The Truth About Cars » Dodge The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Dodge Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 6MT Fri, 25 Jul 2014 12:08:59 +0000 ElectraFest 1365

This doesn’t feel like something I should admit in public, let alone in the electronic pages of this august publication, but I always had a tiny little problem with the Challenger SRT8, way down in my super soul.

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If you haven’t seen Vanishing Point, put your laptop down, get out of the bathroom, and go watch it. While it’s far from flawless, the movie that made the Challenger immortal has much to recommend it. I can imagine that modern filmgoers might have a bit of trouble understanding how it all comes together; were it to be remade today there would probably be fifteen minutes of explanatory voiceover a la Pacific Rim. “My name is Kowalski. I was a cop once, and I became disenchanted with authority, and so on, and so forth…” Thankfully, that isn’t the case with the original.

Of course, the Vanishing Point Chally is a white R/T. Which means that, by definition, the coolest possible Challenger is a white R/T. Unfortunately, until now that meant the coolest possible Challenger wasn’t much use on a track, particularly in the stopping department. Until now.
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Chrysler directly compares this new R/T “Scat Pack” to the old SRT8 Core. As you can see in the graphic above, there’s more equipment for less money. Another valid comparison might be to the old R/T 5.7 Track Pack, which was underpowered and underbraked compared to a 5.0 Mustang. Not so this new car, which has 485 horsepower and four-piston Brembos front and back.

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The track analysis I did earlier this week puts the Scat Pack 6MT neatly between the V6 and the Hellcat, as you’d expect. What’s less clear is that the Scat Pack is a massive, massive improvement over the old R/T as a dynamic proposition. It’s not just that it has more brake and better handling than its predecessor, it’s that it’s better-balanced despite having an additional hundred and fifteen horsepower. Yes, the nose feels heavier than that of the V6, but that’s a lot like saying that dating Monica Bellucci would pose a bit of a language problem compared to dating Lena Dunham. Who cares.


It’s a decent car on the track, and I’d say it’s at least in the vicinity of the 5.0 Mustang, particularly in the way it sheds speed, but it’s hard to imagine most Scat Packs ever seeing a racetrack. Let’s talk street. In order to get to the rather truncated track time we were offered with the Challengers, I first had to drive and ride for three hours through the rural areas surrounding Portland in a six-speed Scat Pack. Much of that drive took place at 30mph or slower thanks to heavy concentrations of cyclists on the road, but that was a bit of a blessing because it gave me a chance to evaluate the Challenger’s low-speed manners.

The control efforts are absurdly low, and I mean that literally. This car has four hundred and eighty-five horsepower and it’s no more difficult to drive than a Mazda3. The shift action is fingertip-light and the Tremec TR6060 has clearly defined gating. I was never troubled by any skip-shift silliness. Your grandmother could drive this car, as they used to say in the car rags. Plus it’s quiet until you stand on the throttle and then it’s merely stirring, not annoying.

With this round of interior revisions, Chrysler’s finally bringing the Challenger up to the standards of its sedan siblings. I’d say that the brightwork and plastics quality place the Scat Pack about halfway between the dismal Charger and the enchanting 300C. There’s real stamped aluminum scattered throughout the interior and a fashionably thick steering wheel. My driving partner for the event was befuddled that the “shift paddles” didn’t work, but he eventually accepted my explanation that they were to control volume and track selection on the 8.4-inch uConnect.

“Yeah, I guess it makes sense that the shifter on the console would have to move while you’re paddle shifting,” he opined.

“Excuse me,” I said, “there’s something really important on my phone I have to pay attention to for an hour or so.” This latest uConnect is as good as it is elsewhere and I was able to complete a fairly detailed Bluetooth phone call while repeatedly throttling up and down through the gears. The climate-control knobs are a little wobbly, the same way they are in a Fiat 500L, but remember: this is an engine that you’d have to pay a significant tariff to get in a German car. My old Audi S5 was twenty thousand dollars more expensive and brought just three-quarters of the power to the table. The current Audi S5 has that candy-ass supercharged V-6, which is just as fast as the old V8 but that’s like saying that a Double Quarter Pounder weighs the same as a filet mignon from Ruth’s Chris. Who cares.

The car’s a middle finger to every CO2-restricted, low-testosterone, involuntarily-celibate German coupe out there. It will run twelve-second quarter-miles with no trouble and it gets attention everywhere it goes. The modest external changes for 2015 are improvements, particularly the “6.4L” logo. There’s now a set of Bimmer-style angel eyes on the thing, too, which will matter to someone.

You can get it in white and then you’ll have a proper Vanishing Point car. There goes the Challenger… the super-driver of the golden West. My test car was $44,875 including navigation and leather. Yeah, a Mustang five-liter will hang with it most anywhere but it’s not the same thing and we both know it. Go ahead and buy one with my blessing. It’s better than ever, and it’s finally got the right badge.

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Track Analysis: Challenger V6 Track Pack, HEMI Scat Pack, SRT Hellcat Tue, 22 Jul 2014 19:45:01 +0000

Getting decent conclusions from very limited data is the sort of thing of which Nobel Prizes are made. What you’re about to read won’t be Nobel-worthy; however, I believe it will help you understand how fast the Hellcat and how it compares to both the other Challengers and the external competition.

