Driven: 2011 Dodge Charger Rallye

By Brandon Turkus

August 11, 2011

—Auburn Hills, Michigan
Living in the shadow of the Chrysler Tech Center, you could forgive the residents of Auburn Hills, Michigan and the surrounding suburbs for being just a bit jaded about the latest and greatest designs to come out of Chrysler’s massive HQ. You see, camouflaged prototypes and pre-production executive cars circle around the Tech Center like bees around a hive, with anyone that happens by the glass edifice usually catching a glimpse of something new. So to be entirely truthful, we didn’t really expect much enthusiasm from the locals about our 2011 Toxic Orange Charger.
Truth be told, we were dead wrong. Slack-jawed stares and whispered comments about “the new Charger” followed us all over, and it wasn’t difficult to see why. Besides being a particularly retina-scorching shade of orange, our Dodge boasted chromed-out, twenty-inch wheels and xenon headlights, two features that are sure to catch the eye of passerby. On top of that, there was the new look of the redesigned car. This car screams aggression. Whether it’s the redesigned front fascia, scalloped hood and doors, or the excellent looking LED-lit rear end, this new car cuts a meaner silhouette than the previous model did.
Inside, the redesigned dash is a welcome reprise from the plasticky setup found in the old car. The leather thrones looked and performed quite well, holding us in place during our travels. We did have a small qualm with the lower portion of the seat being a bit too flat, but it was certainly tolerable in everyday driving. We enjoyed the huge, 8.4-inch touchscreen display that dominates the cockpit, too. Where Chrysler’s old UConnect touchscreens lacked responsiveness, this new unit is really smooth and fast in operation. The graphics are crisp, clean, and highly attractive, looking more like something you’d find on a modified Android smartphone than in a car.
On the road, the new Charger leaves the old one behind in a few key areas. For a start, the ride feels more balanced between involvement and comfort. Whereas the old car had a tendency to float along, oblivious to the goings on between it and the road, this new model feels decidedly more planted and stable. We did experience a bit of suspension and tire noise, but this is more likely due to the large chrome wheels than anything else.
The Charger’s steering has also been improved, although not as drastically as the suspension. There is an added degree of weight in the steering, especially mid-corner. It is still one of the less communicative units on the market, lacking the feel and feedback of a competitive Acura TL (see below). Overall though, this new tiller is a marked improvement over the old one.
While the ride, handling, and steering have all been addressed, we can’t help but feel a little bit disappointed by the engine. Yes, this is the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that we’ve raved about (here, here, and here), but it just doesn’t feel up to the task of hauling the almost 4000-pound Dodge about. Switching off the traction control, we couldn’t even elicit a chirp from the tires, due to the lack of low-end torque—not exactly the expected response from your rear-wheel-drive American sedan. Mid-range power was the Pentastar’s highlight, as the Charger felt considerably more capable once rolling. That power quickly died out as the engine speed climbed though. At high rpms, the Dodge felt out of breath and decidedly lackluster.
We admit to being disappointed by the exhaust note of our tester. Our experiences with the Pentastar have revealed a nicely refined V-6 howl. Sadly, we never heard anything like that in the Charger. Low range started off sounding okay, but as we accelerated, the sound just got worse and worse. Mid-range was the closest we got to the exhaust note we’ve come to expect from this engine. By the time we topped 4500 rpm, the Dodge sounded coarse and unrefined, two words we’ve never used when describing the Pentastar.
The enhanced ride, handling, and steering of the new Charger were enough for us to give it another look. Despite the dynamic enhancements though, it’s let down from an enthusiast perspective by an engine and transmission that seem more concerned with economy and less about the performance that we’ve come to expect from a four-door American muscle car. (We imagine that the Hemi-powered R/T is more up our alley.) Still, if buff style and a comfortable cruiser are your goals, you could do much worse here.
VS: Ford Taurus
The Taurus loses out to the Dodge in a few key areas. In terms of price, getting a Ford with a competitive level of equipment requires you to pick up a Taurus Limited ($32,155 on its own), and then tacking on the $2800 303A package, as well as ticking the boxes for adaptive cruise control and navigation ($1195 and $1850 respectively). That runs the Ford up to $38,795 (or almost $3000 more than the Dodge). To be fair, the Ford does include a few goodies such as ventilated front seats, but these extras hardly make up for the price discrepancy.
Regardless of how competitive the cars are in the tech department, a Charger would leave the Taurus Limited in the dust due to its under-powered 3.5-liter V-6. Producing only 263 horsepower and 249 pound-feet of torque, the Ford is seriously outgunned by the Dodge’s 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Consider that the Ford weighs about the same as our Charger, and it becomes clear that the win goes to Dodge.
VS: Acura TL
Despite being considerably different vehicles—front versus rear-wheel drive, premium versus non-premium, mid-size versus full-size—the fact is that there could be some cross-shopping between these two (there just really aren’t that many full-size, non-premium vehicles on the market today to compare with the Charger).
Our tester was optioned out to the point that it would just be a bit pricier than a base Acura TL ($35,880 for our Dodge, and $35,605 for a base, front-drive TL). For that extra $275, the Charger comes with a wealth of luxury options that can only be had in more expensive TLs (or not at all), including navigation, adaptive cruise control, heated and air-conditioned cup holders, and an excellent 506-watt, nine-speaker Alpine stereo.
In terms of performance, the Charger boasts a 12-horsepower and six-pound-foot advantage over the TL’s 3.5-liter V-6. The TL does redeem itself a bit though, with a lower curb weight of 3715 pounds. At the same time, the rear-drive Dodge is better able to lay down the power it has. The Acura is hamstrung by a front-wheel-drive setup (although Acura’s excellent Super Handling All-Wheel Drive is available for an extra $3500).
Did we mention the Charger was also considerably better looking than the TL?
2011 Dodge Charger Rallye Plus
Engine: V-6, 3.6 liter, 24v
Output: 292 hp/260 lb-ft
Curb Weight: 3961 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 18/27 mpg
Base Price: $25,170
As Tested: $35,880
On Sale: Now