Dodge recharges its muscles
DANVILLE, Va. – Step back in time to 1966. Remember the rumble? The pony-car era was in full gallop when Chrysler unleashed its first Charger, constructed on the chassis of a ho-hum sedan called the Coronet. Although the Charger’s wedge shape became a styling imprint of the times, its sheetmetal wasn’t its true zenith – its performance was. This two-door fastback, with stylish hidden headlamps and full-width taillights, came with three V8 engine choices, including a 426-cubic-inch Hemi, which propelled its two tons of muscle from the start line to 60 mph in less than five seconds. Priced at $3,128, with 203.6-inches of length and room, this Dodge coupe was an affordable everyday driver that combined performance and style like few others.
However, it was Lee Roy Yarborough, who posted an average speed of 163.9 mph qualifying for the 1967 Daytona Festival of Speed, who truly made the Charger a revered nameplate. And, a decade later, an orange ’69 R/T model with a Confederate flag on the roof starred on a popular TV show and further stamped the Charger into the gray matter of the American public.
Today, Confederate flags are out. Muscle cars, however, are in and the Charger is back! This time with four doors and Dodge’s aggressive styling. Whiners among the Charger faithful ought to take notice: Muscle cars aren’t defined by the number of doors they have – but by the amount of grunt under the hood. With the great Hemi engine in the R/T, a limited-production Daytona, and an upcoming road-ripper called the SRT-8 on the way, this reborn muscle car of haloed celebrity has landed square on its feet – even though its sits tall on them. In fact, Dodge has transformed its classic coupe of some three decades past into a versatile modern-day sedan, and the 2006 Charger not only turns heads, but won a place in our hearts during a day-long drive to evaluate it.
Morphed from the Chrysler 300 platform, the 2006 Dodge Charger is more sleek and curvy, but, more importantly, muscle-car DNA has been successfully transferred into its genetic code creating a lineup with more convenience, thanks to those four doors, and a base model priced under $25,000. Yes, the Charger is alive, still full of muscle car fun and now a better fit for more Americans.
Model Mix Dodge offers an expansive lineup of the all-new 2006 Charger, ranging from an affordable and stylish SE model to a raging, performance-tuned SRT-8 edition.
Dodge offers an expansive lineup of the all-new 2006 Charger, ranging from an affordable and stylish SE model to a raging, performance-tuned SRT-8 edition. At $22,995, the base SE model comes with standard power windows/locks/mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, 17-inch steel wheels, traction control, stability control, ABS, and a CD player.
The mid-grade $25,995 SXT adds 17-inch aluminum wheels, a chrome grille, fog lights, an eight-way power driver's seat, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and an upgraded audio system. Both the SE and the SXT models feature Dodge's 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 250 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque in front of a well-geared five-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick manual control.
Chargers with Road/Track (R/T) badging breathe even more fire thanks to a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine that puts out 340 horsepower and a substantial 390 lb.-ft. of torque. For this application, the AutoStick feature on the five-speed automatic transmission has been enhanced for quicker, crisper gear changes. This engine utilizes Multi-Displacement System (MDS) technology, a feature that cuts fuel to some cylinders while cruising or decelerating. Combined with the five-gear transmission, R/T models still manage a respectable 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA. Other R/T upgrades include 18-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust tips, heated and folding side mirrors, leather seats, and performance-tuned ABS with all-speed traction control. Pricing starts at $29,995, and although competitors offer lower entry fees, their horsepower and twist ratings do not match up.
The limited-production 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T, starting at $32,495, raises the stakes even further, boasting a modified Hemi V8 with an output of 350 horses but no boost in torque. Standard Daytona elements include a unique black honeycomb grille, revised front fascia, a black decklid spoiler, polished 18-inch aluminum wheels, more conspicuous dual exhaust pipes, performance tuned suspension, heated front seats, power adjustable pedals, body-color interior accents, and "Daytona" badges for extra cachet. Sport seats with suede inserts get embroidered “Daytona” logos and body-colored stitching, along with a sequentially numbered dashboard plaque. Boastful and bright, the Daytona R/T’s only two paint colors are “Top Banana” yellow and “Go Man Go” metallic orange, to set off its flat-black hood.
