For those like that are enthusiastic about automobiles and driving, we are truly in a golden age right now. From hot hatches like the VW GTI and Ford Fiesta ST although up to the current crop of supercars, there is something for everyone including the classic muscle car. But unlike the original muscle cars of the 1960s that could barely traverse a frost heave without getting all sideways, today’s breed like the 2015 Dodge Charger R/T have better performance while being absolutely liveable as daily drivers.
I feel remarkably fortunate to have come of age and matured during what is likely to be remembered as the best ever period in the history of the automobile. I got my driver’s license in the early-1980s just as the dreaded malaise period was drawing to a close. The Mustang GT was reborn and each year tires were getting better, engines were getting cleaner, more efficient and more powerful and brakes were getting more stopping torque. Still, in those days, V8 Ferraris were barely making over 200-horsepower and 12-cylinders were only in the mid-300s.
Fast forward to 2015 and Dodge is now selling a full-size four door sedan with a base V6 engine that cranks out 292 horsepower and the fun doesn’t stop until you get the insane Charger SRT Hellcat with 707-hp and 650 lb.-ft. of torque. Midway in between those is the R/T propelled by a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 with 370-hp and a more than ample 395 lb.-ft. of torque. Unlike the carbureted, pre-emission control Chargers of the late-1960s this one runs flawlessly every time without getting flooded or vapor-locked and can even stop and go around corners.
The Charger got a mid-cycle refresh last fall with an all-new front end that features a more integrated version of the traditional Dodge crosshair grille and slimmer headlamps that are now ringed in LED accent lamps. The R/T models get the upper and lower grille and central portion of the bumper finished in black to give the Charger a decidedly more sinister appearance. At 16.5-feet long with a 120.2-inch wheelbase, the Charger is a large car but the combination of the sweeping greenhouse and standard 20-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, gives it an athletic stance that looks smaller than it is until you stand right next to it.
Inside, the Charger offers ample space for five in cabin finished in high-quality materials. When the modern Charger sedan debuted on Chrysler’s LX platform a decade ago, it like other Chrysler products of the day were afflicted by Daimler’s massive cost-cutting efforts. Until the post-bankruptcy refresh all interior surfaces were poorly finished hard-plastics. Today’s Charger features soft-touch surfaces with hidden seams that provide the impression of continuity. Some discreet use of chrome trim and a textured metal trim panel around the instrument cluster adds to the premium effect.
All of the seats in the Charger R/T are finished in leather with the front thrones getting both heating and cooling while the rears get thermal augmentation only. The advantage of that long wheelbase is more than ample legroom for even tall rear passengers. In addition to heaters and climate control vents, rear passengers also get access to a pair of USB ports at the rear of the center console which should help keep the kids devices energized when taking a road trip in the Charger.
The R/T gets a standard Chrysler UConnect system with an 8.4-inch central touch screen display. Shortcuts to the various sections of the system such as audio, navigation, climate control and settings sit in a row across the bottom of the screen and in general the system is fairly responsive to inputs. The voice controls also do an adequate job of recognizing commands although as with many systems it can be a bit verbose when it comes to reminding you what commands are currently available. With the UConnect app running on your smartphone, you can control Aha Radio, iHeartRadio, Pandora and Slacker through the touchscreen.
The one substantive complaint I have about UConnect in the Charger and other Chrysler products is the slow bootup time for the Bluetooth system. When you start the car, it seems to take a couple of minutes before the hands-free control is ready to reconnect to a paired phone. Since UConnect only has support for the four aforementioned apps, if I want to use Google Play Music, Spotify, PocketCasts or some other audio app without touching the phone while driving, I either have to wait for the bluetooth to start, or start the audio on the phone and then once it connects while driving it will start streaming. Once streaming finally starts, on-screen and steering wheel controls are available to play/pause, rewind or advance. It’s a minor annoyance but despite other problems that Ford has with MyFord Touch, previously paired phones reconnect almost immediately after starting the car.
Speaking of starting the car, the R/T’s 5.7-liter has the kind of feel you only get from a big, old V8. Despite being somewhat more muted than the exhaust tone in the SRT models, there is a pleasant growl to remind you what sort of powerplant is under the hood, just in case the acceleration doesn’t. For 2015, Chargers get 8-speed automatic transmissions across the board, and these are very nice gearboxes. The paddle shifters included on the R/T models and above provide quick manual control of gear ratio selection and the sport mode button on the center console invokes even quicker more aggressive shifts that Chrysler claims are 37 percent faster. The sport mode also adjusts the steering feel and enhances the throttle response.
As much as I like the powertrain, the most impressive thing about driving this Charger is the ride and handling dynamics. Although the LX platform has been heavily updated a couple of times since it debuted more than a decade ago, it has its roots in late-1990s Mercedes-Benz E-class hardware and that’s not a bad thing at all. The structure of the Charger felt rock solid which is always a boon to the chassis development engineers. They’ve been able to tune the suspension to allow the wheels to follow the contour of even heavily broken pavement while keeping body motion and roll to a minimum. Despite rolling on 20-inch wheels and having a 4,264-pound curb weight, this Charger has the moves of a much smaller car. This is what four decades of automotive engineer progress will get you.
On the topic of progress, the test car was equipped with a full suite of advanced driver assist systems including radar-based adaptive cruise control and blindspot warning with cross-traffic alert. The adaptive cruise control is a full-speed system capable of bringing the car to a complete stop and then resuming with a tap of a button on the steering wheel. The radar sensor centrally mounted in the lower grille tracks the distance to the vehicle ahead while the engine and brakes are used to smoothly slow the car to maintain a safe distance.
Also included was an automatic lane departure warning and lane keep assist system. At speeds above 40 mph, a camera mounted in front of the mirror watches for lane markings. If the car starts to drift out of the lane without an active turn signal, the icon in the instrument cluster turns from green to yellow. However, like many of these systems that are the building blocks for future autonomous vehicles, this one has its limitations. First, it can only help when there are lane markings to see.
If the markings are faded or non-existent as they often are on rural roads, the system is useless. The same holds true on snow-covered roads. Even when the lane markings are clearly visible, the systems struggles at night. Driving in the curb lane of a four-lane road, the warning lamp stayed white as camera failed to recognize the curb. Moving a lane to the left with two painted lane markers and it returned to green. When the lane departure system was working, if I didn’t respond to the alerts, the electric power steering would automatically nudge the car back toward the center of the lane if the car was allowed to drift.
While the Challenger shares its platform and mechanical bits with the Charger, I personally find the four-door to be a more handsome and contemporary looking car. If I was in the market for modern car that embodied the muscle car spirit without the compromises of a nearly 50-year-old car and I didn’t necessarily need to step all the way up to an SRT or a Hellcat, the Charger R/T is an excellent middle-ground. From a starting price of $34,000 there’s a lot of value here and even the as-tested price of $39,875 is not too crazy for what you are getting. This is the car that the Taurus SHO would want to be if it weren’t built on a warmed-over front-drive Volvo platform and frankly the Charger is a far better car.