2006 Dodge Charger R/T car reviews

Review Notes: Dodge Charger R/T - no options
Personality Docile, easy to drive speed demon
Unusual features 345 horsepower V8 with ordinary-V6 gas mileage
Above Average: Speed, cornering, quietness
Needs Work In: Rear seat experience, interior décor
EPA gas mileage 17 city, 25 highway

Dodge Charger car reviews

The long-awaited Dodge Charger has changed considerably since the swoopy concept car debuted seven years ago, and there has been a heated debate on whether the car really deserves to be called a Charger at all. With four doors rather than two, and no real styling continuity from the most memorable Chargers (1968-71), the current version - essentially a retuned 300C/Magnum - is certainly different at first glance. But, like the original, it is based off existing vehicles, but is noticeably different; and like the original, it combines rear wheel drive with both mild and wild powerplants. The current Hemi is certainly not the fire-breathing original, but it doesn't need to be; its 345 horsepower drive the Charger from zero to sixty in a bare six seconds, and the cornering is excellent.

Getting from the 300C to the Charger required a good deal of work, quite a bit of it in the cost-reduction arena, as the Charger is less expensive yet has better performance. Most of the effort appears to have gone into the interior; the Charger essentially uses the Spartan-looking interior of the Magnum, and though it does have a decent complement of gauges (including a full size tachometer), the interior generally looks plain. The instrument panel is functional and attractive, with even, greenish-white backlighting (of the Indiglo style, but set up to be much less green) that is highly visible during the day and even more so at dusk and at night. The pointers are a deeper red than in the past, and thinner, for a cleaner look.

The Charger's exterior is a clear departure from the Magnum and 300C, though it is made on the same platform and has the same underpinnings. An effort was made to differentiate it further, and it has more rounded styling, with a unique but clearly-Dodge grille - incorporating dark-looking headlight covers a la Impala - and a Charger-like rise near the back.

What the Charger really is not is a replacement for the Dodge Intrepid, a swoopy cab-forward sedan that combined sporty looks and an unusually nimble ride with fast-for-the-day powerplants and exceptional interior space. The Intrepid had a rich interior and was far larger inside than the 300M, not to mention the present-day LX series; trunk space was quite large as well. The front-wheel-drive Intrepid made all passengers, front and back, equally comfortable. Our Charger had some differences: though power is considerably higher (with the Hemi, not with the 3.5 V6), and sound insulation, cornering, and ride are better, rear passengers have a somewhat rougher time, and the interior is plainer. In the back, the normally confident feel of the Charger become much more edgy, as though the driver isn't in control; and the base stereo (on the R/T) becomes more of a mono, with all the sound seeming to come from the speaker just behind the passenger's head (no speakers are in the rear doors). The Charger is lots of fun for the driver, but may be less so for the rear passengers, even if they do get plenty of head, leg, and shoulder room (and a better view than they would in a 300C).

Acceleration is, as one would expect, extremely good. What one would not really expect is that it would be faster than the essentially identical 300C and Magnum; but we suspect part of that was computer and transmission tuning, since shifts felt considerably firmer, and sometimes downright hard, in the Charger.

The infamous Hemi engine makes good power in low rpms, but really comes into its own at a fairly low 3,000 rpm. The five-speed automatic transmission has been retuned by Chrysler, and shifts firmly, usually without hesitation, to move the Hemi into its power band. While the transmission feels less smooth and silky than the Chrysler four-speeds, it makes better use of the engine power and contributes to the Charger R/T's surprisingly good gas mileage. So does the multiple displacement system, shutting off four of the cylinders on a regular basis, in a manner so subtle few, if any, people can tell when it's operating.

The Hemi engine may be strong, but it's also quiet, with a near-silent idle and an almost perfect sound under full power. It doesn't emit a constant bass burble or drone, but it's there when you need it, and it sounds and feels terrific. The Charger R/T always seems ready to leap forward at a moment's notice without any effort, even though often it takes a moment for the transmission to get into the spirit of things.

