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2016 Dodge Charger Test Drive Review
The Dodge Charger is a favorite of pimple-ridden teenage boys, law-enforcement agencies, rental-car companies, and men suffering midlife crises.
Americans frequently fail to look beyond the surface in order to examine the substance, and that's true when it comes to the 2016 Dodge Charger. A better car than most will give it credit for, the Charger’s blue-collar, Y-chromosome image masks a remarkably satisfying family sedan. It’s not flawless, but there is more to the Charger than meets the eye.
Look and Feel
Inextricably linked to a working-class, blue-collar, brute-force, muscle-car image, the 2016 Dodge Charger is a much better automobile than most people bother to learn.
Not that Dodge has provided much incentive for consumers to discover the Charger’s merits on their own. A favorite of pimple-ridden teenage boys, law-enforcement agencies, rental-car companies, and men suffering midlife crises, the aggressively styled and domineeringly powered Charger is the antithesis of the average Accord, the cure for the common Camry. It is a man’s car, as was so clearly expressed in a 2010 Super Bowl commercial called “Man’s Last Stand,” one marketed as “heritage-inspired,” equipped with a “Hemi,” and available as a terrifyingly named Hellcat model equipped with more horsepower than any other sedan on the planet.
So yeah, it’s no wonder that the Charger gets so little respect outside its target markets and that lots of people dismiss the Charger as a big, old, dumb American car. As is so often the case, there is more to the Charger than meets the eye, so let’s dispel a couple of myths about this Dodge.
First, the Charger speaks with a German accent. It is based on a rear-drive platform that dates to the mid-2000s, one that used bits and pieces from old Mercedes-Benz E-Class and S-Class models when it was first engineered. Plus, its 8-speed automatic transmission hails from Germany.
Second, the Charger is built by London-based Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in a Canadian factory, and more than a quarter of its parts are sourced from Mexico. So, is this an American car? Not by the standards most people use. In fact, most of the Hondas and Toyotas sold in the United States deliver greater economic benefit to Americans than does this iconic “American” muscle car.
Third, try not to base assumptions on the last Charger you rented at an airport. Rental cars are shoddily kept and usually reflect a fraction of the equipment that might be offered. For example, my test car is a Charger SXT, one trim rung up from the base model, and it's equipped with the car’s standard V6 engine. But it sure doesn’t look that way, does it?
To duplicate the car in the photos, you’ll need the Blacktop Appearance Package ($495), the Plus Package for the Black leather seats ($2,495), and the Rallye Group ($1,695). To this, my test car added a navigation system with a reversing camera ($795), a Driver Confidence Package ($795), and a Super Track Pak with summer performance tires ($890), bringing the sticker price to $38,155 including the $995 destination charge.
Admittedly, the result looks totally obnoxious, and in this bright B5 Blue paint color, the Charger draws lots of attention. Some of it is positive. Some of it is negative. Either way, I don’t like it, but you might.
Nevertheless, I adore the car itself, and that's not entirely because I’m a middle-aged man, born and raised in a working-class family in Michigan. One reason is because my test car proves that “Dodge Charger” and “sophistication” are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Granted, the dashboard is plain and the surface texturing is simplistic, but quality levels are relatively high. From the fabric roof-pillar covers and soft-touch dashboard to the real aluminum trim and refined controls, the Charger impresses. Even the optional premium Nappa leather is smooth and supple, though I’m not a fan of the metallic flake in the surfaces. It makes me think one of my kids detonated a glitter bomb in the car, and the residue got stuck in the seat’s perforations.
Especially at its price, and in spite of the image people hold of it, the Dodge Charger is unexpectedly sophisticated. And that opinion extends to its driving character, too.
All Charger SE and SXT models have an excellent 3.6-liter V6 engine, an impressive 8-speed automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive (RWD). An all-wheel-drive (AWD) system is an option for both trim levels, making the Charger perfect for climates that regularly experience inclement weather.
While it certainly doesn’t match the bellow and force of one of the Charger’s optional V8 engines, the V6 engine sounds good when revving and returned 22.9 mpg in combined driving, coming in just short of the EPA’s estimate of 23 mpg. That’s pretty good, given how large this car is and how enjoyable it is to drive.
My test car had every performance-oriented upgrade. The Blacktop Appearance Package installed 20-inch wheels. The Rallye Group increased engine output to an even 300 horsepower. The Super Track Pak option added a performance-tuned suspension, performance brakes, a 3.07 rear axle ratio, a 3-mode stability-control system, and a performance steering wheel with paddle shifters and rev-matched downshifting. A Performance Pages function is also a part of the Super Track Pak, providing the ability to record and track performance data while driving. A set of super-sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar performance tires rounded out my test Charger’s list of dynamic enhancements.