Available 2006 Dodge Charger options, although not offered on some trim levels, include power adjustable driver and front passenger seats, an air filtration system, a six-disc CD changer, automatic dual-zone temperature control, a power sunroof, rear DVD entertainment, Sirius satellite radio, and a Road/Track Performance Group that includes the retuned, 350-horse Hemi V8.
A much-anticipated and more potent Charger SRT-8 (Street and Racing Technology) version will follow the current quartet this fall. Under the hood will be a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter Hemi V8 that will carry it from 0-60 mph in about five seconds, and from 0-100-0 mph in about 16 seconds. Also joining the fray will be a new pursuit model, the 2006 Dodge Charger Police Edition, outfitted with many of the same elements of the SRT-8, with the exception of the 6.1-liter Hemi.
Nuts and Bolts
Nuts and Bolts A Hemi-powered 2006 Dodge Charger offers plenty of hot-headed power, a blend of sophistication, and even a little conservation.
A Hemi-powered 2006 Dodge Charger offers plenty of hot-headed power, a blend of sophistication, and even a little conservation. The 5.7-liter V8 engine uses Chrysler's Multi-Displacement System (MDS), a feature that seamlessly shifts the engine from eight-cylinder to four-cylinder operation. When little power is required, the Hemi runs on only four combustion chambers, thereby increasing fuel economy and reducing emissions. Dodge claims that MDS improves fuel economy ten to 20 percent during normal driving. The 2006 Dodge Charger’s base powerplant, the 3.5-liter V6, provides a broad power range that peaks at 250 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque.
A five-speed automatic transmission sends available power to the back wheels, which are suspended by a five-link rear suspension using coil springs, tuned bushings, aluminum components, and a stabilizer bar to provide sporty yet comfortable handling. Up front, a multi-link arrangement uses an independent short- and long-arm suspension supporting steering and cornering duties.
Base Charger SE and SXT models are fitted with P215/65R17 Goodyear Integrity tires, while optional 18-inch wheels wrapped in P225/60R18 Continental tires. These larger wheels and tires are standard on the 2006 Dodge Charger R/T. At the top end, Charger Daytona R/T models feature P235/55R18 Michelin performance tires, performance steering gear, and self-leveling shocks. R/T customers who opt for the Road/Track Performance Group also enjoy these features.
Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control are standard across the Charger lineup. SE and SXT models use single-piston binders on 12.6-inch vented front and solid rear rotors. Dual-piston calipers clamp 13.6-inch vented front rotors on R/T Chargers, while single-piston units squeeze 12.6-inch vented rear discs.
Design The 2006 Dodge Charger's throwback name is complemented by several styling elements that suggest the muscle car era of the 1960s. The long hood, short rear decklid, sloped roofline, and rounded quarter panels with a kicked-up beltline all invoke images of the original Charger muscle cars.
The 2006 Dodge Charger's throwback name is complemented by several styling elements that suggest the muscle car era of the 1960s. The long hood, short rear decklid, sloped roofline, and rounded quarter panels with a kicked-up beltline all invoke images of the original Charger muscle cars. But unlike Ford's Mustang, which faithfully recreates the bodylines of the 60s, Dodge's Charger appears novel in design.
For starters, the Charger has four doors, and this attribute has caused some dismay among die-hard coupe fans. But Dodge did not intend to build a fully retrospective vehicle – instead it going for a modern interpretation of the classic muscle car. And, despite the sedan proportions, the Charger’s taut roofline has been sketched to create a more coupe-like look.