The Charger has the nice ride and surprisingly good dry-road handling of its LX siblings. The tires tended to chirp on acceleration and quick turns, but consistently grabbed the road, and between the fat, wide, sticky tires and the active suspension with traction control, we never sustained a squeal or broke the tires loose, despite the considerable power up front. On the highway, the Charger feels completely stable and in control. Around town, it can be driven as gently as you like, but a ferocious leap forward is just a push of the pedal away. The Charger gets more pleasant to drive the more you drive it.

The ease of pushing the Charger R/T, big as it is, through tight or fast turns is welcome giving the relatively well-cushioned suspension. The design seems to have been refined beyond the Magnum, with an overall more comfortable ride and quieter interior. On the whole, the ride is surprisingly good, with no major shocks coming through - even as subsonic noise. For those who want more, the Charger Daytona has a more tightly sprung suspension that increases cornering ability. Our only real gripe regarding noise and cornering was the tires’ tendency to have a loud deep-bass throbbing noise on some types of pavement (usually for a few seconds or less) in both city and highway driving.

The standard electronic stability program operated subtly with handling on wet roads, but helped the Charger to keep its footing even when we tried to knock it off kilter. The standard all-speed traction control was no doubt part of that. The slight oversteer that sometimes came into play around powered turns is easier to deal with than the serious understeer that highly powered front-drive vehicles tend to get.

The transmission uses a Mercedes automatic shifting system which is in some ways more to the point: it provides a temporary override rather than making you choose the gear the entire time it's in manumatic mode. Say you want to start in third for better snow traction, or downshift for a long hill, or a potential passing situation: you can do that easily, and afterwards, the system reverts to Drive (or you can bump it up past fourth gear, which has the same effect). You're always in the system: when in Drive, bump to the left to go down a gear, and to the right to go up. You can do what most people will do and ignore it, and you will get by just fine. We did have a problem at lower speeds with getting the system to shut off; it would not do it when we bumped up the gears, and we ended up quickly going back into Neutral and returning to Drive. All Chargers get the five-speed automatic.

Visibility is good in all directions, with a rear quarter blind spot similar to the Intrepid. We appreciated the ease of using the sun visors - some cars make them hard to get out of their default positions - and we especially appreciated the sliding system which gives the sun visors "virtual length." Headlights are more powerful than the Intrepid's were.

Inside, the Charger is smaller than the Dodge Intrepid it is nominally replacing (see table at bottom of page). However, there is plenty of room for four, with good headroom in all seats; rear seat legroom is the main casualty, and it's still generous. Access to the rear seats is fairly easy, as is installing LATCH style car seats. The trunk is huge, as one would expect from a full-sized car; a week's groceries can all fit in the narrow space protected by the net, leaving enough free trunk space for four or five suitcases.

The instrument panel is not unattractive, but it is interesting in that the pods are deep and straight, not oriented towards the driver, so that parts of the outlying gauges are cut off from sight, especially if your head is anywhere near the roof. The black on white gauges remain that way at night, when a perfectly even white backlight comes into play; they are highly visible day or night. The gauge numbers are sensibly large, and while some may prefer actual numbers of the thermometer (as opposed to Low and High), everything was visible. The 160 mph speedometer means that the range most often used (0-80) occupies about 1/3 of the dial, but keeping to any given speed was still easy.

Inside the gauges, taking up the bottom third of the circle, are black areas which hide the various warning lights and the PRND (transmission gear indicator) and odometer. Press the odometer button once and you get a trip odometer; press twice, and the outside temperature appears. There's an optional trip computer that occupies the same space, which lets you more easily set the car's options and also provides a compass; it wasn't on our test car, though.

The locks automatically activated when we reached a pre-set speed. A quick look at the owner's manual showed that we could shut that feature off, but instead we opted to turn on the automatic unlock - it opens all the doors when the driver's door is unlocked after the car stops. A number of similar features can be turned on or off by following fairly simple instructions (we also shut off the horn-honk-on-lock).

Speaking of options, our R/T included (standard) a tilt wheel that also telescopes forward and backward for the ultimate in adjustability. The R/T also comes with leather trim and a power driver's seat, though not a power passenger seat.