I got a total of six flying laps at PIR, a place to which I’d never been, in three different cars. I had traffic in my face for all but two of those laps, and I had no truly clear laps in the Hellcat. But let’s start with the basics. I drove these three cars in this order:

Challenger R/T 6.4L Scat Pack 6MT: lap time of 1:38.9 with a top speed of 122mph on the back straight.
Challenger V6 Super Track Pack 8AT: lap time of 1:38.3 with a top speed of 112.5mph on the back straight.
Challenger SRT Hellcat 6MT: lap time of 1:33.7 with a top speed of 136mph on the back straight.

So let’s start by eliminating some of the variables. The only clean lap I got in the Scat Pack was my first-ever lap of PIR. There’s no way I was going to turn a brilliant lap time first time out. Analysis shows I was 6mph slower going into the turn before the long straight than I was in the average of the other cars. My line in the V6 which I drove afterwards was better. After looking at the data and assuming that the Scat Pack can turn about as well as the V6, I’ve guesstimated a 1:36 at 127mph for the Scat Pack.

How did other people do: This video shows SRT’s Vehicle Dynamics Engineer Marco Diniz de Oliveira running a 1:33.0 with the same spec car that I drove. Compared to my videotaped 1:33.7 lap you can see that he didn’t have to lift for a frightened journo like I did on the front straight, and he also didn’t goatfuck the chicane the way I did. (My excuse: I was so annoyed at being balked that I held throttle too long.) I’m reasonably confident that I got about as much out of the Hellcat as I was going to in two laps. Given ten more laps, I think a 1:31.5 was well within reach. Keeping pinned on the straight is worth half a second, doing the chicane right is worth a second and a half, and I could have shortened the braking zone in back.

Another journalist whom I won’t name was kind enough to let me “run data” with them in the V6 Challenger that I drove. He turned a 1:58.3 with a top speed of 105.5mph on the back straight. That two-minute-ish lap time is approximately representative of what most people were doing out there and it’s why I kept running into traffic.

So those are the caveats. Now let’s look at some stats.

First off, acceleration. The corner before the back straight shows the Hellcat with a low speed of 43.5mph against 41.7mph for the V6. That’s the extra tire you get with the Hellcat which is only partially canceled out by the weight of the engine. As we pass the access road on the back straight, the V6 has accelerated to 87mph and the ScatPack to a corrected 93mph. How fast is the Hellcat going? Survey says: 102mph. That is brutal acceleration. More impressively, the gap widens as speeds increase. Supercharged cars often feel breathless at the top of the rev range because they are optimized to push air at low speeds and unlike turbo-supercharged (to use the old phrase) cars there’s no compound effect as the exhaust gases push the turbo faster. As an example, when I drove the GT500 at VIR I found myself dueling a Porsche GT2 on the back straight. The Shelby had legs on the GT500 in the first half of VIR’s long stretch but the GT2 picked up as speeds increased and it wasn’t all due to frontal area.

Now for braking. A similar push of the brake pedal produced a .78g retarding force in the V6, a .86g one in the four-piston Brembo Scat Pack, and .98g in the Hellcat. These numbers have to be understood in context, not as absolutes, because of the way my phone was mounted in the car and the general issues with Android accelerometers. Only the V6 ever felt underbraked in these short lap situations; it doesn’t have enough thermal capacity as supplied for two hard laps. The others were fine, with the Hellcat having a considerable edge in feel and response. My experience with the Z/28 at Thermal Club for last month’s Road&Track showed me that it’s possible to put enough brake on a ponycar, but you have to be willing to spend a LOT of money on it. As expensive as the Brembo system on the Hellcat must be, it ain’t carbon ceramic and when you’re slowing two tons down from a considerable velocity it’s worth getting the right material for the job.


This is the V6 lap.


This is the Hellcat lap.

Cornering isn’t exactly an open and shut case, which is why the V6 might be a satisfying track car if you could upgrade the brakes a bit via pads and fluid. Data for all three cars shows that they are capable of about the same max cornering g and speed, with a slight edge going to the Hellcat in pretty much all the corners. What the data can’t show you is that the Hellcat feels like it’s from a different class with regards to body roll control and suspension dynamics. Given enough time on a racetrack, you’d feel comfortable pushing the Hellcat harder in quick transitions and in long high-g turns. There’s a superiority of feedback that is no doubt due to better tires and higher-quality suspension. With that said, however, this is primarily a laws-of-physics thing. Big heavy cars are never eager to change direction. Unsurprisingly, the V6 is best in transitions and the Scat Pack has the lowest cornering speeds.

