2009 Dodge Charger Review: Our expert’s take

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Versus the competition:

You may be familiar with NASCAR’s Chevrolet Impalas, Ford Fusions, and Toyota Camrys that race around tracks across the country. These custom-built race cars were designed to look like passenger cars that you can purchase at your local dealership.

Dodge’s entry into the series, the Charger is the same. However, of all the cars on the track, it’s the most NASCAR-friendly. It’s a big rear-wheel-drive car with a Hemi V-8. The high-performance SRT8 trim of the Charger was my favourite. It’s well-suited for NASCAR fans and anyone who enjoys the thrill of a large V-8 engine.

StylingThe Charger looks angry because of its styling. The Charger’s aggressive styling is evident in its angled headlights and large crosshair grille. The SRT8 version has a scooped hood and a lower bumper that is more aggressively designed with air inlets for cooling the front brakes. (See side by side comparison of the 2008 model.

The Charger shares a platform with the Chrysler 300, which has shorter side windows. This helps to enhance its low-slung appearance. Dodge has a different sheet metal design and is distinguished by a bulge that extends from the rear doors to a portion of the rear quarter-panel. The SRT8’s rear has two brightly finished dual exhausts. A small wing is also featured on the SRT8. This wing, Dodge claims, increases downforce and helps with high-speed stability. However, the wing blocks some rear visibility.

Moving & Stopping

It’s simple to change from civilised behaviour to disorderly in the Charger SRT8. All you have to do is press the gas pedal and the 6.1-liter V-8 will transform from a quiet burble into a loud, raucous assault on your ears. You’ll instantly be impressed by the engine’s 425 horsepower, 420 lb-ft of torque and will do it again. The SRT8 can go from 0-60 mph in just 5 seconds, regardless of whether you are driving on the highway or in city traffic. This is a fast car for a two-ton sedan.

A five-speed, cooperative automatic transmission with Dodge’s AutoStick manual mode pairs the big V-8 with the five-speed. While the automatic can make smooth shifts while you are driving in leisure, it can also perform a few quick and firm downshifts when your foot is on the gas. You can toggle between downshifts and upshifts by tapping the gear selector left or centre. However, the response time is faster than in models with lower performance but there is still too much shift lag.

The SRT8’s front and rear Brembo brakes are another performance feature. These brakes are extremely powerful and can reduce speed with just a touch of the brake pedal.

Ride & Handling

The Charger SRT8 features a unique suspension system that includes shock absorbers, springs, stabiliser bars larger than normal and a half inch lower ride height. The suspension allows for a lot of suspension travel, even though the sedan rides fairly solidly. This isn’t true for all performance cars and makes the sedan more comfortable than you might expect, even on older roads.

The SRT8 is most comfortable on the highway. Once you have chosen your line, the car tracks beautifully and feels very stable. The cabin is peaceful and makes very little wind noise. This cabin is perfect for cruising.

The SRT8 was not designed for twisty roads, as you may have guessed. Although the Charger’s sport suspension helps keep it flat when cornering hard, this car is big and must be pushed around curves. The steering is not responsive and doesn’t reward drivers for their efforts. The car’s upright Apillars and rearview mirror can block visibility on curvy roads.

The Inside

The 2008 Dodge Charger interior was updated with a new dashboard and soft-touch surfaces. The Charger’s interior is among the best in Dodge, with its superior materials quality, panel fit, and refined controls. Although the brand’s interiors are still not as refined as the Calibre, the Charger refutes the claim that Dodge lacks nice cabins.

However, my impressions may have been based on the experience of testing the SRT8 model at $44,375. It starts at $38,670, and has an as-tested cost of $44,375. Upgrade features include standard dual-zone automatic air conditioner and an optional entertainment or navigation system.

Front bucket sport seats are available on the SRT8 with large side bolsters at the bottom cushion and backrest. They are very comfortable and have power adjustment. The outboard seats have form-fitting cushions for the rear bench. Although the large front sport seats can slightly reduce backseat legroom, adults can still be comfortable back there.

Cargo

The trunk of the Charger is 16.2 cubic feet. This is comparable to full-size sedans such as the Buick Lucerne (17 cubes) and Hyundai Genesis (15.9 cubes). The standard 60/40-split folding rearseat in the Charger is available if you need more space to transport large items. This feature is less common in larger cars than in compact or midsize ones.

Safety

The Charger SRT8 comes standard with antilock brakes, and an electronic stability system. They are an $1,025 upgrade for the base Charger. As an option, the side-impact airbags on the front seats and side curtains airbags can be combined.

The Charger was awarded a Good overall rating by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for its frontal-offset crash testing. This is the highest possible score. The IIHS also tested the Charger’s side-impact crash test. A model without side airbags received the lowest possible rating. Side-impact tests results for Chargers equipped with optional side airbags were not available at the time of publication.

Charger on the Market

The Detroit Three are facing difficult times, but they are particularly hard for Chrysler, which saw sales drop by 30 percent in 2008. Charger sales, however, did better with a decline of 18 percent.

The tough sales environment at Chrysler has resulted in good deals for car buyers. Chrysler offers a range of discounts, including employee pricing, cash rebates, and financing deals. Although the SRT8 trim level is more difficult to find due to significant discounts, it’s still a good time to purchase a Charger if you believe in Chrysler’s future.

Charger SXT Quick Drive

I had a quick spin in the all-wheel-drive Charger SXT. This version is much more comfortable and relaxed than the SRT8. There’s a slight floatiness to the suspension on bumpy roads, but it’s still nice to be isolated from such road conditions.

Although the 250-hp, 2.5-liter V-6 engine in the SXT is not a firecracker, it will provide more than enough performance for most driving conditions. It also works well with the five-speed automatic transmission.

The Charger is light and easy to drive. This would work well on most full-size cars. However, the Charger is the performance-oriented sibling of the Chrysler 300. It covers all the comfort-oriented buyers’ bases. This car would benefit from a little more steering feedback. However, the brake pedal feel is very natural and linear.

The soft bench seat provides comfortable seating for backseat passengers. Although legroom is adequate for adults who are taller than average, it is not as generous as one would expect from a full-size sedan. You may feel a bit claustrophobic in the back seat due to the limited views from the sides of the car. This is due to the car’s exterior styling which cut off the window at the passenger’s neck. The front seats can feel a little claustrophobic. Sometimes, while waiting for the stoplight to change, the passenger must lean down in order to see the light through the windshield. However, visibility problems in the back seat are generally more severe.

 

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