The cruise control is mounted above the turn signals, and on roughly the same axis, leading to easy confusion; it also has an illogical collection of five different movements, with mostly small labels (push in to activate, pull to set speed, raise to accelerate, lower to decelerate, push to cancel). On the lighter side, after weeks of driving various LX and Crossfire models, we can say that it is possible to gets used to it...but that doesn't mean it's the best design. On the lighter side, the dash-mounted headlights made it through from the LH series, and we liked the dash-mounted ignition, which is easy to find and use.

Storage spaces abound, with map pockets on the front and rear doors, a tray under the climate control, a slot next to the gearshift, usable, a large glove compartment and unusually large center console, and an overhead sunglass holder. The center console includes Chrysler's clever coin holder, though it requires a little work for the driver to actually use it (move elbow, raise lid, put elbow back); and now there's actually a slot for pennies as well as quarters, nickels, and dimes. Two pen holders and a mini-tissue holder are incorporated in the lid, with a removable tray at the bottom, and a power outlet in the side of the console. Overall, it's a more effective design than most. The cupholders are simple and hidden by a slider; rear passengers get cupholders too, in the fold-down armrest.

Minor conveniences include the folding outside mirrors, touch-on dome lights, dead-pedal, and foot-operated emergency brake (which allows for more power to be applied) with easy-release hand pull (again, carried forward from the LH).

The base stereo in our test car had strong but not muddy bass which could be effectively lowered for talk radio, good stereo imaging, and easy to use controls, but, again, rear passengers had a dull, monaural sound. Our test Magnum had an optional dual driver/passenger heat zone climate control, using Chrysler's infra-red sensor for accuracy. The controls were largely self-explanatory, though the a/c light only goes on when the vent control is in manual mode; in auto mode, it presumably decides for itself when to turn the a/c on. The fan has two auto settings, low and high, though there was not a huge difference between them; both were fairly noisy. Most normal fan ranges are quiet, though. The air conditioning itself is good and powerful - gratifyingly powerful - but the V8 hardly seems to notice when it's running. Our Charger had the base single-zone climate control, and it was simple and easy to operate, with a quiet fan.

The Charger comes in a number of trim levels, but the V8 is only available with the R/T and higher levels, so if you want Hemi power, you have to get leather, an eight-way power driver's seat, air, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry, Sentry Key, power windows, 18" aluminum wheels, power heated mirrors, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, the stability program with traction control, emergency brake assist (where the computer decides if you're panic-stopping and helps hit the brakes harder), rear defroster, fog lights, tire pressure monitor, and of course the eight-speaker Boston Acoustics speaker system that sounds great up front and poor in back. If you have an iPod, there's no built in navigation-integration, but there is an auxiliary access jack, so you can still play it through the speakers. All of this, including the Hemi, come for just under $30,000, including destination - about the same as the Dodge Magnum wagon, so if you can lose a little of the suspension refinement, you can gain a lot of cargo space. For those who just want a nice big sedan with superior ride and cornering, the 3.5 liter V6 provides that, with decent enough (between 8 and 9 seconds 0-60) acceleration and slightly better mileage. (Thanks to an efficient design and cylinder deactivation, the 345 horsepower V8 gets about the same mileage as some 250 horsepower V6 engines.)

Now, as for whether this is a real Charger... the big question is, does it matter? The case for being authentic is that it is, like the original, a retuned, restyled version of a standard Chrysler platform, offering with the Hemi acceleration that goes against the best of 'em, and a standard engine that does well against competitors' standard engines. No, it doesn't look like any past Charger, but then again, the 1968 Chargers didn't look like the 1967s, and as the muscle-car era ended, they transformed again... and again. The argument against the Charger being, well, a Charger, is that it doesn't look like any past Charger model, and having rear-drive and a Hemi engine is besides the point; it's also priced above where the original would probably have been today, and, oh, yes, it has four doors!

You can decide for yourself; a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. Allpar.com has details on the full LX series with photos - click here to visit their Dodge Charger page.