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2017 Dodge Charger Test Drive Review
When you drive a 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona 392, you’re judged to be cool or a tool. And it doesn’t matter at all how you’re actually driving it.
After spending a week with a Dodge Charger Daytona 392, I was ready to drive something invisible to both the public and public safety officers, like a sensible grayish beige Chrysler Pacifica. That’s because everybody notices this thunderous Charger, and the reactions are anything but indifferent. Still, if you’re a red-blooded American driving enthusiast, you can’t help but adore Dodge’s 4-door muscle car.
Look and Feel
Dodge Chargers are unexpectedly rewarding automobiles. Based on a rear-drive platform that is now 12 years old, wrapped in retro-themed styling that hearkens back to the good old days, and equipped with both generously sized interiors and engines, Chargers are appealing in a brashly raw and unapologetically American way.
At the same time, though, observers tend to ascribe certain personality traits to Charger drivers. You know what I’m talking about. And on several occasions I experienced this first-hand while driving a 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona 392, as encounters with both law enforcement and the general public revealed their apparent assumptions that hooliganism was imminent.
Two versions of the legendary Daytona nameplate return to the Charger lineup for 2017. One is based on the Charger R/T with the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine, and the other is based on the Charger R/T Scat Pack with the 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine. The Daytona treatment adds about five grand to the base prices of those cars and equips them with what Dodge says is “Hellcat-inspired” styling along with several performance enhancements and interior upgrades.
A Charger Daytona’s base price is $41,090, including the $1,095 destination charge. Because it was based on the R/T Scat Pack, my Daytona 392 test car’s base price was $5,000 higher, for a total of $46,090. To this, my test car added summer performance tires, a power sunroof, a navigation system, a Beats Audio sound system, and a Driver Confidence Group, including a blind-spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, and HID headlights.
All in, my test car’s price tag came to $50,615.
Both versions of the Charger Daytona equip the car with SRT-derived design details and a Daytona grille badge, a cold-air induction system with a functional hood scoop, heritage-inspired Daytona graphics, a Satin Black roof and rear spoiler treatment, wider 20-inch aluminum wheels, and on the 392 models, fender decals signaling the more powerful engine beneath the hood.
My test car’s Destroyer Gray paint color is new for 2017, too, and given the power, the noise, and the attention that a Daytona 392 generates, I strongly recommend it to help you to keep as low a profile as possible.
Unless you actually want speeding tickets, that is.
Inside, Daytona-embroidered performance seats await, heated and ventilated and wrapped in premium Nappa leather with Alcantara suede inserts. The driver faces a performance steering wheel with die-cast paddle shifters, and the dashboard is trimmed in real aluminum with a new Carbonite appearance. My Daytona 392 test car also had a 180-mph speedometer.
Overall, the Charger Daytona 392’s look and feel is exactly what it ought to be given the car’s performance capabilities and its red, white, and blue attitude. Unlike so many performance-oriented sedans, the Charger 392’s bodywork isn’t writing checks that the hardware can’t cash. As a result, other motorists give the Daytona 392 a wide berth, while the police give it extra examination.
Fifty grand is a ton of money to pay for a Dodge Charger. However, when you itemize all the features that are included on a Daytona 392, and when you consider the car’s blistering performance capabilities, you can’t help but recognize it as a raging bargain. Just be sure you’ve earmarked a big pile of cash for things like gas, tires, brakes, insurance, and pretty much anything else of which the Daytona 392 consumes large quantities.
A 6.4-liter V8 engine resides under the hood, and you can tell it’s a Hemi because it says so right on the outside. Maximum output measures 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque, shoved to the rear wheels through a paddle-shifted 8-speed automatic with a 3.09 final drive ratio and an electronic limited-slip differential.
According to Dodge, this setup is good for acceleration to 60 mph in approximately 4.5 seconds and through the quarter-mile in the low 12s. While I did not run a stopwatch against the 4,395-pound car or use its Performance Pages app to track maximum real-world performance (because I want to keep my driver’s license), those strike me as credible claims.
Guzzling premium gas, this 392-cubic-inch engine is EPA-rated to get 15 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway, and 18 in combined driving. That’s fairly accurate. I averaged 17.4 mpg on my test loop, and that included a long stretch of high-rpm abuse.
Sticking with the same performance steering, high-performance suspension, and active exhaust system from the R/T Scat Pack model, the Daytona 392 is equipped with unique lightweight forged aluminum wheels, more aggressive tires, and a Brembo high-performance braking system with vented rotors clamped by 6-piston front and 4-piston rear calipers.
One of the fun things about driving the Charger Daytona 392 is that people generally won’t mess with you. Nobody wants to race. You’re given the right of way at 4-way stop intersections, even if you don’t deserve it. Clueless squatters suddenly remember that the left lane is for passing slower traffic when a Daytona appears in their rear-view mirror and signal to get the hell out of the way.
At the same time, though, some people do want to mess with you, especially when they’re driving police cars. Even when draped in Destroyer Gray paint, my test car attracted lots of attention from law enforcement.
One cop kicked me out of my favorite photo location, a remote and rarely used circle of blacktop with a single “No Parking” sign, even though it was clear that I wasn’t parking the car except to take a photo or two close to sunset.
Another pulled a U-turn and shadowed me up Pacific Coast Highway.
Even the rent-a-cop in my relatives’ gated suburb rushed up in a Corolla marked “Security” to see what was going on in the otherwise sanitized-for-your-protection neighborhood after I revved the car a few times to make a show for my nephews.
It’s like these guys assume you’re going to break a law just because of the car you’re driving. In other words, because of the way you look.
Honestly, given a chance, you probably will. You can’t help yourself.
Get a Daytona 392 onto a favorite stretch of road, and its ridiculous speed, its bellowing exhaust, its astounding grip, and its astonishing brakes are nothing short of intoxicating. Especially for the Mopar faithful, this car represents a religious driving experience.
Obviously, this is not a subtle car. It looks loud and sounds louder, even when you’re trying to keep it quiet. The active performance exhaust notified my neighbors each time I exited my driveway and left our part of the subdivision, and the constant boom inside the cabin gets old on longer highway trips.
During our early morning video shoot in a quiet canyon, the Daytona’s exhaust racket raised the ire of a local resident, who during a third camera pass ran out of his gated driveway screaming obscenities while fully extending both middle fingers in the car’s direction. This dude was absolutely apoplectic with rage. Stopping to pick up Dan, my cameraman, he said: “Yeah, this is a loud car. The exhaust note is ricocheting through this canyon like you wouldn’t believe.” We elected to finish the shoot in an uninhabited area.
Neither is the Daytona 392 a particularly refined car. You need to muscle it a bit, you must correct it on occasion, and you must pay close attention, because its huge dimensions leave little room for error on a narrow, winding road. In other words, it's the driver’s responsibility to tame this beast, though I can’t help but think that you’d need to do something monumentally stupid to divorce a Daytona from the pavement.
Comfort is elusive, too. Not because of the seats, which are terrific. Rather, the high-performance suspension rigorously quells unwanted body motions while attenuating bumps and dips, and the result is a rock-hard ride on anything less than perfectly smooth pavement.
Essentially, this car is track-ready right out of the box. Having driven a Charger SRT 392 on a track, I can personally attest to its impressive maximum performance capabilities. And no, you can’t safely find the limit on a public road, so don’t try.
Form and Function
Although Daytona versions are equipped with premium interior materials and upscale touches, there is no hiding the rapidly aging, old-school Charger on which they are based. From the switchgear and the elephantine texture of the soft-touch surfaces to the car’s distinctive scent, the cabin is straight out of 2011. And that means that from the driver’s seat this doesn’t look, feel, or smell like a $50,000 car.
Nevertheless, most materials reflect quality, and the controls exhibit refinement. Comfort levels are high, too, especially up front on the substantially bolstered and supportive 12-way power adjustable chairs with heating and ventilation. The heated performance steering wheel is a pleasure to grip, and Dodge provides soft places for resting arms and elbows when both hands are not required on the wheel.
Thick front seatbacks impede upon rear passenger space, and while this is a full-size sedan, the interior feels more like a midsize car from the back seat. Passengers must duck low to clear the Charger’s dramatic roofline, and hard plastic trim on the front seatbacks is unfriendly to knees and shins. Air-conditioning vents and heated rear seats help to make the Daytona 392 more comfortable for likely terrified passengers.
