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Thursday, March 22, 2018

2018 Dodge Charger Review

2018 Dodge Charger Review
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The 2018 Dodge Charger has aged remarkably well–and if it’s four-door muscle you need, few sedans deliver its performance thrill.

The 2018 Dodge Charger is very old school—and still cuts class. Other four-door, full-size sedans have curved toward mass-market appeal, but the Charger rolls up a pack in its 2005 shirtsleeves and makes for the door.

Think about it: There have been three generations of the Toyota Camry in the time the Charger’s been around, though a heavy refresh happened in 2015, and, as far as we can tell, there’s still no Camry Hellcat.



The 2018 Charger comes in so many trims and models, we think of them in groups: V-6 and V-8. You can have a Charger SXT with the former, or R/Ts and Hellcats with the latter, and spend anywhere from the mid-$20,000s to almost $70,000.

The Charger’s Coke-bottle, wasp-waisted look continues to wear well. Is it even possible to see its shape as anything but American? The Malden-blunt nose and nubile roofline and LED-ringed rear end are a carnival of carnal knowledge. If only the basic Charger interiors could keep up with that, um, advanced pace. They’re Goth wannabes in basic, rubbery black. Spend a lot on pricey models and the Charger changes out its interior with warmer leather and metallic trim, with a few plasticky bits left unaltered.

V-6 Chargers have classic big-car compliance without keeling over on their 18-inch heels. The 292-hp V-6 underhood couples with a sweet 8-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive can replace the Charger’s off-the-rack rear-drive setup. If the idea of spending eternity with too few cylinders troubles you—it worries us—the palette of V-8 Chargers is colorful and even sort of affordable. We love the Charger R/T’s blend of muscular 370-hp output and its sub-6-second acceleration times, but we wouldn’t hate a 485-hp Scat Pack or 392, either. We draw the everyday line before things get out of hand with the Charger SRT Hellcat: sure, it’s fun to show off in parking lots and to let its throbby 707-hp supercharged V-8 out of the cage every so often. All that power overwhelms the Charger’s otherwise amenable behavior, and it never really tames the twitchy, overzealous responses required to keep that power in line.

Four adults can find all the room they need in the Charger, provided the rear-seat people aren’t too tall. The trunk’s large, too. Safety scores aren’t as impressive, with a “Marginal” score taking the shine off the Charger’s newly standard rearview camera and blind-spot monitors.

All Chargers have power features, Bluetooth, USB ports, and touchscreen infotainment with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. V-8 cars get driver-selectable modes, adaptive dampers, navigation, nappa leather, and potentially, a stiff bill for $70,000.

Styling
Throwback styling has aged remarkably well on the 2018 Dodge Charger.

With a hippy body right out of the ‘60s—and without the whiff of patchouli—the 2018 Dodge Charger dons a shape that could only come from an American fever dream. It’s all Coke bottle and big wheels and unsubtle sensuality, and that’s why we love it still.

We think it’s still worth a 7 for styling, though its teenage dream makes no promises on maturity.

Last touched up in the 2015 model year, the Charger has a more svelte look than it did 14 model years ago, when it was new for 2005. The tough front end gives it a smaller look, or maybe that’s just the competitive swollen landscape where Accords and Passats qualify as large cars now. In profile, the Charger has swollen fenders, a high beltline, a wasp-waisted gather in the middle, and thick and pronounced roof pillars. From the rear a ring of LED taillights cap a smoother, less bulbous view. Different Charger models get their own detailing, with extreme scoops at the SRT level. We like the balance struck by the R/T’s relatively subtle detailing, if any muscle car could be remotely considered subtle.

Among the few changes for 2018 come on the SRT Hellcat: it gets new badges, new steel wheels, optional orange brake calipers, and “Demonic Red” Laguna seating.

In the cabin, the Charger offers a harmonious look that fits with the latest FCA worldview. The surfaces are subtly carved, the soft-touch materials are dark and basic but framed in thin matte metallic trim. A 7.0-inch display screen tucks into the instrument cluster, while all but base cars have a big 8.4-inch touchscreen integrated into the dash. 