As I stated earlier today, you really do get your money’s worth with the Hellcat’s engine and brake upgrades. It’s also a solid handler for its size and class. Let’s do some subjective rankings as far as track-fitness goes, based on things I’ve driven recently:

Viper ACR (previous gen)
Viper TA (current gen)
Mercedes AMG SLS Black Series
C7 Corvette Z51
C6 Corvette Z06
C6 Corvette Z51
Camaro Z/28
Boss 302-LS
Boss 302
Jack’s raggedy old 2004 Boxster S with 48,000 miles
GT500 (not counting the brakes)
The old SRT8 392
Camaro SS
Mustang 5.0 Track Pack
Challenger R/T 6.4L Scat Pack
Mustang V6 Track Pack
Challenger V6 Track Pack
Challenger R/T 5.7 Track Pack

The higher you go up that list, the more comfortable the car feels on track, but at a cost.

I wish I’d had time to drive the standard SRT8, which has 485hp now and offers the big brakes as an option. I believe that car would feel most “balanced” since you wouldn’t be arriving at corners as quickly and therefore the brakes would hold up even better and it would be easier to select the absolutely perfect corner speed — but I’d choose to spend my own money on the Hellcat, plain and simple. There are no downsides. You can pretty much instantly turn it into an SRT8 6.4L just by laying off the throttle a bit on the long straights.

At this point I normally like to talk about what the cars do when they are “out of shape” on track. The truth is that with this little time on an unfamiliar course I didn’t spend too much effort getting the Challengers past their envelope of tire grip. I can say that the Hellcat and Scat Pack can be reliably turned on the throttle and that no Challenger has ever had bad habits on track with regards to overly quick responses in extreme handling situations. If you’re good to the Challenger, it will be good to you. If you’re bad to it, you will still have plenty of time to get things right.

Ponycars are about compromise. They’re about what you’re willing to give up in order to have the admittedly minimal but occasionally mandatory backseat. With the Hellcat, the answer is simple: you’re giving up Mustang-style direction changes but gaining more power at each trim and spec level than the not-so-small Ford can offer. It would be frankly absurd to buy a Hellcat if you primarily planned on using it at the track. But for the low percentage of owners who will try it there, their experience will be positive — even if their tire bills won’t.

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Review: 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT “Hellcat” 6MT Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:21:47 +0000 IMG_7883

To some degree, it’s about the number, right? Seven hundred and seven. The Dodge people certainly made the point again and again about how the Hellcat stacks up to everything from the Z06 to the Murcielago. Mine’s bigger than yours. And that other number — 10.9 seconds with drag radials and 11.2 without. That actually isn’t such a big deal; there are people out there who have put stock C6 Z06es with draggies into the tens. Still, they closed the freaking road course after just ninety minutes so the journalists could line up and try their hand at quarter-miles. I didn’t bother to do that. Nor did I get any street time in the Hellcat. What I got was this: four laps, none of them unimpeded. When you come back in the afternoon, I’ll tell you what my TrackMaster data showed about the Hellcat vis-a-vis the 6.4L. But for now let’s talk about what the Hellcat is and what it does.

2015 Dodge Challenger SRT with the HEMI® Hellcat engine

Here’s how you make a Hellcat: Start with the 2015 Challenger and it’s improved interior. Add Hellcat-specific visual cues, most of them related to increasing the amount of air coming through the nose. Then drop the bore size a bit, redo the motor with “91 percent new” engineering and parts, and supercharge the hell out of the cat.

Here’s the press release, there’s no sense in rewriting it:

The 2,380cc/rev blower features integral charge coolers and an integrated electronic bypass valve to
regulate boost pressure to a maximum of 80 kPa (11.6 psi). Its twin-screw rotors are specially coated

• a proprietary formula of polyimide and other resins
• nanometer-sized, wear-resistant particles
• solid lubricants, such as PTFE (Teflon)

The coating accommodates tighter tolerances between the rotors. This reduces internal air leakage and
helps deliver improved compressor performance and higher efficiencies. The coating not only can
withstand the temperatures generated by compression, it provides a superior corrosion resistance.
The new supercharged V-8, sealed for life with premium synthetic oil, boasts a drive ratio of 2.36:1 and
a maximum speed of 14,600 rpm. The drive system’s one-way clutch de-coupler improves refinement,
while allowing for precisely the kind of auditory feedback SRT customers find alluring.
The supercharger gulps air through an Air Catcher inlet port, which replaces the driver’s-side inboard
marker light and connects to a patented twin-inlet, eight-liter air box. The blower further benefits from a
92-mm throttle body – the largest ever used in a Chrysler Group vehicle.
The fuel system keeps pace with an in-tank pump that accommodates variable pressures, half-inch fuel
lines and eight injectors each capable of delivering a flow rate of 600cc/min – enough to drain the fuel
tank in approximately 13 minutes at full power.

The transmissions were re-engineered; the eight-speed automatic has bigger clutches and more gear surface throughout, allowing it to bang out 120-millisecond shifts that, on the drag strip, sound close to dual-clutch. The Tremec TR6060 has a bigger clutch, a relatively light flywheel, and stronger gears. I believe, although I cannot say for sure, that this transmission, like the Hellcat’s HEMI, is made in Mexico.

To stop the car, there’s a 15.4-inch rotor Brembo brake package with 20×9.5 inch wheels. It would appear that there are now three Brembo brake packages on these cars: the four-piston setup on the Scat Pack 6.4L with Super Track Pack, the six-piston SRT8 14.2-inch package, and this high-power six-piston setup which is optional on the SRT8 and standard on the Hellcat.

Other fun features: an available flat-black hood, a removable lower grille for track use, (“Seven screws,” we were told, “it will take owners five minutes”) deliberately plain “SRT” badging, and a track key/valet key setup that also features a user-selectable “valet PIN” to limit the car to 4000rpm. A sunroof is optional, as are a couple of different color-coordinated seat packages.

It’s good value for money; the Scat Pack with a few options runs $46k so this Hellcat at $59,995 feels like a screaming bargain. And you’re almost certain to get your money back when you go to sell, assuming you don’t take too much of a beating at the hands of your dealer.

Okay. It’s late at night and you want to know how it drives. I’ll put video up later on today, but the short version is this: It is to the GT500 as the old SRT8 was to the Boss 302. The clutch is low effort, as is the shifting. The thrust is plainly massive but there’s enough tire under it to make it controllable on a racetrack. It’s very quick, but it doesn’t feel noticeably quicker than a GT500. There’s a certain viciousness you get with a ZR1 or GT500 that is blunted by the Chally’s weight here. Big motor, pushing a big car, and as a result things feel under control. It never occurred to me not to give it full throttle in a straight line on an eighty-degree Portland day. Change this to a Kentucky backroad with accumulated oil and grit, and drop the temperature to fifty, and we’ll talk about it again.

All the Challenger SRT8 virtues survive intact to the Hellcat. It really is just an SRT8 plus power. That’s what you really need to know about it. It’s not compromised or changed in any significant manner. It’s just faster, and unlike the naturally aspirated 6.4L it’s hellaciously strong everywhere, not just when the tach sweeps past four. At 1200rpm it has as much torque as the old SRT8 did at peak. So yeah — fast, effortlessly so, like a literbike.

But it also feels long-legged through the gears in a way that the GT500 doesn’t. My impression, which I’d need to check through a bunch of a documentation to confirm, is that it’s geared longer than the Shelby or the Boss or the Z/28. There’s more room to run in each gear, which given the fact that the Ford 5.4L revs higher than this 6.2L means that it’s geared higher.

On the track, the brakes and tires proved sufficient to the task, as I’ll explain later today with numbers. Unlike the Shelby, it’s far from underbraked, for a ponycar. Don’t expect Corvette-level braking performance here. There ain’t a disc brake big enough for that unless it’s on a triple-seven Boeing. This is a big car with good solid damping and big brakes, but it’s not a Corvette.

Neither is it a Z/28, not that you expected it. The Z/28 has better brakes and a lot more tire compound and it’s a bit smaller. I wouldn’t expect the Hellcat to see the nose of a Z/28 on a track, unless you’re on Road America and it’s the first lap.

I realize it’s a disappointment to say that the Hellcat is merely a faster SRT8, but that’s a hell of an accomplishment. Power like this has never been this accessible and the fact that it’s delivered in this big, comfy package is a technical knockout. You literally give up nothing by taking the high-power option, except perhaps your home equity. The Hellcat has no drawbacks except fuel economy and price. It is fully, thoroughly, completely recommended to anyone who wants a faster Challenger. Drivers who want the on-track aplomb of a Mustang or Camaro need not apply.

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Challenger Week: Here’s A Few We Did Earlier Mon, 21 Jul 2014 20:30:44 +0000 MURILEEEEEEE

A Challenger on the front page of TTAC is like a blonde on the cover of Maxim: it gets all the nerdy dudes excited. Self included. So here are some of our most exciting Challenger reviews from years past!

Derek got his hands on a HEMI R/T Shaker and kind of liked it. Kind of.

Murilee Martin checked out the 392 SRT8 and was ironically impressed.

TTAC reader favorite Alex Dykes also reviewed the 392.

Automotive Traveler’s Richard Truesdell went to Willow Springs and ignored his mirrors for a very long time while I swerved and honked behind him. Thus, the one lap review of the 392.

Ed Niedermeyer was in fine Farago-wannabe form when he blasted the pre-Pentastar V6 model.

Last but not least, here’s the five-year-old review from when I took a Challenger R/T to Summit Point. I raced it against a Miata — and won.

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Reader Review: 2014 Challenger R/T 100th Anniversary Edition Mon, 21 Jul 2014 19:55:12 +0000 2014-06-29 07.58.35

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines muscle cars as “any group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.” Wikipedia goes further, and says that “a large engine is fitted in a 2-door, rear wheel drive, family-style mid-size of full-size car designed for 4 or more passengers. Sold at an affordable price, muscle cars are intended mainly for street use and occasional drag racing, and are distinct from two-seat sports cars.”

I am here to report that my 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T hits those definitions very squarely on the head.

2014-06-29 11.30.11
In fact, you could forget the words and just insert a photo of the Challenger. While other modern pony cars start with the intention of being a sports car and then throw in varying dashes of retro muscle car to ensure Boomer appeal, the Challenger starts out as a muscle car and throws in a heaping handful of American-style GT coupe. Those qualities are precisely why I chose to buy this car, and why I’ve enjoyed it so much in my 3 months and 3000+ miles of ownership to date.