Appropriately, the new Charger is recognizable as a Dodge model, thanks to the bold cross-hair grille design. The Charger is a full-sized sedan, complete with a 120-inch spread between the tires. Large-car dimensions provide ample cargo capacity, an attribute appealing to many of today’s consumers. Few competing models can boast a larger trunk than the Charger, which swallows 16.2 cu.-ft. of luggage.
Inside, silver accent rings highlight well-placed white-faced gauges. Bright touches also appear on the steering wheel, center console, shifter bezel, and doors. Despite the fastback-inspired roofline, the Charger delivers 40.2 in. of rear legroom, beating most other sedans on the market, but with just 36.2 in. of rear headroom the Dodge falls a bit short thanks to its rakish roofline.
Safety and Technology
Safety and Technology Based on the Chrysler 300 platform, the 2006 Dodge Charger inherits dual five-star safety ratings.
Based on the Chrysler 300 platform, the 2006 Dodge Charger inherits dual five-star safety ratings. Dual front airbags determine the size of the front passengers and modify airbag deployment accordingly. For added protection, Dodge offers optional front and rear side-curtain airbags. Engineered to quell the need for these supplemental restraints, optional all-speed traction control and electronic stability control modulate the brakes and throttle to keep the vehicle on course. Standard ABS with brake assist help slow the car when necessary.
Modern-day technological features include Sirius satellite radio, a center console-mounted rear-seat video entertainment system, and DVD-based navigation. Satellite radio is available on SXT and R/T models, with Sirius offering a free one-year subscription. Video entertainment may also be optioned on SXT and R/T Chargers, while navigation is offered solely on R/T versions. The video entertainment system features a seven-inch LCD screen built into the back of the center console.
Driving Impressions There are moments that go into the memory books when motoring in great cars. Driving the 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T on the Virginia International Raceway is a ‘keeper.’
There are moments that go into the memory books when motoring in great cars. Driving the 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T on the Virginia International Raceway is a ‘keeper.’
The first drive of the new bold-faced Charger led us on a route through the scenic, rolling hills of North Carolina to the VIR. Situated in the heart of stock car country, this racetrack was the centerpiece of our day, as the 2.25-mile long North Course provided ample opportunity to fully appraise the current sweet spot in the Charger lineup – the special-edition Daytona R/T, designed to commemorate the nameplate's return to NASCAR racing at Daytona International Speedway.
Our 200-mile day behind the wheel began in the base Charger SE, equipped with 17-inch tires and ‘touring” suspension. While attractive on the outside and amply furnished within, and though the 3.5-liter V6 makes plenty of power to scoot along everyday roads and for spirited passing, the SE and SXT versions are beleaguered by spring rates and shock damping that are softer than we prefer; brakes that – although strong – nip and grab at the top of the pedal, and light steering that required slight corrections on the narrow and winding back roads of North Carolina and Virginia.
Moving up the line to the Hemi-powered, 340-horse V8 in the Charger R/T, and the 350 horses corralled in the Daytona, the Charger’s magic and muscle come on loud and strong. Larger tires and a stiffer suspension assist these rear-drivers to stay stuck where they’re planted, gifted with standard electronic stability and traction control. And the Charger’s throttle note, even on the base V6 versions, plays a low and throaty muscle car tune, which is amplified on the Hemis.
Take note: the Road/Track Performance Group, available on the Charger R/T, brings larger sway bars, bigger brake pads, firmer damping, enhanced steering, plus the same additional 10 horsepower as the Daytona R/T, in the event that you don’t want to step up to the Daytona price or paint scheme.
Slipping into the roomy cockpit, you’ll find the two-tone interior is somewhat plain and understated, despite the Viper-inspired and silver-trimmed circular gauges and silver accents that punctuate the steering wheel, center stack, door remote and trim bezel on the shifter (Daytona versions get body-colored center stack and shifter bezels). We were non-plussed by the composite materials used for the large expanse of front fascia and door trim materials, which have the appearance of upgraded plastic. Aside from that, the cabin is pleasant overall, with great visibility both to the front and rear, and plenty of elbow room for five. Split/folding rear seats (60/40) and a large trunk meet the stowage expectations of those with a modern lifestyle.
