Chrysler Group LLC kicked off its impressive product blitz more than a year and a half ago with impressive products from the Jeep and Ram Truck brands, but to be truly competitive with Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Honda, it needed to spice up its mainstream Dodge brand. Fortunately, this sporty brand received changes to six out of eight vehicles in its line-up for the 2011 model year including the completely redesigned Dodge Durango and Dodge Charger. Dodge recently let us test out the all-new Charger in the Motor City, and it was easy to see that this new car not only has the looks to match its historical name but also a much improved interior that finally allows the Charger to be competitive in its class.
Assembled in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, the 2011 Dodge Charger is on sale now at your local Dodge dealership with a starting MSRP of $25,395. For 2011, Dodge says that the Charger is available in three trim levels (SE, Rallye and R/T), but things get a little complicated with packaging to include two Rallye models and four R/T models. This test vehicle was not only the Charger R/T which starts at $30,395, it was the Charger R/T Max AWD loaded up with plenty of options and an as-tested price of $40,090. While this price may seem high, it is only about $100 more than the 2010 Charger R/T we reviewed last year with rear-wheel drive only and fewer technology and luxury options.
2011 Dodge Charger R/T AWD Review: Exterior
Back in the 1990s, Chrysler was known for its ability to bring a car from concept to production in a relatively short amount of time, but the design of the 2011 Dodge Charger is actually inspired by a concept vehicle from 12 years ago, the 1999 Charger RT Concept. Like the concept vehicle, the 2011 Charger features a somewhat retro modern styling that is highlighted by its Coke-bottle body lines and the full-length taillights. These rear lights are actually one of the most eye-catching elements of the new design with a shape inspired by the iconic 1969 Charger and a strip of LEDs running around the entire taillight assembly. The rear view of the new Charger even borrows some styling cues from the current Challenger with the black trim around the lights giving it a sunk-in look.
Dodge has replaced the Charger’s awkward, coupe-like rear haunches with a flatter beltline that better complements the new car’s wider hips. Without the old car’s C-pillar and greenhouse shape, the tall beltline and flat doors would have given the car a boring slab-sided look, so Dodge incorporated stylish C-shaped body creases into the front doors (again inspired by the original Charger and the Charger Concept) which help form the leading edge of the rear hip line. In addition to giving the car a classic look, the new body lines also help complement the new dimensions of the 2011 Charger which is about a half inch wider than its predecessor to accommodate the track width that has grown by .4 inches in the front and .7 inches at the rear wheels.
Up front, the previous Charger’s headlight and grille treatment have gotten even more aggressive with more angular and scowling headlights to go with a more pronounced grille and stylish lines shaped into the aluminum hood. For a sinister look, check out the Charger R/T Road & Track with its blacked out grille and R/T badge, but all other Charger models get a chrome-trimmed version of Dodge’s signature grille. All models also feature dual chrome exhaust finishers in the rear fascia, so the easiest way to distinguish the R/T from lower trim levels is by the standard HID headlights. This car also came with the Redline 3-Coat Pearl exterior paint for an extra $995 and the standard 19-inch, five-spoke painted aluminum wheels.
Despite a new design that probably features more upright angles than the preceding model, Dodge says the 2011 Charger has an impressive 0.297 coefficient of drag which is significantly better than even the best Cd (0.33) of the 2010 Charger.
2011 Dodge Charger R/T AWD Review: Interior and Safety
One area that Chrysler has focused on improving over the past couple years is its interiors, which is obvious in the 2011 Dodge Charger. While we were only able to test out the fully loaded Charger R/T Max AWD, Dodge has definitely done its homework to produce a cabin that could make Audi and Lexus owners a little jealous. Materials and technology aside, one of the biggest gains Dodge has made is in regards to cabin noise with the 2011 Dodge Charger being as quiet as a high-end luxury sedan thanks to the use of an acoustic windshield, acoustic front door glass and even acoustic foam in the carpeting. Even the materials used inside the 2011 Charger added to its upscale atmosphere with this R/T Max AWD coming with leather or soft-touch materials on just about every surface of the cabin. Our test vehicle had the two-tone, black and tan interior with rich Nappa leather on the seats and door panels and black leather used on the steering wheel and shift lever. As a final touch, Dodge added to the sporty styling of the Charger’s interior using an instrument panel bezel with a unique “woven micro aluminum” finish.
Chrysler also stepped up in its game in regards to technology which was obvious on this test car equipped with the optional Uconnect Touch. As a part of the $5,000 Charger R/T Max Package, the Uconnect Touch is instantly noticeable in the car thanks to its large 8.4-inch touch-screen display. This massive screen provides controls for the navigation, audio and climate control systems as well as Sirius Travel Link, sports and weather updates and real-time fuel price listings. This expensive package also included plenty of driving technology as well including Adaptive Speed Control, Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection, Rear Park Assist and ParkView backup camera. Even the cabin was upgraded with more advanced features such as heated and cooled front cupholders, power-adjustable pedals and tilt and telescoping steering column, heated rear seats, SmartBeam headlamps and rain-sensitive windshield wipers. Ambient cabin lighting is also part of the Charger R/T standard features, and it provides lighting for the front footwells and front and rear cupholders. This package alone made the option list on the 2011 Charger R/T Max AWD read more like an expensive luxury sedan rather than a relatively affordable full-size family car.
