Dodge Charger — Making a case for the V-6

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Mention Dodge Charger these days and it conjures up images of a full-sized sedan that’s horsepower heavy making it the fastest family sedan on earth. The Charger comes in a staggering seven trim levels and with four engine choices — SE, SXT, R/T, R/T Road & Track, R/T Scat Pack, SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat. The four engines include three muscle maniacs — a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 making 370 horsepower, a 6.4-liter V-8 developing 485 horsepower, and the headline-grabbing 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 Hellcat making a gargantuan 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque.

But beyond the muscle car guise, the Charger is still mostly used as a full-sized family sedan powered by the fourth engine, a more responsible award-winning 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 making a very useable 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. And it’s the only model that can be ordered with all-wheel drive.

For 2015 the Charger offers a compelling choice in the segment because it comes with new, more chiseled styling; an upgraded interior; a full range of safety features; and a new eight-speed automatic transmission across the lineup.

Prices across this vast array of choices start at a family-friendly $28,990 (including destination) for the SE to a whopping $67,085 for the Hellcat. In-between, the choices are many and the options are seemingly endless.

The base version of the Charger, which with just a handful of options, puts a stylish and well-equipped vehicle into your garage. And we discovered during our test drive that took us over a variety of back roads, city streets and interstate highways that the Charger is commendably quiet at all speeds and provides a comfortable ride without the big-sedan wallow of yesteryear. Thanks to the well-tuned electric power steering, the Charger offers precise steering feel and tracks quite nicely on the highway. And we were impressed at how well the Charger handled our usual rural paved road "test track."

It seems the new eight-speed automatic has made the powerful V-6 engine even more responsive. (When we last drove the Pentastar Charger engine in 2011 it was mated to a five-speed.) We never encountered even a minute when we wished for more power in real-life driving situations. The V-6 has been measured from 0-to-60 in around 6.5 seconds and 15.3 seconds at 95 mph in the quarter mile. This is accomplished with above average gas mileage for a big car weighing in at nearly two tons — 19 mpg city, 31 highway and 23 overall. Note that mileage falls off for all-wheel drive models, rated at 18/27/21.

Since the Chrysler re-invention the company has upped its game with stylish, user-friendly interiors that are as good as any in the industry at the various price points. Quality materials are used throughout, but expect some hard plastics in the lower trims such as our SE test car, but we found nothing offensive.

Our primary test car did not come with navigation so we got the base 5-inch information screen for radio and climate control readouts, and it worked well. If you move up to the SXT trim as we did, (a $2,000 bump) numerous options become available including navigation and a rear backup camera for an affordable $995. That brings the very useable 8.4-inch touchscreen interface with its large virtual buttons and its outstanding satellite radio readout.

The front seats are large, comfortable and roomy. Rear-seat room is plentiful for two passengers, but a center rider will find the position uncomfortable. Leg room is decent as it should be in a full-sized sedan. Trunk room is good at 16.5 cubic feet.

In the safety department, moving from SE to SXT also brings the blindspot monitoring option that we think should be available as standard equipment across the lineup. It comes in the Technology Group package for $1,995. The package also includes adaptive cruise control, power tilt and telescoping steering wheel, rain sensitive windshield wipers, advanced brake assist, lane departure warning, and several other features.

If your budget screams at you to stick with the SE we found it to be a complete car for around 30 grand. Standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone manual air conditioning, six-way power driver's seat, six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, full power accessories, cruise control, and keyless entry and ignition.

The manufacturer added a couple of worthwhile options to our SE test car including the Sport Equipment package that brings 18-inch satin carbon aluminum wheels, and a Popular Equipment package for an affordable $595 that includes satellite radio, remote start, and rear park assist bringing the bottom line to $30,580.

Base price: $28,990; as driven, $30,580
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 292 horsepower @ 6,350 rpm
Torque: 260 foot-pounds @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drive: rear wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 120.2 inches
Length: 198.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,966 pounds
Turning circle: 37.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 16.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 31 highway, 19 city, 23 combined
0-60: 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Kia Cadenza

The Good
• Powerful, fuel-efficient V-6
• Roomy interior
• Muscular styling
• Excellent 8.4-inch touchscreen

The Bad
• Pricey with popular options

The Ugly
• Many safety features come in expensive packages