Inside, as ever, you pay for this model's rather high window line with limited outward visibility compared to some other big sedans. The upright packaging yields plenty of head room all around, and wide, aggressively bolstered front seats that are decidedly race-inspired.

Performance
Even shy of the unmatched Hellcat, the 2018 Dodge Charger’s performance keeps it on our most-wanted list.

The 2018 Charger lineup divides itself at the cylinder count. V-6 cars have reasonable acceleration and handling, while the big-output V-8s have searing take-off and tons of grip.

We give the Dodge Charger points above average for its engines, its transmission, and overall performance, which brings it to 8 here. 

At the base V-6 level, Dodge delivers 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque from the Charger’s 3.6-liter V-6. With an add-on Rallye Group and its software and exhaust tweaks, and the numbers rise to 300 hp and 264 lb-ft. The V-6 isn’t uninteresting, it’s just not why most of us look at a Charger versus a Maxima or an Impala. It rifles through its eight forward gears with smart pull off the line, a bit of resonance in its mid-range, and competent and unexciting delivery. Its automatic is superb in shift action and logic, with only a futzy gear lever to cloud the good shift impressions.

Even in base SXT trim, the Charger has tidy handling, with accurate steering and remarkable body control given its 4,000-pound curb weight. There’s ample body lean and lots of compliance in the ride, but the Charger’s big-car handling doesn’t feel a bit retro, despite its wrapper.

Have a V-8
But of course, we’re 100 percent here for the V-8s in the Charger, whether they’re simply hot, hotter, or Carolina Reaper hot.

The Charger R/T, with its 370-hp 5.7-liter V-8 and 395 lb-ft, might have the best power-to-poser ratio of the Charger lineup. It conserves fuel with cylinder deactivation, dumps a ton of rumbly V-8 exhaust sounds into the cabin via its active exhaust system, and cracks off sub-6-second acceleration times without punishing drivers with a stiff-kneed ride.

Move into the R/T Scat Pack and SRT 392, and the V-8 gets bored out to 6.4 liters and output throbs at 485 hp. For a bit more than $40,000 these Chargers drop 0-60 mph runs in about 4.5 seconds, with stout tires that thwock against big bumps.

The top dog in the Charger family is the SRT Hellcat. With the 707-hp supercharged V-8 also found in the Challenger Hellcat, this version scorches the earth with 3.7-second 0-60 mph runs and a top speed of 204 mph.

Both SRT Chargers get big Brembo six-piston front brakes, adaptive dampers, and a drive-mode system that lets drivers choose transmission behavior, throttle uptake, steering feel, and damper settings. The wide latitude gives the Hellcat some manners on the road, as does a black key that limits output to a valet-friendly 500 hp. But there’s nothing remotely civilized about the Hellcat’s acceleration or the way that tire-melting output moves its rear end around even under light throttle application. It’s a nervous canyon chase car, with a stiff and trembly ride no matter how the modes are selected. Despite its 4,500-pound curb weight, it dances over the road surface when it’s anything but plate-glass smooth. It’s two handfuls to drive quickly, and can be more tiring than thrilling to drive on a regular basis. 

Comfort & Quality
Some low-buck trim and low-roofline head room issues surface in the aging Charger sedan.

Curved of dash and spartan in basic trims, the Dodge Charger wears lots of soothing leather and practically takes a bath in V-8 engine noise at its most pricey. The gulf between is so vast we wish Evel Knievel were still around to contemplate the jump.

As a lineup, biased toward the sensible sedans, we give the Charger a 7 for comfort and utility thanks to good front-seat space and good trunk space. 

With the Charger, Dodge has a mid-size sedan that’s on the small side, compared with leviathan Accords and Impalas. It’s upright and bluntly styled, which preserves head room in the front and in the back seats. Base cars have wide and well-bolstered chairs, while V-8 cars get much thicker cushions and bolsters for a snug, supportive fit.

In back the Charger hasn’t kept pace with the mission creep of other mid-size sedans. Knee room isn’t all that plentiful, and head room can seem skimpy to the tall perps sentenced to a seat in back. Watch your head as you tuck in back, please.

