Popularized by NASCAR dominance and later a hokey TV show, the Dodge Charger is one of America's most revered performance nameplates. Originally an icon of the muscle car era, the Charger has recently been reborn as an affordable performance car -- and it's one of the better ones available in this expanding market niche.
2008 Dodge Charger Sedan
The Dodge Charger debuted in the mid 1960s as a response to America's growing interest in average cars with above-average performance. This two-door coupe boasted aggressive fastback styling and big V8 power (including Chrysler's famed 426 Hemi). As with similar vehicles of this time period, however, the Charger's glory quickly faded after 1970 due to rising insurance and gas prices, higher emissions standards and changing consumer tastes.
The current model may not be the two-door muscle car you remember from the '60s (to the chagrin of traditionalists, it's a sedan), but it does a fine job of being a modern interpretation. As a bonus, the latest Charger has a usable interior and plenty of standard equipment. Think of it as a muscle car the whole family can enjoy.
The current Dodge Charger debuted for the 2006 model year and is based on the same Mercedes-derived platform used for the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum. As such, the Charger has four doors and is a bit larger than the average midsize sedan. Its front-end styling is much more aggressive than that of its siblings, and the rear roof line slopes downward in a coupe-like fashion.
There are three trim levels: base SE, the performance-themed R/T and the powerhouse SRT-8. Even the SE is reasonably well equipped in terms of features and has a 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 under the hood. The R/T comes with a 5.7-liter "Hemi" V8 good for 340 hp, and there's an available Daytona R/T package that adds additional performance hardware and a few cosmetic extras. A five-speed automatic transmission sending power to the rear wheels is standard on the SE and R/T.
The Charger SRT-8 is a product of Chrysler's special SRT (Street and Racing Technology) performance division. It's the fastest of the Charger models and comes with a 6.1-liter Hemi V8 capable of 425 hp. Backing up the powerful V8 are other SRT features like a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes and a modified front fascia. This model comes with a specially calibrated five-speed automatic transmission.
Because of its bulk, the Charger isn't as nimble as some other similarly priced performance coupes or sports cars. But it has earned favorable commentary in reviews for its secure handling, powerful V8 engines, and roomy and comfortable interior. For a consumer interested in a reborn muscle car, the Dodge Charger is an excellent choice.
The Dodge Charger's heritage runs deep. First introduced as a 1966 model, this Coronet-based coupe had a unique look, with a sweeping fastback and concealed headlights. But it's the second generation of the Charger that was most popular. This was the one that served as the basis for the winged and race-wining Charger Daytona of 1969 and, later, the bright orange "General Lee" from the 1980s television show, The Dukes of Hazzard.
Less popular were three successive generations of Chargers. Third- and fourth-generation models from the 1970s were emasculated by new emissions regulations. A fifth generation, made available from 1982-'87, was a variation of the front-drive Dodge Omni 024 economy hatchback. Near the end of its production, there were sporty, turbocharged versions modified by Carroll Shelby that culminated in the Shelby Charger GLH-S.