in manu-matic mode. And it certainly doesn't sound beefy, either.

To this powertrain's credit, the power comes on quite smooth, and the five-speed transmissions slides through the gears in rapid fashion. But it's not too exciting. (By the way, it sure looks like there's only one exhaust pipe, even though there are two chrome-trimmed openings in the rear bumper fascia.)

The cove designed into the sides of the Charger adds a heritage feel, but I'm not a fan of the toxic orange paint, which I think overwhelms the styling changes.

I second Bob's comments on the interior--the restyling and addition of soft-touch materials on the dash and door trim add a luxurious feel.

The eight-inch display screen is massive. It's good for seeing all the channel and song data from the Sirius satellite radio stations, as well as a good section of map for the navigation. It's also the only place you can turn heating for the seats and steering wheel on and off--functions that might be better served with dedicated buttons. In addition, the knob to control the power tilt-and-telescope steering wheel takes a bit of hunting the first time.

For as big as the Charger is, it still looks as though back-seat passengers can be crimped for legroom if the front seats are moved back to the limit of travel. And the dive of the roofline at the C-pillar can crimp the headroom for tall passengers in back.

This Charger is loaded with plenty of gizmos, including heated seats in the rear and heating and cooling for the front cupholders.

However, if I were laying out $35,000 for this car, I'd sacrifice some of the gizmos for more horsepower, a clutch and a better-sounding exhaust system.

EDITOR WES RAYNAL: Even after two nights I have to say I'm in the “no thanks” category on this one. I would want my Charger to sound like a Charger and go like a Charger. This Charger doesn't do either of those things. The V6 isn't smooth, could definitely use even more power, and dammit, I want my Charger to have a V8 growl, not a V6 wet fart. Would I pay extra for that pleasure? No doubt. Not that at almost $36K this thing is any kind of bargain. By the way, a version of this engine with slightly less horsepower is also available in the Chrysler Town & Country minivan. So my “Charger” has a minivan engine. Really?

I thought the suspension was nicely tuned for Detroit's potholes and such. All the changes Chrysler made (new cradles, monotube shocks, stiffer springs, etc.) work well. NVH seems reduced as well--it's a quieter and smoother overall drive.

The interior is OK, if you like massive expanses of black juxtaposed with orange leather seats. At least the materials are decent.

But no, I'd have to have a V8.

NEWS EDITOR GREG MIGLIORE: The Charger strikes the right chords in the looks department for enthusiasts. If you've ever lusted after a Charger--as I admittedly have--this car is on the money. From the scalloped doors to the protruding grille to the taillights that are almost surreal, it's a smoking, muscular update. Looking at visions of late '90s Charger concept, this 2011 version is probably closer to what hardcore Mopar fans had in mind when the car was reborn in 2005. The angles on the sides really say muscle car, and the headlights offer the same kind of attitude that rides of this ilk possessed 40 years ago.

Inside is a dramatic upgrade. The first version of the Charger six-years ago had very plain interior materials (aside from the gauges), and subtle upgrades did little to keep pace with cars like the Ford Taurus. This trim package, dressed in caramel and black, is luxurious to the eye and hand. Plus, the gauges are smartly redone with an athletic black-and-red look.

So yeah, I like the looks. The drive? Not as much. I think this car carries a bit of a burden with the Charger moniker, and we hold it to a higher standard than we would a similarly powered car of a different badge. The 3.6-liter V6 is smooth and quick--but not overwhelming. And somehow, I couldn't spin the tires in the rear-wheel hulk, something accomplished without thinking on the earlier model. Passing is quick both on surface streets and the expressway, and the steering has been tightened up nicely from the old car. The suspension also feels a bit firmer, but not overly so.

This new Charger is a fun daily driver and looks great to my eye--but the power won't overwhelm enthusiasts.

2011 Dodge Charger Rallye Plus

Base Price: $25,995

As-Tested Price: $35,880

Drivetrain: 3.6-liter V6; RWD, five-speed automatic

Output: 292 hp @ 6,350 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,961 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA/AW): 21/19 mpg

Options: 27J Charger Rallye Plus package including 8.4-inch touch screen with voice command and Bluetooth, satellite radio, auto-dimming rear view mirror with microphone, remote USB port, auxiliary audio input, 6-speaker sound system, remote car start, security alarm, dual zone climate control, humidity sensor, universal garage door opener, heated front and rear leather seats, 8-way power driver and passenger seats with lumbar adjustment, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, heated and cooled front console cup-holder, compass, overhead LED lighting, front and rear LED map pockets, driver and passenger lower LED lamps and 18-inch chrome clad aluminum wheels ($4,000); driver confidence group including blind spot and cross path detection, parksense rear park assist system, parkview rear back up camera, low-beam HID headlamps, rain sensitive windshield wipers, smartbeam headlights, auto adjust in reverse mirrors, approach lamps, driver' automatically-dimming exterior mirror ($1,495); rallye appearance group including 506-watt amplifier, nine amplified speakers with subwoofer, 20-inch x 8-inch chrome clad aluminum wheels, 245/45R20 all-season performance tires, rear body-color spoiler, performance suspension ($1,195); power sunroof ($950); adaptive cruise control group including adaptive speed control, forward collision warning, heated steering wheel ($925); driver convenience group including power adjustable pedals with memory, memory for radio, driver seat and mirrors, power tilt/telescoping steering column ($575); navigation/rear back up camera group including Uconnect touch 8.4N, Garmin navigation system ($450); toxic orange pearl coat exterior paint ($295)

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