Full 2011 Dodge Charger Review
What's New for 2011
The 2011 Dodge Charger receives a number of significant upgrades, including freshened styling, higher-quality interior materials, an all-new and more powerful 3.6-liter V6 engine, a retuned suspension, electric-assist power steering, more standard features and a new electronic interface. The high-performance SRT8 model has been dropped for now, but it's likely to return in the future.
They say some things get better with age. The 2011 Dodge Charger is a good example. When this sporty full-size sedan debuted back in 2005, it marked both the return of a revered nameplate from the brand's muscle car glory days and a shift to an old-school rear-wheel-drive platform after years of less-than-inspiring front-wheel-drive four-doors. Now Dodge designers and engineers have taken what was a passable family car and made it significantly better by addressing a number of the outgoing model's shortcomings.
One of the most significant of these changes is the introduction of an all-new 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that takes the place of the outgoing model's 2.7-liter and 3.5-liter V6s. With 292 horsepower on tap -- an increase of 114 hp and 42 hp respectively over the previous V6 engines -- this new powertrain becomes a fine alternative to the Charger R/T's carryover 5.7-liter V8.
The Charger's interior has also received a makeover, with handsome styling and soft-touch materials replacing the bland look and hard plastics that gave the previous cabin a low-budget feel. The list of standard features and options has been substantially upgraded as well, and now includes the latest high-tech bells and whistles, including the Sirius Travel Link service that accesses info from local gas prices to live weather radar images. Equally nifty is the available Cross Traffic Alert system that makes backing out of a blind parking space much less stressful.
The most noticeable change regards the Charger's new exterior styling. This new version sports a more aggressive-looking front end, prominent scallops on the hood and side panels, along with a new taillight treatment that features 164 bright LEDs arranged in a distinctive pattern.
All these improvements are particularly well timed, helping the 2011 Dodge Charger become a prime choice in the full-size sedan segment. The Ford Taurus is also offered in both mainstream and high-performance (SHO) versions, but head-to-head the Charger represents the more appealing and dynamic choice. Of course, buyers who value practicality over performance will be better served by sedans like the 2011 Honda Accord, 2011 Hyundai Sonata and 2011 Nissan Altima. But just the same, we think all these changes -- combined with a lower MSRP -- have made the 2011 Charger the best yet.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Dodge Charger is a large sedan that's offered in two basic trim levels: SE and R/T. Entry-level SE models are rear-wheel-drive only, while the R/T can be had with a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive.
SE base models are reasonably well-equipped with 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, a power driver seat, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, cruise control, full power accessories, a trip computer, keyless ignition/entry, remote engine start and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, an iPod interface, an auxiliary audio jack and a 4.3-inch touchscreen interface.
The R/T model comes with a V8 engine, a performance-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels (19-inch on AWD models), xenon headlights, foglights and a rear spoiler (RWD models only). Inside there's automatic dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, a power-adjustable front passenger seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth and a premium Alpine sound system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen, voice control and satellite radio.
The options list is long and arranged into more than a dozen packages and equipment groups that bundle together just about every comfort and convenience feature you might possibly want. Highlights include 18-, 19- and 20-inch wheels, a Super Track Pack that gets you high-performance brakes, suspension components and tires, a rear back-up camera, rear park assist and a sunroof. Inside, available options include leather upholstery, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled cupholders and power-adjustable pedals. Other options include adaptive cruise control with front collision warning, a blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert, a Garmin-sourced navigation system with Sirius Travel Link service, and a nine-speaker Alpine surround-sound audio system.
The good news with this option package arrangement is that it's possible to load an SE base model up with virtually all the goodies offered on the top-of-the-line R/T. The bad news, of course, is that you may end up paying for optional features you don't want in order to get the ones you do.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Dodge Charger's powertrain choices have been greatly simplified. SE models come with an all-new 3.6-liter V6 that puts out 292 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque. R/T versions get a 5.7-liter V8 that puts out 370 hp and 395 lb-ft. Both engines are backed by a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature that sends power to the rear wheels. All-wheel drive is offered for the V8-powered R/T.
Standard safety features for the Charger include electronic stability/traction control, antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for front seat passengers, a driver-side knee airbag, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints.
There are also a number of safety-related options available, including adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning and a blind-zone alert system. New rear cross-path detection sensors also sound a warning tone when vehicles or pedestrians are approaching while you're backing out of a parking space.
Interior Design and Special Features
The designers at Dodge have given the Charger's interior a classier feel by replacing many hard plastic surfaces with softer-touch materials. The look has also been stylishly updated, and the controls -- including those for the optional Garmin-sourced navigation system -- are still logically arranged and simple to operate. The addition of details like standard keyless ignition/entry and the huge 8.4-inch dash-mounted touchscreen also help reinforce the up-to-the-minute design.
What hasn't changed is the car's basic layout, which is a good thing as it creates a spacious cabin with a backseat that offers adult-size legroom. Unfortunately, the Charger's sloping roof line reduces rear seat headroom, though it shouldn't be much of a problem for sub-6-foot passengers. At 15.4 cubic feet, the trunk is on the small side for a large sedan. That said, 60/40-split-folding rear seatbacks are standard for those times when you need more room.
It should come as no surprise that the 2011 Dodge Charger R/T is great fun to drive thanks to its 5.7-liter V8. This big V8 gives the R/T impressive acceleration for such a big car. What's unexpected, however, is that the new 3.6-liter V6 engine under the hood of the SE has enough guts to make it a fine alternative. Then again, the fact that the V6 is expected to offer only a slight improvement in fuel economy compared to the big V8 may ultimately make the point moot for all but the most budget-conscious buyers.
The other pleasant surprise is that the Charger's recalibrated suspension manages to deliver a good balance between ride comfort and entertaining handling. While the car's steering feel leaves something to be desired, the fact that hard-core enthusiasts can upgrade to stouter brakes, suspension components and rear-axle ratios arguably makes the Charger the most fun-to-drive family car you can buy.