2006 Dodge Charger R/T

Minimalist Masterpiece of Adrenal Intent

By Robert Farago

When The Dodge Boys revealed that the new Charger would be a four-door, the muscle car cognoscenti threw a major league hissy fit.  Sacrilege!  Abomination!  These strange, clannish car nuts believe that any automobile wearing the Charger nameplate should be as loud, impractical, ugly, thirsty and foul-handing as the original.  To quote the B52’s, WELL IT ISN’T!  That said, one look at the new Charger and you know Dodge has aimed its new wave muscle machine at the beer-swollen bellies of NASCAR nation. 

Again, the new Dodge Charger is in no way execrable.  It is, in fact, a minimalist masterpiece of adrenal intent.  Like the new Ford Mustang, the sleek body work conjures-up an early ‘60’s bad boy automotive aesthetic with just a few broad brush strokes.  Both cars capture a romantic style that exists more in our collective imaginations than on tarmac– although the Dodge Charger emerges from the nostalgia blender blander.  Almost all of the Charger’s visual character comes from its fastback flanks.  Which are, as they say in these parts, wicked pissa.

OK, time to review the Charger’s six flavas: rental, rental-with-tunes, steroidal, drag queen and demented.  The Charger SE and SXT are dull-but-worthy six-cylinder schleppers that inspire talk of spaciousness, fuel economy and interest rates.  The R/T and R/T Road and Track are stealth warriors that specialize in “Holy Shit” straight line acceleration.  The Daytona R/T does the same thing– wearing killer heels and bling accessories.  And the Charger SRT-8 is the mean, butch bastard who’ll break your heart and a few bones besides.

Your intrepid correspondent tested the $32k Charger R/T: the one with the sensible shoes and the nutso Hemi engine.  Inside any of these cars, it’s all much of a muchness.  While the Charger’s interior is spacious and comfortable, there’s none of the spizzarkle you’d expect from a car that asks you to do the time warp (again).  Truth be told, the Charger’s cabin is the automotive equivalent of “Get Down Tonight” by K. C. & The Sunshine Band: squeaky clean and unrelentingly soulless.  The fact that the steering wheel looks like a decapitated turtle doesn’t help. 

To really enjoy the R/T, you have to floor its 340hp V8 at every opportunity; otherwise, you run the risk of being chased down and interrogated by strangers who’ve seen every episode of The Dukes of Hazard– and not to watch the guys either.  This pedal-to-the-metal action is especially fun in parking lots.  Kick it in the sides and the Charger’s monstrous V8 bellows like a wounded grizzly.  Pedestrians scatter like a startled pigeons in Trafalgar Square.  As long as you take your foot off the gas before the five-speed autobox connects the tires to the engine, the animal metaphors stop and the car creeps along like the big ass over-engined American sedan that it is.

I’m not terribly sure if it’s at all that important, but the Charger R/T  handles pretty well.  If you’re feeling especially frisky, we recommend switching off the traction control and steering with your right foot.  This involves throwing the Charger’s wheel over to one side and smacking the carpet with the go-pedal.  The rear tires light up, the Charger’s back end slides sideways, the car literally drifts around the bend and a redneck melody wells-up from somewhere deep inside you: “Yeeeeeeeehaaaaaaw!”

OK, boys and girls, question time.  How macho are you?  While I appreciate sexual dissonance as much as the next man, the Charger is not for sissies.  In fact, the Dodge Charger’s image is distinctly Neanderthal.  If you’re a guy or gal who enjoys a good old belch, the Charger supplies the best of both worlds: beer-can-into-your-forehead stupidity and daily utility.  In that sounds good to you, don’t buy anything less than the R/T, and pony-up for the SRT8 if you can.

If, however, you think a funny car is a car that has a front grill that looks like it’s smiling, if you think clouds of tire smoke indicate that your engine’s on fire, you are definitely not going to get along with the Charger R/T and its aggressive siblings.  You have been warned.

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