Styling and technology are great, but most buyers shopping for a full-size sedan are also looking for space. Fortunately, this new Charger design gives front and rear occupants more headroom except when equipped with the optional ($950) sunroof that came on this car and reduces front-passenger headroom by almost two inches. Rear-seat passengers continue to have plenty of space, and they will surely appreciate the new exterior styling since it does away with the rear shoulder haunches that made the old car’s rear seat feeling a little claustrophobic. The only downfall about the rear seat is the lack of adjustable outboard head restraints. The new design added to the Charger’s passenger volume, but the cargo volume dropped a little from 16.2 cubic feet down to 15.4 cubic feet. For longer or bulkier items, the rear seats are still split 60/40 and are able to fold flat. Overall, the 2011 Charger has slightly more cabin volume and slightly less cargo volume than the 2006-2010 Charger, but the improvements in design, technology and cabin materials all help make this new car look and feel like a luxury sedan rather than a full-size family sedan.
The 2011 Dodge Charger has yet to be crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the new design made huge improvements with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests and was named a 2011 IIHS Top Safety Pick. Standard safety features for all 2011 Dodge Charger models include seven airbags, active front head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, tire pressure monitoring system, traction control and Electronic Stability Control.
2011 Dodge Charger R/T AWD Review: Performance
The big powertrain news for the 2011 Dodge Charger is found under the hood of the SE trim level with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, but those looking for even more power should definitely opt for the R/T and its 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. For 2011, this engine’s horsepower has been increased slightly to an even 370 hp (up from 368) while torque remains the same at 395 lb-ft. This engine still uses Chrysler’s Fuel Saver Technology (cylinder deactivation), but even with vastly improved aerodynamics, the 2011 Charger’s EPA fuel economy estimates of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway are slightly lower than the 2010 model (which was rated at 16 mpg city and 23 mpg highway). This is likely the result of this Charger R/T AWD packing on almost 200 pounds more than the 2010 model. All 2011 Chargers still use the Daimler-sourced five-speed automatic transmission.
After talking to Ralph Gilles (former Dodge CEO and President and current SRT division CEO and President) earlier in the year, the biggest improvement to all of the updated Dodge vehicles was the suspension tuning. In addition to the upgraded suspension, the 2011 Charger also gets a new electro-hydraulic power steering (EHPS) system which Dodge says provides 25 percent quicker steering response. Altogether, this tweaked suspension manages to offer a delicate balance between sporty handling to match the Charger’s styling and a smooth, comfortable ride to match what some buyers expect from a full-size sedan segment. One way Dodge gave 2011 Charger AWD this balance was by adding an updated all-wheel drive system that provides all-wheel traction when needed but can disengage the front axles to act as a rear-wheel drive car in normal driving. In spirited driving, the rear wheels can still break loose for some good tire chirps, but don’t expect to do any major burnouts as turning the traction control system off automatically engages the all-wheel drive system. Hardcore driving enthusiasts should wait for the 2012 Charger SRT8 to debut later this year.
2011 Dodge Charger R/T AWD Review: Summary
While some have argued how “all-new” the 2011 Dodge Charger is, Dodge replaced or heavily updated just about every aspect of this car making it look and feel totally different from the previous model which is evident after spending some time behind the wheel. From its new exterior and interior styling to its refined handling, the new Dodge Charger is even more impressive especially in this top trim level when considering the bad reputation the previous Charger had gained from its lackluster interior. Even though most automakers are placing more emphasis on improving fuel economy and introducing smaller cars, there will likely always be a market for cars like the Dodge Charger for new-car buyers looking for a spacious family sedan.
The base Dodge Charger goes up against large family sedans such as the Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Honda Accord and Hyundai Genesis, but the Charger R/T AWD used for this review has a sportier, more upscale attitude to take on the Ford Taurus SHO and surprisingly even the Audi A6. Judging by the all-new Dodge Charger as an overall package, the Chrysler Group was well on its way to a steady recovery even before the Fiat tie-up, and it should be exciting to see what this partnership has in store in the future. It’s not clear as to whether Mopar purists have accepted the idea of a four-door Charger, but Dodge has come up with an aggressive modern design that lives up to the historical Charger name.
Pros – surprising cabin design with excellent fit, finish and technology; aggressive new styling; improved ride and handling from suspension upgrades
Cons – lower fuel economy for 2011; odd trim level option packaging; non-adjustable rear head restraints
Dodge provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross