First Look: 2011 Dodge Charger

First Look

When an automaker redesigns a car, they begin by obviously determining what worked and what didn't with the outgoing model. In the case of the previous Dodge Charger, there were many weaknesses and even fewer strengths. Besides from the optional 5.7 and 6.1-liter V8 Hemi, the overall packaging was never quite right. It looked decent enough, but still failed to strike a chord amongst the Charger and Hemi faithful. Sure, it was great bang for the buck and cheap speed is always good, but still, it was never worthy of the name Charger.

Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles has admitted the previous Charger was never designed with that name in mind. It was simply the Intrepid replacement and only at the last minute did some marketing guru smart ass slap the Charger name on. For 2011, these vices have been (mostly) transformed into what the Charger should have been all along. Along with the Chrysler 300 corporate sibling, the Dodge Charger has received much more than a refresh but is just shy of a complete, ground-up redesign for 2011. It still rides on the previous generation's rear-wheel drive platform, which is a good thing.

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From the immediate first glance it's undeniably a Charger, but with improved styling. Dodge describes it as having a Coke bottle shape. Sure, ok, but to me it's simply a more stylized design with a much needed shot of adrenaline. The side swoop starting from the C-pillars is a nice touch, even if it doesn't look 100 percent organic. What I like most, however, are the front and rear ends. The front snout, as I shall call it, looks mean and civilized at the same time as it enhances the car's presence.

It's similar to the old design with the cross bars theme still intact, but this time around, it makes a much stronger "your Ford Taurus sucks" statement. The rear is equally impressive as it too evokes the spiritual essence of the 1968-70 Charger. According to Dodge, there are exactly 164 LEDs outlining the rear light setup, making the Charger unmistakable to recognize at night. Combined with all-new body panels and an extended fastback roofline that also improves rear visibility, the Charger now pays the proper exterior design homage to its namesake, as opposed to the disfigured cheese box it once was.

As with the entire Dodge and Chrysler 2011 lineup, the Charger's interior has also received a thorough make over. This couldn't have happened sooner. Sparing anymore comparisons to Chinese level quality children's toys, the cheap plastic that's ranked barely a notch above cardboard is gone and replaced with excellent soft-touch materials. The seamless one-piece design is quite appealing, especially from the driver's position. Panels actually fit together now with very tight gaps that are on par with Toyota level quality. Even the aluminum that surrounds the vents and navigation screen is real.

The leather for the seats and steering is also top-notch. Smack dab in the center of the dash you'll see the optional 8.4-inch (a 4.3-inch is standard) Garman LCD infotainment/nav screen with graphics that are clear and easy to use for both front seat passengers. Rear seat space remains generous but headroom is sacrificed a bit due to the fastback design. Coming standard with Chrysler's all-new Pentastar 3.6-liter V6, the base SE has 292 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is also improved over the old model and the 5.7-liter Hemi remains the optional engine.

The Charger's biggest pitfall is its outdated five-speed automatic transmission. There's not even a six-speed manual option, which could easily be taken from the Challenger. An eight-speed dual-clutch is supposedly on the way for 2012. With a base price starting at $25,170 for the SE, the top-of-the line R/T AWD goes for just $32,320 - a bargain reminiscent of the dearly department Pontiac G8. Once the transmission is properly replaced, the new Dodge Charger will finally live up to its full potential.