Let’s start with what I bought: Here we have a 2014 Challenger R/T equipped with the 5.7 liter HEMI V8, Tremec TR-6060 6 speed manual transmission, and the 100th Anniversary Edition package. This package was developed to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Dodge brand, and includes unique exterior colors and trim, special 20 inch wheels, “cloud print” Napa leather seating, a couple small special edition badges, and a number of other trim pieces and accessories. My car is also equipped with a power sunroof and the Super Track Pack, which for only $595 includes Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar summer tires, a variable displacement power steering pump, heavier-duty brakes, and a “track tuned” suspension with Bilstein shocks.

It doesn’t matter where you go; this car simply cannot be ignored. It has grabbed the attention of countless small children, a gang of giggling Catholic high school girls, large groups of Harley guys, even larger groups of bikers (there is a difference), Sweaty Betty-clad young mothers running behind strollers, South Dakota farm boys, spiky-haired hipster girls, construction workers, elderly people, Cope-spitting cowboys, and every cop I’ve ever encountered. The car-crazy teenager down the block stares jealously as I roll through the alley. It has a presence.

The first factor in that presence is its styling, which to my eyes is as good as or better than the Mustang at presenting a modern car with throwback appeal. It straight up murders GM’s offering in this space, making the hokey, overdone, Camaro look like a cartoon. If you prefer the heritage look, you can get your R/T with more variations of racing and hockey stripes than you can handle. But my car, finished in the unique “High Octane Red Pearl” color with no stripes, sitting on big polished wheels comes across as clean, muscular, and decidedly grounded in 2014.

The more I’ve looked at my car, the more I love the little details. I didn’t always feel this way about the Challenger, and further consideration leads me to conclude that the car’s lines look best in darker colors. The domed hood with two “nostrils” calls back to the original 440 Magnum cars. The aggressive tumblehome recalls the full-sized “Fuselage” Chryslers of yore, and the distinctive swooping cutline is pure retro Challenger. The frameless front windows are big and provide an almost hardtop-like feel when rolled down. The B pillar is well disguised visually and the roofline somehow both flows into the trunk and adds a muscular squareness to the greenhouse. There’s no fussy chrome detailing to distract the eyes, and there are precisely two badges that identify it as a Challenger R/T, both small and applied stealthily on the grill.
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The second factor in the Challenger’s presence is its size. As Derek pointed out in his capsule review, this is not a small car. It looks big and it IS big. It dwarfs my wife’s Volvo S80 visually and dimensionally, and makes my beloved 1994 Camaro Z28 look (and feel) like a toy. The cowl is high, and the front bumper is waaaaay out there past the long hood. Care must be taken when navigating tight garages and parking lots, and the rear proximity sensors are essential when parallel parking. If you’re considering a lower-spec V6 car make sure you get them.

Thankfully, that big exterior does not hide a cramped, compromised cabin. I have many happy memories riding in big, two door American cars growing up and the Challenger’s roominess and interior comfort was one of it’s key selling points for me. This car is wide and airy inside with all-day comfortable seats, and the fact that they are not heavily bolstered suits my 50L frame just fine. There’s a wide range of adjustment offered by the seat and tilting/telescoping wheel and I immediately found an ideal position for my long-legged, short-armed size. The windshield is broad and the though the sills are high you’ll feel none of the bathtub-like claustrophobia that you find in a Camaro. The back seats are perfectly comfortable for even generously proportioned adults, and though their leg room may be a bit tight they won’t be kinking their necks or bumping their heads due to the high roofline. While lift over height is high, the trunk is absolutely huge and the back seats fold down for extra space if needed.
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While the room inside is great, the materials and styling in my 2014 are showing their age and their origins back in the bad, old penny-crushing days of Cerberus-owned Chrysler. The blocky styling, gauges, and monochrome LCD displays are far behind current Chrysler Group standards. Though plastics were upgraded by Fiat to soft-touch materials over the years, there are still some cheap touches here and there that could only have been driven by cost. My car has the older touchscreen UConnect system that includes satellite radio but not navigation, but it sounds great and pairs flawlessly with my MotoX.

In truth I’m picking at details, and aside from the gauges you’re left with an impression of quality and design that is similar to that of the outgoing Mustang. Everything in my car is nicely finished and works well, and overall it’s a very comfortable place to spend time. I knew what I was getting into and I am happy, but the upgrades for 2015 will make the experience even better. My only complaint so far is a recurring rattle somewhere in the driver’s seat. It seems to be a common problem for many Challenger owners, and may be related to the headrest, seat frame, or hinge. I plan on having it addressed by my dealer at the first (4000 mile) service.

The Hemi V8 in my Challenger puts out 375 hp according to Dodge, and it does so with a quality that is all its own. It doesn’t have the classic small block feel of an LS engine, nor does it have the frenetic, electric feeling of the Mustang’s Coyote Five-Point-Oh. It pushes the car around effortlessly with a nicely balanced chorus of hushed mechanical noises, induction sound, and exhaust bass. It’s more than fast enough for me, and it springs away from a stop with an authoritative shove of torque. Tire-shredding burnouts are hilariously easy – just switch off the traction control, dump the clutch, and watch the smoke roll. The clutch is light and easy to modulate, and the shifter has short throws with a smooth, satisfying mechanical engagement in each gear. Subjectively, I think my car has loosened up a bit; it seems both stronger and quicker to rev towards redline than when new. The only potential complaint here is the exhaust note. It’s very subdued, almost too much so. I have not done anything with my car, but if you want the total muscle car experience you’ll want to spring for a Mopar or Magnaflow system to freak out all your neighborhood squares.