Although a Charger SXT isn’t the fastest version of Dodge’s 4-door family sedan, that’s just fine by me, because I prefer overall athleticism on a twisting road to brute strength in a straight line. Quick and rewarding to drive, a Charger outfitted like my test car offers enormous grip and outstanding braking capability. The electric steering is satisfying at all times, and because my test vehicle employed the smallest and lightest engine combined with the biggest and stickiest tires, it dove into corners with giggle-worthy enthusiasm.
Oh, and here’s a fun fact: Dodge says the weight distribution for the Charger SXT is 52:48, front to rear, which is essentially identical to a BMW 340i. Still, as balanced as the Charger is, on the tighter and narrower parts of my testing loop, the car’s size proves a liability. You simply can’t use as much of your lane to maintain speed as you can in a smaller vehicle.
Under normal driving conditions, such as commuting in the suburbs, the city, and on freeways, the Charger is equally delightful. The driver sits far back in the cabin, which can block the view of overhead traffic lights if the Charger is first in line at an intersection, but aside from occasionally challenging outward visibility issues, which are largely resolved by a reversing camera and an available blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert, this big Dodge suffers few flaws in terms of its daily drivability.
Form and Function
While the Charger’s size is a liability when attempting to rapidly cover ground on twisting mountain roads, it pays dividends in terms of interior room and trunk space.
My test car’s power-operated, leather-wrapped front seats delivered outstanding comfort and support, the heating and ventilation functions applied to both cushions and backrests. The driver grips a thick-rimmed steering wheel with a pleasing shape, and the places where elbows commonly rest are soft and padded. You can drive this car for hours without complaint, and it is perfect for road trips as long as you don’t mind the stiff, sometimes unforgiving performance suspension tuning.
Rear-seat accommodations are generous, too. The seating is reclined a bit too much for my preferences, but the cushions are comfortable and provide commendable thigh support. My test car had rear-seat air vents, heated outboard seat cushions, and two USB ports, but it also had flimsy looking hard plastic front seatback covers that came across as cheap and nothing more.
As far as trunk space is concerned, the Charger supplies more room than any midsize family sedan. However, its 16.5 cubic feet of space is oddly shaped, and the liftover height to clear the bumper is significant.
In the grand scheme of things, these are minor issues. Given the Charger’s overall comfort levels and cargo room, combined with its power and all-around performance, as well as rakish styling that clearly announces that this is not your ordinary 4-door family sedan, I’m happy to lift a suitcase a few extra inches in order to pack the trunk.
Just because the Charger’s dashboard is rather plain and its control layout is simple and easy to use, don’t confuse this car for a technological Luddite. Dodge offers unexpectedly advanced convenience, infotainment, and safety technologies for the Charger and at relatively affordable price points.
From the remarkably deep level of programmable settings available through the instrumentation cluster’s driver information system to the easy and intuitive Uconnect infotainment system and its large 8.4-inch touchscreen display, you can tailor a Charger to specific preferences.
There are a few shortcomings with the infotainment system, however. The USB port is inside the center console, where it is hard to access. At night, the reversing camera’s resolution is terrible, making it almost useless. Finally, Uconnect remains occasionally slow to start and to respond to inputs.
You can also upgrade the Charger with a number of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies, including forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist technologies, and more.
One thing that irritated me about the Charger was how tough it was to use the LATCH anchors with my specific child safety seat design. I almost gave up, but ultimately achieved success. Also, and this is largely due to the car’s structural age, it gets a Marginal rating in the small overlap frontal impact crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
In other crash-test assessments, the Charger earns top ratings from both the federal government and the IIHS, combined with a Superior rating for its crash-avoidance technology.
Considering that my local dealership is touting up to $5,000 off on brand new Dodge Chargers, I’d say that you can probably swing a great deal on one of these cars. The official rebate is up to $2,500, or you can take advantage of zero-interest financing for 48 months and get two grand cash back.
Save even more money by sticking with the Charger SE or SXT. The sticker price for a Charger SE with the Blacktop Package, including the cool 20-inch black wheels, comes to less than $30,000—and that’s the sticker price, including destination.
Not only are these versions of the Charger affordable, they save money on gas. Remember, I got 22.9 mpg without even trying, essentially matching the EPA’s official rating of 23 mpg in combined driving.
The Charger also ranks highly in J.D. Power surveys. Well, two of them anyway. Last year, the car won an award for its overall appeal, and it rated highly for initial quality. The research company’s predicted reliability rating is not terribly impressive, though, and Consumer Reports gives the Charger its lowest rating for overall dependability. If you’re looking for a good reason to take a pass on a Charger, that’s it, along with the Marginal small overlap frontal impact crash test rating from the IIHS.
Society often dictates that image is everything, which I think is sad. Substance is what should matter, whether we’re talking about the character and qualifications of a person or the quality and capabilities of a car.
When it comes to the Dodge Charger, there is far more substance here than meets the eye. From the most basic version to the top-of-the-line Hellcat, when you look past the car’s blue-collar image and muscle-car heritage, what you might discover is a greater level of quality, comfort, appeal, and all-around performance than you’d ever guess.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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