x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Road Test: New Dodge Charger is a monster of a vehicle

This muscle-bound brute is an improvement on predecessors with its handling and interior styling, finds Neil Vorano

The new Charger, seen here at Dubai Autodrome, achieves what other big American cars have failed to do on countless occasions - deliver sensible handling through corners. Jaime Puebla / The National
The new Charger, seen here at Dubai Autodrome, achieves what other big American cars have failed to do on countless occasions - deliver sensible handling through corners. Jaime Puebla / The National

I question the lucidity of those people that insist on naming their cars. It's a car, for Pete's sake, a mechanical contraption made of steel and glass and plastic, not some pet or "best friend" that you have colourful conversations with on your way to work.

But as with anything, I guess, cars can have a "personality", and many can be rated on their gender bias. Some cars are unequivocally "chick cars" - yes, I'm looking at you, Volkswagen Beetle, no matter the fact that you dropped the flower vase in the new model. And they just won't appeal to most car guys. Ever.

And some cars fall at the opposite end of the spectrum. The new Dodge Charger is one of those cars; this thing is built for a man, no question. If you think of a Beetle as a smiling hippie girl with long, blonde hair and a flower dress, then the Charger is a pot-bellied, curse-spewing, plaid-wearing, Peterbilt-driving trucker from middle America. If you want to give this car a name, try "Butch".

Just look at the front end; that gaping grille and those scowling headlights make it look like it will eat your car and spit it out like a wad of chewing tobacco if you tried to block it on the motorway. It's a revised design from the previous model; you can see the similarities but it's completely different and a bit more radical. The muscular body seems chiselled out of a block of solid steel, with long, flat flanks broken only by a sharply creased indent on the doors, fronted by that aforementioned snarling face. The rear has a body-wide tail light reminiscent of the Dodge Chargers from the 1960s - it's a cool style feature that looks great on the road at night.

And it's a big car; you feel that sitting inside, too. It's obviously built from an American point of view; there is more than enough room for Bubba and a few of his pals to rest inside after a hard day of ploughing the field. I couldn't even reach the base of the windscreen leaning up from the driver's seat. But what an improvement over the interior of the last version. Instead of the hard plastic and parts-bin feel from the previous model, this new R/T interior is coated with leather, soft-touch textured plastic and a graphite-coloured insert surrounding the new gauges and info screen. Chrysler has obviously woken up to the fact that their interiors were some of the worst to be found in the car industry, and this is a welcome change. The buttons and switchgear are solid, and the speedo and tach are modern and sporty, while the seats are almost wide enough to carry two people - or at least one American trucker comfortably. The infotainment system is good, too - it takes iPods and Bluetooth devices, while the navigation system is easy to use with the touch-screen. My iPhone did lock up the music system twice, but it was restored to normal after turning off the car.

And as if the base version isn't manly enough, the R/T adds a higher dose of ferociousness. Instead of the 3.6L V6, this high-performance version comes with a 5.7L V8 pumping out 370hp and a low, heavy rumble through the exhaust pipe that rises to a roar under power. While that's not as much horsepower as some of the European hot saloons (which could be twice the price of the R/T), it is more than enough for raising the hairs on your neck and a death grip on the steering wheel under acceleration. Zero-to-100kph comes in less than five seconds, which is made a little more scary considering the sheer size of this car. Its five-speed automatic is adequate, but maybe more gears would help out with the disappointing fuel economy: I averaged between 11 and 16L/100km, depending on my driving (of course, it's difficult to drive this car at a reasonable speed).

Credit Chrysler engineers with the fact that those thrills don't turn to chills when you hit a corner at speed; where American cars have a history of combining the power of a train with the handling of a steamship, this one takes curves and turns remarkably considering its size. It's still set up on the softer side, and it won't be taking on any Porsches on the track, but considering what the car is marketed for, it's an ideal compromise. And I don't think I've ever had a vehicle that has handled speed bumps as comfortably as the Charger.

Forget the manliness of this car for a second; the Charger is a good-driving and roomy four-door saloon (if a little thirsty for fuel) that would suit a family well. But the big downfall for Chrysler may be that many women looking for a car - no matter their driving skills - may be a little overwhelmed by the sheer testosterone flowing from this Charger. It could be a one-sided market for this beast. The Charger's personality is definitively Cro-Magnon, a real brute, and that's not for everyone.

But though there may be Japanese or European cars with more finesse and power, I know who I'd want on my side in a bar fight. Go get 'em, Butch.

Price N/A

Engine
4.0L, turbocharged V8

Gearbox
Eight-speed automatic

Power
520hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque
650Nm @ 5,500rpm

Fuel economy, combined 10.2L/100km