Before I get into the driving experience, let’s go back to the defined intent of a muscle car – “muscle cars are intended mainly for street use and occasional drag racing, and are distinct from two-seat sports cars”. I’d tweak that a bit – my Challenger is a car for the road. I’ve owned a number of alleged “road cars” over the years, but this car eats up mileage like nothing I’ve ever driven. It’s comfortable and quiet, and with Chrysler’s excellent automatic climate control and the wide selection of music available on satellite radio you can drive all day, stopping only for gas and bathroom breaks. In cruise mode you can even stretch those breaks out, as it’s possible to average 25-27 mpg in 6th gear at reasonable highway speeds.

The GT part of the equation becomes evident when you exit the Interstate and find yourself on a curvy two lane road. When hustled down the excellent selection of such routes in Eastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin, the car seems to shrink around you and drive smaller than it actually is. It likes being driven hard, and controls its size and weight very nicely. For a big girl this car can really move with flat, neutral cornering at illegal (but reasonable) road speeds, huge waves of torque available anywhere on the tach to carry you through the straight sections, and confident braking when a roller or Sunday driver appears. Push harder and you’ll induce gentle understeer; harder still and the stability control (which I have no desire to try to totally defeat) will step in and keep things sane. I’ve never gone further than six or seven tenths on the road, but I’m looking forward to making some progress towards the ultimate limits during an October track day at Brainerd International Raceway. I’ll post an update after that experience.

Compared to the immediate competition, I believe the Challenger provides a unique proposition. It feels like a more complete and less compromised car than the Camaro, with more room for passengers and cargo and styling that is both more cohesive and more mature. It’s more of a GT than the Mustang, which feels like a harder-edged sports car in every way. When it came down to it, the decision was easy for me and I would make it again in a heartbeat. The Challenger was the right car at the right time for me, and my only real regret is that I waited so long to add a modern muscle car to my garage. If you don’t drive one you really don’t know what you’re missing, and we are lucky to live in an era where each of the Detroit 3 offers a unique and compelling choice.

So what’s next? More miles, more experiences, and more fun. For the first time I have a “fun car” that my wife has absolutely no objections to riding and road-ripping in. And though I will freely admit that I’m still in the honeymoon period, my Challenger can make even my short drive to work feel fun and special. No matter how you define the phrase, this particular muscle car has found a very happy place in my life.
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Corvette Stingray Bests Viper, 911 In Sales Through First-Half Of 2014 Thu, 17 Jul 2014 10:00:28 +0000 2014-chevrolet-corvette-stingray-convertible-red-front-end-in-motion-05

The current Corvette is doing well for itself as of late, not only moving off the lot at a greater clip between January and June of this year than last, but also besting the SRT Viper and Porsche 911.

GM Authority reports 17,744 Corvette Stingrays made it to the highway during the aforementioned sales period, over three times what was sold during the first six months of 2013. Meanwhile, only 354 Vipers managed to do the same — thanks to its high price and the velvet rope surrounding the one or two models available in most showrooms — as well as 5,169 of Stuttgart’s finest during those months. Nissan’s 370Z, priced much lower than the Stingray, also fared poorly against the Kentucky-built thoroughbred, 4,114 sold this year thus far.

Within the Chevy dealership, 2,723 convertibles and coupes left the lot in June, down from 3,328 in May. National Automobile Dealers Association forecasts the Corvette Stingray is on pace to hit 35,000 sold by the end of 2014, aided by the improved 2015 model and the introduction of the Z06.

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Capsule Review: Dodge Challenger R/T Hemi Shaker Thu, 26 Jun 2014 14:00:04 +0000 ExteriorFront1


Among the TTAC staff, the consensus is clear: the Ford Mustang is the top choice in the pony car segment. For cheap thrills, the Mustang V6 with the Performance Package is the most comprehensive “performance per dollar” option on the market. The 5.0, Boss 302 and Shelby GT500 represent increasing levels of performance that rival the best of the sports car world, at prices accessible to the common (or, slightly better off) consumer. The Camaro is not as highly regarded, but of course, what would this site be without a dissenting voice.

So what about the Dodge Challenger?


Within days of picking up the model you see above (a Challenger R/T “Shaker”, a special edition with some extra Mopar goodies, the “Shaker” hood, a 5.7L Hemi and a 6-speed manual transmission), TTAC was invited to test out the heavily revised 2015 Challenger, including the highly anticipated Hellcat model. The Shaker fell under my jurisdiction, but with the Hellcat being introduced at a race track, those duties were assigned to our EIC pro tem. Frankly, that opportunity would be wasted on anybody else.


