America used to be the land of big rear-wheel drive sedans, coupes and wagons with V8 power. That isn't the case anymore. But it's part of what makes the current Dodge Charger so unique; it's one of the last large, unapologetically old school V8 sedans left on the market.
I mean, have you noticed that in 2013, there really aren't that many American cars with V8 engines anymore? The V8 didn't become irrelevant, it just graduated into an upmarket, performance-oriented role for people willing to take the fuel economy hit to get big power on cars like the Camaro SS, the Mustang GT, the Cadillac CTS-V, and the Corvette. Of course, the V8 continues to soldier on in trucks and large SUVs, but they've become fairly rare in cars.
So how does a huge sedan with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 named after a famous muscle car stay relevant in this world of shrinking cars and shrinking engines? By growing up while still playing to its strengths, that's how.
(Full disclosure: Chrysler was kind enough to lend me a 2013 Dodge Charger R/T Daytona for the second leg of my trip through Texas. I swear I did not use it to impersonate any police officers, though I was tempted to.)
It turns out that the Charger is now kind of like that guy who was a raucous, hard-drinkin', bar-fightin' sumbitch in his high school years who now has a family, a good job in the tech industry, and a house in the suburbs. (We'll ignore his experimental phase in college.) Oh, he can still start shit the way he used to, just not as much, and in a far more civilized way.
Maybe even too civilized. We'll get back to that in a bit.
For week two of my Texas trip I had in my possession a 2013 Dodge Charger R/T Daytona, an ostentatious, bright blue, NASCAR-inspired, limited edition take on their big sedan. I took it on a 6-hour trip from San Antonio to Marfa — a tiny town in the high desert of West Texas filled with delicious restaurants, art galleries and assorted oddities like Prada Marfa, the Marfa Lights and that Playboy statue everyone hates — and then back to Austin, which took another 6.5 hours.
I've done this drive many times, typically with my fiancee in her CVT-equipped Nissan Sentra, and that is exactly as fun as it sounds. The trek into the Texas desert is a superbly beautiful one filled with high speed limits and miles and miles of straightaways, so I had always wanted to do it in a comfortable car with a ton of power. I finally got that chance with the Charger.
To answer your first question, no, this is not an SRT8. The Daytona is a special package on the R/T edition Charger, which meant its 5.7-liter (or 345 cubic inches; we're talking American muscle here, screw the metric system!) Hemi came with 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque. It will fly across the desert just fine, thank you very much.
The Charger proved to be an outstanding companion for this long road trip. There's just something extremely appealing about driving a big, powerful car across long distances.
And this is indeed a big car. The Hemi-equipped Charger weighs in at 4,253 pounds and is 16.5 feet long. Between is imposing size, its huge engine and the fact that it's a police car, it's really hard not to feel like a total badass when you cruise around in it.
However, despite its generous power figures, garish blue paint and racing-inspired name, the Charger Daytona is not the stonking, face-melting, tire-annihilating exercise in American muscle car excess that I thought it would be. Instead, it was quite a bit tamer and even buttoned down than I expected, but it still packed a ton of power and was a lot of fun to cruise in.
What it doesn't pack is fuel efficiency. Even with cylinder deactivation and almost exclusively highway driving, I only averaged about 18 mpg on my trip out to Marfa, and the Charger's 19-gallon tank cost about $80 to fill up on Texas' super cheap gas. With liberal use of the cruise control, I managed 20.5 on the return trip.
Oh well. It's not like anyone cross-shops the Charger with the Prius.
Exterior - 8/10
I love the way the Charger looks. It's bold, it's brash, it's masculine, it's intimidating, and it's American as all hell. The original LX-platform Charger looked awesome when it debuted way back in 2005, and its 2010 update made it look even better. Highlights for me include its aggressive-looking grille, huge headlamps, wide, low shape and coupe-like lines. Kudos to Dodge for not calling it a "coupe," unlike certain manufacturers from Europe who shall remain nameless.
The Daytona edition is about as subtle as the firebombing of Dresden. It comes in a gorgeous blue color with a matte black roof, spoiler, and racing stripes on the hood, as well as the words "Daytona" emblazoned on each side. The huge, 20-inch five spoke wheels look awesome too. The whole package really stands out.
Interior - 7/10
SThe first thing you notice about the Charger's interior is its sheer size relative to other sedans. It's huge in there. I have driven SUVs with less interior room, and I have lived in apartments that felt smaller than the Charger's trunk. Rear head room is a bit tight thanks to the shape of its roof, but the rest of the car is spacious and comfortable.
Post-bailout Chrysler has gone through a lot of hoops to improve the interiors of their cars, and it shows here. Besides the swath of hard plastic on the dash, the Charger's interior is full of solid-feeling, quality materials. Opting for the Daytona package gets you some great seats with nice bolsters, leather lining, blue stitching and yet more "Daytona" logos. The beefy steering wheel is a pleasure to use as well.
Acceleration - 7/10
The Charger may be big, but its Hemi sure knows how to hustle. (That's kind of the point, isn't it?) The 370 horses and 395 pound-feet of torque get the car from zero to 60 mph in a little over five seconds. Texas-legal highway speeds of 80 mph come almost instantly after, and the torquey engine lets you blow past just about anyone with incredible ease. You get the sense that this car can really go as fast as you want it to go.
It's got power, but the way it displayed that power kind of surprised me. The Charger R/T never accelerates in a maniacal, tire-smoking fashion like you might expect. Instead, acceleration builds steadily and competently until you're cruising where you want to be. There's very little drama involved here, which seemed unusual given the car's heritage, color, and race-inspired name. It accelerates more like a powerful luxury sedan than a muscle car.
Braking - 6/10
SThe Charger's brakes do just fine, thank you very much. They have a lot of weight to stop and they do it with confidence, although they don't really stand out all that much. They never felt explicitly like performance car brakes that could stop on a dime, but they never slouched either. No complaints in this department.
Ride - 7/10
The Charger's ride quality made me glad I didn't do this trip in the Fiat 500 Abarth. The big sedan manages to be comfortable without being too soft and luxury car-cushy. You're not completely isolated from every bump in the road, but it never abuses you, either.
Handling - 6/10
Solid. That's the best way I can describe the Charger's handling. By sheer virtue of its size, the car isn't a corner carver, and it has a fair amount of body roll, but it never felt loose or unpredictable. It takes quick turns with aplomb, although getting the rear end out wasn't as easy as I would have thought.
Kudos here goes to the Charger's steering rack. It has a nice weight to it, and it transmits a great amount of road feel to the driver. It was a nice antidote to the too light, too numb steering systems that plague new cars, and it works well here.
Gearbox - 5/10
Sadly, I don't have many nice things to say about the automatic transmission, the only gearbox available on the R/T. It gets a 5 because that's how many gears it has, and I feel like I'm being generous here. A better gearbox would probably do a lot for this car's poor fuel economy.
Like a few other components on the LX platform, this is a Mercedes part, but one that dates back to the 1990s and feels it. The Hemi cars don't yet have Chrysler's newer eight-speed auto so we're stuck with this pile. (That transmission is coming soon, thankfully.) Neither upshifts nor downshifts happen with any sense of urgency, and it often kicks violently when speed is requested.
Requesting gear changes in the manual mode still means wiggling the stick left to go down a gear and right to go up a gear. Not up and down, but left and right. Chrysler's cars have used this layout for years, but I don't think it makes much sense.
Audio - 6/10
Aside from the gearbox, this was my biggest disappointment with the Charger. The Hemi engine has a fantastic sound. The problem is that Chrysler doesn't seem to want to let you hear it.
The car is just too damn quiet. At low speeds and during highway cruising, it's close to hybrid levels of silent. Get on the gas a bit and you start to hear the Hemi's deep baritone rumble, but just faintly. Only when you stand on the gas pedal do you finally hear the full symphony, and even then it's too muted. There is no exhaust note worth noting.
Look at this car, Jalops. Look at its color and its name and the size of its engine. Wouldn't you want a little more noise, a little more rumble, a little more thunder? Where is the sound of that muscle? It's too civilized in this department.
I bumped it up to a 6 because of the Beats By Dre audio system my car came equipped with, which was excellent. It gave a deep, full sound with a ton of bass and was always a pleasure to listen to. I'd trade it all for more Hemi noise, though.
Toys - 8/10
SMy Daytona was hardly some bare-bones muscle car. It came fully loaded with a huge assortment of toys, including a sunroof, remote keyless start, heated and cooled front seats, heated and cooled cupholders, an excellent backup camera with night vision, blind spot detection, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and satellite radio. It has just about everything you could potentially want on a car, and then some.
I find Chrysler's UConnect to be one of the better infotainment systems on the market. It's fast, responsive, and intuitive, with big touch screen icons that are easy to locate and operate. It also has redundant buttons for some features, and more would be nice as well, but overall, it works fantastically.
Value - 7/10
SA base model Charger R/T can be had for just under $30,000. (There's also the base model with the 3.6-liter, 292 horsepower V6, but the V8 is the engine to get on this car.) My fully loaded Charger R/T with the Daytona package came in $41,650.
I initially thought that price was too high for a Charger, but since it's so well-equipped at that point, it's hard to argue with. The only real issue here is that this price puts you within a few thousand dollars' range of the 470 horsepower SRT8, and that one is probably worth splurging for.
Once I accepted that it wasn't the Mayor of Burnout City (Population: Two Smoldering Rear Tires) but rather a solid, powerful, comfortable, stylish and high-tech large sedan with a robust engine, it really grew on me. Besides the transmission, the fuel economy and the lack of engine noise, I had few issues with it, but I think it could stand to be a little edgier.
As I said earlier, big American sedans with V8s are few and far between these days. What the Charger needs to worry about is the upcoming 2014 Chevrolet SS, which has a more powerful V8 and costs about the same. I'll be looking forward to that showdown.
2013 Dodge Charger R/T Daytona
Engine: 5.7-liter naturally aspirated V8
Power: 370 HP at 5250 RPM/395 LB-FT at 4200 RPM
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
0-60 Time: 5.2 seconds
Top Speed: Not Listed
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 4,253 lbs.
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 16 city/25 highway
MSRP: $29,995 base/$41,650 as tested