To safely explore the Charger’s handling limits, a good part of our day was spent driving the two top-end models, the 2006 Dodge Charger R/T and Charger Daytona R/T, at the raceway. At speed, steering is linear and has a great on-center feel, and the sport-tuned suspension package allows the Daytona R/T to hunker down and plant itself in tight corners. Self-leveling shock absorbers are designed to instantly rebound to an appropriate level and set-up when you release the brake and add throttle, with little to no body roll. Of note, we found it nearly impossible to shake the back end loose with its tractive enhancements engaged, even when the 18-inch Michelin performance tires aurally made us aware of their presence.
Motivated by lickety-split horsepower and impressive torque, the Charger R/T and R/T Daytona easily hit three-figure speeds in the straightaway, exhibiting impressive straight-line poise. Just as important, they were slowed by fast-acting brakes that come on in a progressive and controlled fashion at the top of the pedal’s travel, which provides plenty of feel and modulation for threshold braking. Best of all, however, was the throaty rumble that has been perfectly tuned to recall the past of this updated classic.
The Charger’s rear spoiler also serves a purpose beyond styling, as it’s engineered for improved downforce. And, we also appreciated the upgraded seats that come in the uplevel models, which provide a tighter fit that snugs you in while cornering. Base model seats are not as well contoured.
Wrap-Up For Charger fanatics who want the power and have the purse, there’s no substitute for the Hemi power under the hoods of the R/T, Daytona, and SRT-8.
Regardless of what you think of four doors and modern-day, in-your-face Dodge styling, the Charger is back. And, while the V6-powered versions of the 2006 Dodge Charger – the SE and SXT – might not have the crisp ride and handling of the ramped-up models, they are fine examples of Detroit sheetmetal, just like their predecessors of three decades past. In fact, they might come just as close as you want to those hot summer nights of the sixties. After all, ferrying the family in a muscular-looking car with attitude, five-star safety, four-door versatility, and decent fuel economy could be just the ride you’ve been waiting for.
But, for Charger fanatics who want the power and have the purse, there’s no substitute for the Hemi power under the hoods of the R/T, Daytona, and SRT-8. And, we’ll guarantee, just like Lee Roy Yarborough, with these versions of the Charger you’ll definitely hear the rumble.
Specifications The 2006 Dodge Charger comes in five trim levels equipped with one of three engines, all motivated by the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Dodge Charger
Price Range: $22,995 (SE); $25,995 (SXT); $29,995 (R/T); $32,495 (Daytona R/T)
Engine Size and Type: 3.5-liter V6 (SE, SXT); 5.7-liter V8 (R/T, Daytona R/T)
Engine Horsepower: 250 at 6,400 rpm (SE, SXT); 340 at 5,000 rpm (R/T); 350 at 5,000 rpm (Daytona R/T)
Engine Torque: 250 lb.-ft. at 3,800 rpm (SE, SXT); 390 lb.-ft. at 4,000 rpm (R/T, Daytona R/T)
Transmission: Five-speed automatic with AutoStick manual control
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,727 (SE); 3,800 (SXT); 4,031 (R/T and Daytona)
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 19/27 (SE, SXT); 17/25 (R/T) mpg
Length: 200.1 inches
Width: 74.5 inches
Wheelbase: 120 inches
Height: 58.2 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 41.8/40.2 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 38.7/36.2 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: 5
Max. Cargo Volume: 16.2 cu. ft.
Competitors: Buick LaCrosse, Buick Lucerne, Chevrolet Impala, Chrysler 300, Ford Crown Victoria, Ford Five-Hundred, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, Mercury Grand Marquis, Mercury Montego, Mitsubishi Galant, Nissan Altima, Nissan Maxima, Pontiac G6, Pontiac Grand Prix, Subaru Legacy GT, Toyota Avalon, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat
Photos courtesy of DaimlerChrysler