So what of the soon-to-be-obsolete 2014 Challenger? My only experience has been with an SRT8 model, equipped with the venerable 5-speed automatic. The 2015 model will get, among other upgrades, the wonderful new ZF 8-speed, as well as chassi tweaks and an all-new UConnect system. Chrysler PR cautioned not to get my hopes up for the Shaker, suggested it was less “track-focused” than the SRT model. I held out hope that it would be, at the very least, a loud, obnoxious, attention-getting special edition.


I was in for a disappointment. The “Competition Orange” (not Dodge’s name for the color, but one that’s been ingrained due to repeated viewings of Boogie Nights) Challenger is visually loud, with its orange paint, black hood scoop and alloy wheels. But the 5.7L Hemi could emit little more than a muted bellow. Having heard countless uncorked 5.7L engines in all manner of Rams, 300c’s and Charger R/Ts, I know that the standard Chrysler V8 has aural merit, even if it’s not as glorious as the big 6.1L and 6.4L SRT V8s. If you opt for one of these, make sure you get a Mopar exhaust system baked into the financing deal. It deserves no less.


On the other hand, the Tremec 6-speed was a pleasant surprise, with tight gates, short throws and a crisp action. The clutch was easy to modulate, and the V8′s torque made it nearly impossible to stall, even with the laziest applications of both clutch and throttle. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think that the transmission is not the ideal choice for the Challenger.


No doubt, this is heresy for most readers, but hear me out. The Challenger is a big car. So are the Mustang and the Camaro, but the Mustang manages to disguise its bulk with a modern, high hood and a tall beltline, while the Camaro lets you forget it because you are too busy cursing how dreadful the overall package is.


The Challenger is a different beast. The hood is low and long, the beltline is low, the doors are large and forward visibility is excellent. You feel like you’re sitting in a car from a different era, a sensation that is congruent with the car’s styling, which is utterly faithful to the 1970′s version. When piloting something with such immense stature, I tend to prefer a more relaxed driving experience. The 6-speed manual, as nice as it is, feels out of place in a car like this. Rowing gears and pushing clutch pedals doesn’t quite fit with the “one hand on the wheel, one hand resting on the door sill” nature of this car, but that’s just me. Plenty of people have bought large cars with manual gearboxes, otherwise BMW wouldn’t have offered the E38 740iL with a manual, right?


The generous proportions carry over to the interior too. The  cabin feels large and airy, with lots of room for two up front to lean back, stretch their legs and enjoy the effortless torque of the V8. The long wheelbase and long travel suspension allow for serene highway cruising while the Hemi spins at less than 2,000 RPM in 6th gear, even at 75 mph. Handling is not its strongest suit. You can take corners in aggressive manner, but the Challenger R/T is clearly happier in a straight line, letting you enjoy the view out front, while epoch appropriate music belts out of the stereo (Live at Filmore East is absolutely glorious on this stereo).


The 2015 model will get the updated UConnect system with the 8.4 inch touch screen, but even the “old” system is pretty damn good, even if the UI is a bit dated. The trunk is enormous for a two door car .A weekend roadtrip for two allowed for one full-size suitcase and one overnight bag with plenty of room to spare. Small wonder that they are so popular with rental fleets.


Aesthetically, the Challenger isn’t a pastiche of retro cues like the other two cars. But it’s not a pony car like the old Challenger. With a 116 inch wheelbase, it’s a full six inches longer than the original Challenger, and nearly 10 inches longer than the Mustang. Even though it looks like a very faithful modern iteration of an old pony car, I’d argue that it’s more of a modern version of the personal luxury coupe.


Rather than emphasize outright performance, the Challenger emphasizes style, comfort and cross-country pace rather than road course times or skipad numbers like the hotter Mustangs and Camaros do in their marketing messages. Even the Hellcat’s press photos show emphasize drag strip runs and smoky burnouts over images of Laguna Seca and the Nurburgring.


And for me, that’s just fine. Not every American car needs to bring the fight to the Europeans. Globalization and changing tastes are forcing American cars to become globalized to the point where body-on-frame trucks are the last truly American vehicles. It’s very likely that the next Camaro will follow the Mustang in adapting for European tastes. Chrysler took the other route, using old Mercedes bones to create something truly American: a big, no-excuses coupe with big V6 and V8 powertrains and the kind of styling that has no hope of meeting European safety and fuel economy standards.

Bring on the Hellcat.

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Car Review: A Tale of Two Darts, Part the Second, 2014 Dodge Dart GT 2.4L Fri, 20 Jun 2014 12:00:51 +0000 IMG_0335

Full gallery here

Four hundred cubic centimeters. That’s not a whole lot of volume. A cylinder that’s about 3 inches in diameter and 4 inches tall. It’s rather amazing what a difference that about a coffee cup’s worth of displacement will make in the character of an automobile. In my first look at the Dodge Dart, I felt that the Dart is a nice compact car, but that it was deeply compromised by a powertrain that combined the 2.0 liter four cylinder with a six speed automatic transmission. In a quest for a calibration that yields impressive EPA fuel economy numbers, Chrysler produced a car that’s a chore to drive. Now that I’ve had a chance to drive the Dart with the 2.4 liter MultiAir Tigershark engine, I’m happy to report that those 400 ccs of displacement make a night and day difference, changing “chore to drive” to “fun to drive”. While it’s not a direct comparison, the 2013 Dart that I reviewed was in Limited trim, pretty much loaded, while the 2014 model that I tested was a Dart GT, with less equipment but with the GT package and the 2.4 liter engine that’s now standard in all Darts but the Aero and base SE models.

