The Dodge Charger came to life during the mid-1960s as a medium-sized sports coupe based on the mild-mannered Coronet. Now it’s a full-sized, 4-door sedan with multiple personalities – ranging from the medium-priced rear-drive SE with a V-6 engine, to the terrifyingly fast Hellcat packing 707 horsepower. It comes down to picking the right Charger for the task at hand.
We certainly brought home a winner by that measure, drawing a Granite Crystal Metallic Charger SXT with all-wheel drive. Sticker-priced at $37,280, it was more than up to the task of navigating snowy, sometimes icy Connecticut roads during an uncommonly cold February.
The Charger, which competes with the Chevrolet Impala, Ford Taurus, Toyota Avalon and Hyundai Azera, can be had with rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. Engine choices range from a 3.6-liter, 292-horsepower V-6 through several V-8s, all the way up to the SRT Hellcat with a 6.2-liter supercharged V-8. The all-wheel-drive model, well suited for winter driving in New England, is available only with the V-6. Prices range from about $28,000 for the rear-drive, V-6-powered SE to $62,295 for the Hellcat.
In terms of personality, the Charger most closely resembles the Impala: Both cars strive to strike a balance between full-sized luxury and sporty performance. The Charger rides comfortably but does not attempt to suppress every imperfection in the road. It corners like a smaller, sportier car.
As for the V-6, it’s reassuringly strong but lacks the punch of the Hemi V-8s, and is only a little more fuel-efficient. We got 21 to 22 mpg in mostly highway driving, burning the dregs of that lousy winter-blend gasoline; the car is supposed to get 18 mpg city, 27 highway. The smallest V-8 – 5.7-liter, 370 horsepower – is rated at 16/25, while the most fuel-efficient Charger model can deliver 31 mpg on the highway.
The interior is comfortable and up-to-date. Our test car had Nappa leather sport seats with metallic accents, part of a $2,000 AWD Plus Group package that also included seat heaters all around, among other luxury, safety and style features.
Knee room in the back seat was tight, depending on front-seat placement – a surprising shortcoming, given the car’s considerable length (about 16.5 feet, a little longer than the spacious Avalon). Blame it on the car’s aggressive styling, including its long hood; the Charger also has a slightly larger trunk than the Avalon.
We liked everything about the Charger’s telematics, called Uconnect. The audio, Bluetooth and navigation systems were easy to operate and responded immediately to commands. (By contrast, touch-screen controls on General Motors vehicles we’ve driven lately sometimes required an extra touch or two.)
Past Chargers have been designated Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The current model received the top “Good” rating in every category but had not yet been put through all of the tests. The Charger’s weak spot has been reliability; Consumer Reports magazine reader surveys show it’s been less reliable than average.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6, 292 horsepower, 260 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic
Weight: 3,966 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 19×7.5-in. polished aluminum with graphite pockets
Tires: P2352/55R19 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 16.5 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons
Fuel economy: 18 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline