- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

Dodge kept us waiting a good long time for the Charger. I for one could not wait to get behind the wheel and hit the streets. Enthusiasts were anxious to see just how the company would rework the reincarnation of the iconic Charger.

Like the original Dodge Ram pickup and Chrysler 300 C sedan, the Dodge Charger design seems to evoke a love-it-or-hate-it reaction from more than a few folks. It polarizes, with a wide range of reactions from enthusiasts.

I am on the like-it side of this equation, admittedly though I was not always in this corner. The first photographs of the Charger left me less than enthused. I wanted to like the design but the proportions just didn’t sit right with my left brain. Or is that my right brain? Once I was able to rest my eyes on a real three-dimensional body, I felt better about the Charger.

I, however, had high hopes for this car from the first announcement that it would be built. I’ve driven many variations of the Chrysler 300 C, on which the Charger is based and I knew I liked those vehicles. The question was: Would Dodge do what Dodge should with the platform?

In speaking with lead designer Jeff Gale I learned that the one conflict was that the original Charger was a two-door coupe, and coupes are not the hottest vehicles on today’s market. It quickly became apparent that the design would challenge Mr. Gale and the other designers. Challenges are good and I am just as quick to tell Mr. Gale that they have done a masterful job of giving the vehicle highlights that harken back to the 1968 Charger, even though it has two additional doors.

Well the good news is I’ve driven the Charger and it is a fine street and highway automobile. The really good news, I was given the potent SRT8 version that elevated my experience to a higher level.

I like the styling even if it’s perceived to throw a curve ball at acceptable design. The Charger is a wonderfully comfortable and capable automobile on the road. Interestingly, the Charger will also be built in Graf Austria for the European market. It is hard to imagine this large car traveling through the streets and villages of Europe.

The base Charger equipped with a 250-horsepower V-6 is an adequate transporter. The most popular model, the 340 horsepower V-8, is plenty of performance for most drivers. But, the wonderful Charger SRT8 runs with a larger 6.1-liter Hemi that produces 425 horsepower and high adrenalin levels.

I spent a great deal of time driving in the car with Dan Knott, the director of Street and Racing Technology of Chrysler Group, and have a deep appreciation for what Mr. Knott and his team does. They have not only given the Charger SRT8 massive power, they have made it a vehicle you can live with on a daily basis. The suspension system is responsive, enabling you to enjoy spirited driving along country roads. Yet, the Charger in any iteration is quite comfortable on the street or highway.

The big Hemi V-8 engine sounds the part with a nice growl emitted from the dual exhaust pipes.

There will be a few who criticize the addition of the two rear doors, but they are just stuck in an era of great memory. Sedans brings us back to the realities of daily life. The SRT8 takes us back to the world of those memories and lets us live them today. What an oxymoron: It is a practical vehicle that is fun to drive. My hat is off to Mr. Knott and his group.

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