2011 Dodge Charger review:

2011 Dodge Charger

(Continued: Page 2 of 2)

CNET's Charger came with the premium audio option, a 506-watt Alpine system with nine speakers. I enjoyed the sound from this system, which had a fat quality that sometimes overwhelmed the detail. Vocals in particular came through with depth, but some more delicate sounds could get trampled. Bass came on strong from tracks that called for it, but the interior build quality was good enough to avoid rattling door panels.

With its Gracenote database, the Charger's stereo can organize music.

The Charger's build quality looked solid all the way around, in fact. Because of a simple, curved design, the top of the dashboard looks like a large expanse of soft plastic. A seam or shelf would have broken up the monotony.

Rear-wheel drive
Dodge's new Pentastar engine also feels like a quality bit of engineering, but it is last decade's technology. With its variable valve timing, this engine produces 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, not an overwhelming amount for this big sedan. Run to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic, power comes on moderately, far short of bone-crushing intensity. Again, Dodge makes the SRT version for that type of thrill.

This 3.6-liter V-6 is a new engine for Dodge, but the company promises a direct-injection version soon.

The Charger will get a modernized drivetrain over the coming few years. Dodge has promised a direct-injection version of the Pentastar engine, which should give it more power and possibly better fuel economy. And the new eight-speed automatic, available in 2012 models, will definitely achieve improved fuel economy.

This 2011 model is rated at 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. With a mix of freeway, city, and some hard-charging mountain driving, CNET's car rang in 19.8 mpg, although I observed the trip meter heading into the mid-20s while freeway cruising.

Lacking the power of the SRT, the Charger felt like a nice, competent driver. It was responsive to the accelerator and the suspension soaked up bumps well. Dodge uses a hydraulic-electric power-steering system, which felt a little numb but turned reasonably well. The Charger is a little too long for parking in the city, but easily maneuverable on suburban streets.

The five-speed automatic is its Achilles' heel, as Dodge stretched the gear ratios for low engine speeds in top gear. As a result, second gear gets stuck doing a lot of the real work. Bombing around mountain roads, using the transmission's manual shifting capability, second gear was good for everything from 5 to 60 mph. That left little power for exits from tight turns.

Move the shift lever from side to side to change gears manually.

In the corners, the somewhat long wheelbase of the car led to less-than-nimble handling. The suspension was stiff enough to keep the car from showing excessive roll, but it felt strangely rubbery. Not being able to modulate power properly through the turn, because of the gear ratios, made maneuvering through the turns unsatisfying.

Manually shifting this transmission requires moving it from side to side. These shifts have the typical lag of a torque converter, making it necessary to predict when the shift will actually happen. The transmission does not have a Sport mode, and when left to shift automatically it heads to its highest gears whenever possible to reduce fuel consumption.

In sum
The interior build quality and the new infotainment center were welcome surprises in the 2011 Dodge Charger. Garmin's excellent navigation software is well-integrated into the navigation system, and the stereo includes a good selection of audio sources. The voice command system is somewhat limited, and I don't like having separate buttons for the phone and vehicle voice command systems.

With variable valve timing, the engine is good, but isn't the latest in performance technology. The transmission is particularly in need of improvement, its gearing being fine for freeway cruising but little else. However, the whole power train does boast very good highway fuel economy, and the car proves a competent driver for typical needs.

Tech specs
Model 2011 Dodge Charger
Trim Rallye Plus
Power train 3.6-liter V-6, 5-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 19.8 mpg
Navigation Optional flash-memory-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Optional, with voice command and address book
Disc player MP3-compatible single-CD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, SD card, auxiliary input
Audio system Alpine 506-watt 9-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, rearview camera
Base price $25,170
Price as tested $34,955

This week on Roadshow


Discuss: 2011 Dodge Charger 4dr Sdn Rallye RWD

Conversation powered by Livefyre