Dodge Charger SRT8 – muscle for everyone

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Once upon a time the homemaker wife needed a car to visit her sister. The husband, an auto dealer, was on a business trip and the only vehicle in the driveway was a 2006 Dodge Charger SRT8.

The wife’s choice boiled down to taking the Charger or staying home. Not likely.

The husband was dubious. The wife was more suited to a Dodge minivan or perhaps a Chrysler Pacifica or maybe even a PT Cruiser. But here was the wife on the phone telling the husband that she needed transportation for a 70-mile over-night trip.

“The Charger has an automatic,” he reflected. “So maybe you will be OK. Just be careful. That thing can get away from you.”

The next day the husband dreaded his daily call back home, figuring the wife would be at her critical and sarcastic best, wondering why the husband had not planned ahead — knowing that she had discussed spending a day with her sister — and had a more appropriate form of transportation available. (This is where the story gets good).

“How’s it going?” the husband asked.

“It’s going great,” said the wife.

“Car OK with you?” he cautiously asked.

“Oh the car is great. I love it. It growls at me every so often, but the seats are comfortable, it handles so well. It’s easy to get in and out. Thanks for leaving the Charger at the house,” she cooed.

The car dealer hubby could have been knocked over with a feather but he puffed up his chest and proudly said “Good for you, and you’re quite welcome.”

The Mrs. also liked the four doors and the commodious back seat that held the sister and the kids with ease.

When we got our turn behind the wheel of an SRT8 we saw the validity of this yarn told to us a few weeks ago.

So guys who are yearning for the Dodge muscle car are invited to apply this lesson. When the 425-horsepower Charger becomes a “must have” in your life and you are wondering how to sell it to the wife, just put her behind the wheel for a test drive. She will find that the SRT8 is a pussycat when it’s driven in moderation. She will enjoy the way it handles and she will love the seating position. Make sure you tune the Sirius satellite radio to her favorite music. You may end up having to fight her for the keys. Just think of the Charger SRT8 as a muscle car for the family.

The new Charger, built on the same platform as the popular Chrysler 300 and the Dodge Magnum wagon, has sleek lines with a sloping roofline giving it the sexier proportions of a coupe. Some purists still reject the two extra doors but they’ll need to live with it until the Challenger turns into reality.

The SRT8 version was developed by DaimlerChrysler’s Street and Racing Technology (SRT) group and comes with a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 developing 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. Special equipment includes a heavy-duty 5-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick, upgraded axles and differential, four-piston Brembo brakes and five-spoke 20-inch aluminum wheels. That’s a lot of go and stop power.

Standard issue Chargers come with a 250-horsepower V-6 or a healthy 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with either 340 or 350 horses — depending on trim level. There’s nothing to apologize for in either of the standard versions.

We drove the Charger RT V-8 a few months ago and found it extremely satisfying with its 350-horsepower performance on a par with 90 percent of sedans on the road. It flashes real all-American muscle for a base price under 30 grand.

But for those who want to take it to the exciting extreme, Dodge has the answer in the 425-horsepower SRT8. At times hair-raising and joyous concurrently.

Two downsides with the SRT8 — three if you count a potential sharp increase in your automobile insurance — are a rather steep sticker price starting at $35,995 and anemic gas mileage of 14 in the city and 20 highway that results in a gas guzzler tax of $2,100 affixed to the sticker price.

But when you get a full blast of the best exhaust note in the business — the SRT8 has a deep, throaty growl that will rival anything on the road — nothing else really matters. And the fact that the throaty rumble is backed by performance once reserved for exotic sports sedans it’s enough to evoke spasms of delight.

Snuggled in the neatly fitting sports seat, let your right foot have its way and the Charger surges ahead like a scared rabbit. Zero to 60 times have been clocked at around 5 seconds and a quarter mile is possible in around 13.5 seconds at 106 miles per hour. Yes this is a sedan.

The Charger is quick to stop; able to come down from 60 mph in just 124 feet. Helping keep the SRT8 in line are all-speed traction control and DaimlerChrysler’s outstanding Electronic Stability Program.

Some muscle car lovers may be dismayed that the Charger cannot be purchased with a manual transmission, but we found the 5-speed automatic does a workmanlike job taking the rpm to redline before shifting. And the transmission can be shifted manually if desired.

The sports-tuned suspension is on the firm side, but we think it is compliant enough to suit most people.

Dodge has kept it simple, but attractive, inside. An SRT8 emblem on the dashboard and the SRT insignia stitched into the headrests are reminders that this is the king of four-door muscle.

The four-gauge instrument cluster is easy to read with black numerals on white faces. And we particularly enjoyed a read-out directly in front of the driver that communicated such information as outside temperature, radio station and the trip mileage.

Our Charger was equipped with a navigation system. But unlike many cars, the climate and stereo controls are not bundled into the screen. Changing a radio station was as simple as hitting a pre-set button. And the addition of Sirius satellite radio pumping through the optional 200-watt Kicker SRT subwoofer and 260-watt Kicker SRT amplifier was rewarding to our ears.

Some critics have fussed about the visibility from the Charger and its Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum cousins. Yes, the windows are slightly smaller in an obvious compromise of form over function. But we never had a problem seeing out the front, side or back, and that about covers every angle. The power mirrors work just fine.

Options such as the aforementioned stereo system upgrade, navigation, front and rear side-curtain airbags and a power sunroof brought the bottom line of our test car to $43,505.

But we feel that few buyers will ever question their purchasing decision of a family car with all-American honest-to-goodness V-8 muscle. The Charger SRT8 not only puts fun in the family’s driving experience, but a heap of excitement as well.

And it will make some wives (or husbands for that matter) coo.