Controls are logically laid out, with a few exceptions. With a dual-zone automatic climate control system, knobs are preferable to buttons for changing temperature, which is often the only function that gets used on a regular basis. Also, Dodge places the Sport mode, Super Track Pak access, and the traction-control-off button amongst the controls related to the stereo and infotainment system display screen. It is easy to forget they’re there.
Personally, I also had trouble reading the somewhat small 180-mph speedometer, which supplies 20-mph gaps in speed indication and is packed with incremental markings rendered in both red and white. Thankfully, the center driver-information display can be switched to an oversize digital speed readout, which is necessary in a car that feels like it is traveling 30 mph when it's really going 60 mph.
Trunk space measures 16.5 cubic feet, more than any midsize sedan and on par with several full-size cars. Enclosed hinges ensure that you won’t crush fragile items when closing the trunk, and a grab handle inside the lid keeps your fingers clean when shutting it.
New for 2017, a next-generation Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system debuts in the Charger. The screen remains the same size at 8.4 inches, but the upgraded graphics are nice. What really impresses me is how quickly the system starts up and responds to inputs, this alone making it a huge improvement over the old Uconnect technology. Additionally, you can also pinch and swipe the screen, just like you might on your smartphone.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also new for 2017, and buyers receive a free 6-month trial Uconnect Access subscription. This provides voice texting capability, a vehicle finder, remote ability to start the engine or lock the doors, and a handful of other services. A 3G Wi-Fi hotspot connection is also a part of Uconnect Access, but it costs $50 per month for the service on top of whatever Dodge wants to charge you for its rather skimpy Uconnect Access package. Bah.
In my test car, the Uconnect system was paired with a 10-speaker Beats Audio sound system that faithfully reproduced a variety of music types, but seemed most compatible with modern popular music. Dodge reserves its 19-speaker Harman Kardon setup for the SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat models.
Should you decide to take your Charger Daytona 392 to a track, something called Performance Pages allows you to record performance data related to acceleration times, braking distances, cornering forces, and lap times. The feature is accessible through the infotainment system or the driver-information display located between the gauges. Of course, you can also use Performance Pages for street driving, but I do not recommend that.
For a car with structural engineering that, in several areas, dates back to the mid-2000s, the Charger acquits itself well in crash-test evaluations.
In assessments carried out by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Charger earns 4- and 5-star ratings across the board, though it is important to note that the federal agency does not certify these results for SRT models.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also gives the Charger high marks for crashworthiness and collision avoidance, with the exception of a Marginal rating in the important small offset frontal-impact test. This rating directly reflects the age of the Charger’s underlying architecture.
A reversing camera is standard equipment for all Chargers, and through Uconnect Access drivers can use 911 Call for emergency assistance. This function is free for 6 months, thereafter requiring a subscription to service. Dodge does not offer any monitoring controls to make the car safer for younger drivers to operate.
Optional safety features include adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability, full-speed forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert.
Given the 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona 392’s size, specifications, equipment, materials, and arresting visual attitude, it is a bargain at its sticker price.
How can that be? Consider that a loaded Buick LaCrosse costs almost the same amount of money. Alternatively, consider that you can’t buy a BMW 5 Series with a single upgrade for what this Charger costs.
Granted, this is a highly specialized car that doesn’t possess the broader appeal of either the BMW or the Buick. But you can’t deny the value to be had with a Charger Daytona 392. Plus, as this review is written, Daytona 392 buyers can leverage no-interest financing for 60 months in combination with a $2,750 cash rebate, which is generally unheard of. Lease deals are surprisingly affordable, too.
This, however, is where the Daytona 392’s affordability ends. My test car came close to getting what the EPA said it would in terms of fuel economy, but you’re going to need to factor in 91-octane gas and my 17.4-mpg average.
Tires won’t be cheap, either, and you’re going to go through them quickly if you use this car in the way that Dodge and God intended. Brake jobs are going to give you a heart attack, too. Your insurance agent is going to make a killing on your policy. Oh, and Consumer Reports is entirely unimpressed with the Charger’s reliability history.
Nobody buys a Charger Daytona 392 for reasons of practicality, though. People buy this car for how it looks, and for how it sounds, and for its incredible performance.
Based on my experience, it won’t disappoint.
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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