What It Is
A roomy, comfortable, and fast all-wheel drive family sedan.
V-8 brawn in a family car, just like the good ol' days.
Lousy fuel economy, also like those good ol' days.
If you don't mind the fuel economy--or wouldn't mind a V-6 engine--the Dodge Charger's a perfect family sedan.
A while back, I had the pleasure of driving a 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 the entire length of Interstate 5. It was, as you can imagine, awesome. I want that car. Seriously, part of me wanted to head down to a Dodge dealer and buy one as soon as I got home.
But the reality is that as soon as I parked it in my driveway, I'd be reminded of a few things. First off, I have three kids. True, the Challenger's rear seat has three belts, but it's already cramped and hard for the kids to access, and it’s not like they're going to get smaller over the next few years. The SRT8's big 6.4-liter V-8 gets terrible fuel economy around town. Then there's the price; nearly $50,000 with all the bells and whistles I'd want, and accompanying every car payment would be a guilty pang about my kids' tiny college fund.
But now I know I can get most of the way there, and with almost none of the pain, thanks to a week spent driving the 2013 Dodge Charger R/T. Mechanically, it's an updated version of that Challenger, with a better suspension, much better interior, and all the modern options that car lacked. But the Charger goes a few steps farther. It offers up four doors, meaning that it's actually practical. The engine--still a V-8--is a little smaller and less powerful, but it gets better fuel economy. The Charger even offers all-wheel drive, adding an extra layer of safety in foul weather. To top it all off, our test car cost $35,880 as equipped, a darn sight better than the Challenger. Yet it still offers enough of the vroom-vroom of the Challenger to keep me happy, a perfect blend of muscle car lust and family-car sensibility.
What We DroveYou can actually get a Charger in more than a dozen different configurations, most of them with V-8 engines, and many with all-wheel drive. Our test car was an all-wheel drive 2013 Charger R/T, with a base price of $32,495. That price gets you the V-8, all-wheel drive, cloth-seats, a Uconnect audio system, keyless entry and start, and a big touch-screen display. Our tester's options were limited to a $1,195 navigation system that included a backup camera; and a $1,195 sport appearance package that added shinier wheels, a rear wing, and paddle shifter. All together--along with the $995 destination charge--it came to $35,880.
Standard safety systems include the usual number of airbags--front, side and curtain--plus stability and traction control. Our test vehicle's all-wheel drive is also a safety enhancement, especially when taming 370 horsepower on a slick road. The backup camera is also helpful in parking lots. If all that fails you, the Charger gets a five-star overall crash test rating from the government, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calls it a Top Safety Pick.
The CommuteIt's a rare car that makes even sitting in traffic enjoyable. The big Dodge Charger sedan had no problem getting up to speed, obviously, thanks to the 370 horsepower V-8 under the hood. But once the V-8 got you going, the Charger stayed pleasing at speed. The comfortable ride complements the quiet interior. The suspension absorbed most bumps like they weren't even there, but without excessive body motions; you don't bounce around in this car after big bumps, and you hardly feel the smaller ones. If you carpool, even your rear seat passengers will be comfortable, thanks to a well-shaped bench and ample head and legroom. There's good storage space, too, with plenty of cupholders, storage bins, and other spaces to keep everybody's stuff from sliding around.
But even if you're driving solo, there's plenty to like. The audio system was excellent, and the Garmin-based navigation boasts a big, colorful touchscreen and large, easily tapped icons; it was also simple and quick to sync a Bluetooth cell phone, and telephone audio was pretty good at all speeds. Our car had manual air conditioning, although the weather was mild while we had the car, but it was obvious from the icy, gale-force wind blowing from the vents that this black car's black cloth interior would get frosty in no time, even on hot days.
Hit the brakes in a why-is-traffic-slow panic stop and the Charger keeps its composure. Changing lanes was eased thanks to a blind-spot monitoring system, which helped make up for the pretty lousy rear visibility in the car. The one downside is when you want to zip the Charger into a fast-closing hole in traffic. The five-speed automatic transmission is slow to react, and kicks hard when it finally does. Luckily, V-8 Chargers get same excellent eight-speed automatic currently available in V-6 models for the 2014 model year.