With 16.5 cubic feet, the trunk is large enough to match some of the bigger bins in the class.

Base Chargers can have unremittingly plain interiors—they’re styled well but are awash in rubbery-touch black plastic. Spend thousands more and the Charger’s supple leather hides and metallic trim give it the glow of a pricey sport sedan, which it actually is. It still wears some trim that’s not suitable for a car at that price point, but keep your eyes at the nappa leather line and all seems well-executed.

All Chargers are commendably quiet, although the V-8 makes its presence known via a throaty exhaust rumble that most Charger buyers will probably find endearing.

Safety
The Dodge Charger’s crash-test scores have fallen behind the four-door mean.

Crash-test scores haven’t been the Dodge Charger’s best friend, but it does offer lots of standard safety gear.

In the most recent crash tests, the NHTSA gave the Charger a five-star rating for overall safety, with four-star down-ballot scores in front crash protection. The IIHS calls it “Good” in most tests, but the tough small-overlap front-impact test drops the Charger to “Marginal” and keeps it from any Top Safety Pick award.

Dodge made the rearview camera standard for 2018, though, and also includes blind-spot monitors and rear parking sensors. On some models it fits the Charger with a bundle that adds lane-departure warnings, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking. 

Drivers pay for that hot-rod-like high beltline. Outward vision is a little more limited than in other sedans.

Features
You can spend insane money on the 2018 Dodge Charger’s insane Hellcat, but the best value lies at the R/T trim.

For its 14th model year on sale, Dodge has rejiggered the trim levels for its Charger sedan family, while it hasn’t changed all that much.

It now offers the Charger SXT and Plus with rear-wheel drive; the GT and GT Plus with all-wheel drive; the R/T and Scat Pack, the Daytona and 392, and the SRT 392 and SRT Hellcat, spanning a price canyon of about $40,000.

As a lineup, with some bias toward the affordable versions, we give the Charger an 8 for features.
Base 2018 Charger sedans are now dubbed SXT versus last year’s SE badge. They come with power features, a power driver seat, a USB port and Bluetooth, cloth seats, 18-inch wheels, a rearview camera and rear parking sensors, and a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The SXT Plus adds leather seats, heated and ventilated front seats, 20-inch wheels, and blind-spot monitors.

Charger GT and GT Plus sedans mirror those packages.

On the options sheet here are a lane-departure warning system, forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. 

Skip right to the Charger R/T and Scat Pack if you want copious V-8 performance and features without spending out of your mind. The R/T has the marvelous FCA V-8, sport suspension and performance tires, while the Scat Pack gets the SRT-massaged 6.4-liter V-8, Bilstein dampers, and Brembo four-piston brakes. 

The SRT 392 adds heated rear seats covered in nicer leather, a power passenger front seat, Brembo six-piston ultra-high performance brakes, navigation, a larger 8.4-inch touchscreen, and real-time traffic data. A 552-watt Beats audio system is available.

The Charger SRT Hellcat operates in its own feature-laden ether, with its multiple drive modes, its valet fob that cuts power from 707 to 500 horsepower, to its 900-watt, 18-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system. It also has better seats, a T-shifter, a flat-bottom steering wheel, ventilated and heated front seats, and heated rear seats, as well as a three-mode adaptive damper setup and an active exhaust system shared with the SRT 392. By then, you’re into it for nearly $70,000. What’s another mortgage payment, anyway?

Fuel Economy
For the most efficient Dodge Charger, choose the V-6, and don’t even think about the Hellcat.

Gas mileage goes hand in hand with performance in the 2018 Charger lineup.

We give it a 6 for overall fuel economy, weighted toward the more popular V-6 models.

On the V-6 sedan, the most recent EPA ratings peg gas mileage at 19 mpg city, 30 highway, 23 combined. That’s when equipped with rear-wheel drive. Choose all-wheel drive and the V-6 sedans see their ratings fall to 18/27/21 mpg.

On their required premium unleaded fuel, V-8-powered Chargers start at 16/25/19 mpg for R/T editions. Those numbers fall to 13/22/16 mpg for the SRT Hellcat. Low, yes, but not intolerable for a car with 707 hp.

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