The Grocery RunThis is where the Charger shines, especially compared to its two-door Challenger cousin: Practicality. Have kids still in boosters or car seats? This is one of the few sedans on the market where you can have two boosters in back, and still have room in between for a third person. The trunk is huge, swallowing 18 bags of groceries (more if you're willing to squish the bread), and 10 bags with our oversized Britax stroller back there. The back seat was easy for little ones to get into, and it even passed the self-behind-self test of my 6-foot 2-inch frame.
Despite the Charger's size, it's surprisingly maneuverable, even in a parking lot. Backing up is aided by a rear-view camera, which is practically a necessity considering the Charger's otherwise poor outward view. But it's certainly no more difficult to maneuver around a parking lot than a midsize two-row crossover, such as the Ford Edge. In fact, we'd even go so far as to say that if you're looking for family transportation, and don't want a crossover "mommy wagon," the Charger makes a great case for a full-size sedan.
The Weekend FunExperience has already shown that the Charger is a great long-distance hauler. Its combination of a comfortable and quiet interior, a smooth riding suspension, and an excellent sound system make it a no-brainer for those long trips to grandma's house.
But what you might not realize is that the Charger has another side, too. The side where the V-8 is unleashed, the all-wheel drive grips the road, and the sharp steering keeps you in touch with the road surface. See, unlike pretty much any front-wheel drive competitor you could think of--be it a Ford Taurus, Toyota Avalon or Chevrolet Impala--the front-engine, rear-drive orientation of this car makes it a pleasure to push hard, if you're so inclined. Take that curving onramp a little quicker; the car can do it. Sail through those quick left-right turns; no problem in the Charger. While certainly not an all-out sports sedan like its SRT8 cousin, the standard Charger is more than capable enough for the vast majority of drivers. The fact that this particular version came with all-wheel drive means that you can still do all that--within reason--even if the weather turns foul.
But there's still one drawback to driving a big, heavy, all-wheel drive, V-8 powered sedan: Fuel economy. Even the EPA rates the all-wheel drive Charger at a paltry 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway; we found ourselves hovering around the combined rating's 18 mpg. If you skip the all-wheel drive, it only goes up to 16 city/25 highway. However, if you're looking for better economy, the V-6 with the eight-speed automatic transmission gets 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway with all-wheel drive; that goes up to an impressive 19 city/31 highway if you skip all-wheel drive.
SummaryA domestic sedan with a V-8 engine sounds like a throwback to the 60s, and the heyday of muscular American sedans. Yet there's nothing backwards or old-fashioned about the Charger; it's no relic from the past like the old Ford Crown Victoria was. It's this fact--that the Charger is a thoroughly modern sedan with all the modern trimmings--that's makes it so great, and what made at least one of our editors pour over the "Build Your Own" section of Dodge's website to see how much the monthly payment would be.
Not many cars do that to us, but then again, not many cars hit as so many hot buttons as this one. Under the hood is a big V-8 that makes excellent power and equally excellent noises. The interior is big, with plenty of room to spare for five people, and a trunk big enough for all their stuff, too. It has a wide, commanding road presence, especially when swathed in our test car's blacker-than-black paint. It's everything you remember about older, traditional, sedans from domestic manufacturers: Big, powerful, and distinctly American.
What Dodge did was bring back all the fuzzy, water-colored memories people have of big American sedans of the past, but infused it with the modern amenities, excellent navigation system, all-around safety, and world-class drivability we expect in modern cars. Nostalgia without compromise? Sign us up.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $35,880
EPA City: 15 mpg
EPA Highway: 23 mpg
EPA Combined: 18 mpg
Cargo Space: 18 grocery bags/10 grocery bags with Britax stroller Child Seat Fitment: Excellent
Estimated Combined Range: 344 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Poor