While I wouldn’t say that the car is fast, the 184 horsepower four moves it along quickly enough that the GT badge isn’t a joke. Actually, the development team in Auburn Hills seems to have taken their design brief seriously at least in terms of the chassis. While not a continental “grand tourer” in the classic sense, the Dart GT is definitely aimed at an enthusiast crowd. If not the direct spiritual heir to the Neon ACR of lore, it’s certainly in the same lineage.

Most of the differences between the Limited and GT models have to do with the way the cars handle. In my review of the Limited, I said that the Dart wants to handle but that the powertrain’s mapping gets in the way of enthusiastic driving. The Dart GT fulfills that promise, and then some. The chassis is most decidedly tuned towards the handling side of the ride quality / handling trade-off. The GT has a more aggressive stance, more aggressive rubber, trick shock absorbers and much stiffer springs.

How much stiffer? Though I didn’t find the ride as objectionable as some reviewers have, the chassis is stiff enough that once, when I hit the driveway apron as I pulled into a gas station, the tuning knob for the radio was jarred from the Grateful Dead channel to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. While I didn’t personally find the stiff suspension objectionable, I did start getting a bit tired of the rear body structure drumming when the back tires hit irregular pavement.

With Michigan roads in the sorry state they are in, there was ample opportunity to test the ride quality and it was uniformly firm. Though it’s very firm, I didn’t find it harsh. I do think that most American consumers would find it too firm and would probably be happier with the less sporting trim lines.

All that stiffness results in a car that you can hustle through the corners at a rapid pace. There’s a ton of grip and while there’s the modern problem of not a huge amount of steering feel, the Dart’s steering is weighted nicely at all driving speeds. The steering is very quick, 2.5 turns lock-to-lock or maybe even a bit less than that, with a sharp turn in.

The car I tested came with leather seating surfaces, some solid, some perforated with a red tint in the perforations, a bit less fancy than the Limited’s full leather. While the Limited came with more “luxury” features, the final sticker price of both cars was pretty much the same ($25,125 for the GT and $25,180 for the Limited, destination charges included, Monroney sheet here) and I didn’t miss what the GT didn’t have. As long as it has A/C (Chrysler’s very good automatic climate controls are usually “set it at 68 and forget it” for me) and a decent sound system I’m good to go, though this car did have the 8.4 inch UConnect infotainment system, which is nice to have. Like I said, everything I’d need or want, without anything superfluous.

The 2.4 liter engine was backed by the same 6 speed automatic and while the combination wasn’t flawless, it is a solid improvement over the two liter motor with the same gearbox. Unlike with the smaller motor, I didn’t feel the need to autostick it because there was sufficient acceleration letting the car shift itself. Some reviewers have said that the gearbox is busy, but I didn’t notice it. I did notice that when slowing down, the 5 -> 4 downshift is rather dramatic, perhaps because of a big jump in gear ratios. Fuel economy was improved over the two liter Dart. I averaged 28.2 mpg over a tank’s worth of suburban driving, which was better than the ~26 mpg real world mileage I was getting when having to autostick the 2.0L/6AT Dart. The engine does run a bit roughly at startup, but though it’s not the most sophisticated four banger in the world, it does have a pleasant growl when you get on it.

While the Dart GT seems aimed at enthusiasts, at first it’s a bit surprising that there’s no sport mode to electronically activate. Perhaps that’s because someone in Auburn Hills may think that it’s superfluous to give a car with a fair amount of sporting character such a mode. The engine is peppy enough that Car & Driver’s reviewer thought the throttle tip-in off of idle is a bit quick (something that didn’t bother me), the chassis is competent and the car can handle, and the seats have good side bolsters that hold you in front of the wheel as you’re hustling around curves. About the only thing that isn’t sporting about the Dart GT is the braking system. The brakes are perfectly adequate around town and on the highway, but I wouldn’t take the Dart GT out on a track without some attention to improving how the car stops.

Fit and finish was fine and the only quality problem that I noticed was that with a bit more than 5,000 miles on the odometer, the driver’s side power window was making a bit of a rattling noise at the upper end of its travel. One problem that I had with the first Dart, almost burning my hand on the prop rod for the hood, which is stored right above the radiator and gets very hot, was apparently remedied with a small rubber insulating grip. I don’t know if that grip was added for the 2014 model year or if the first example of the Dart that I drove was simply missing it, but I was glad to see it.

My tester came in bright white and with the blacked out grille elements that come with the GT package (and Rallye and Blackout appearance groups too), it looked pretty sharp. While driving both Darts people complimented how they look. While the GT did not have the upgraded sound system that came in the Limited, it sounded perfectly serviceable.

Perhaps as a weight saving effort, the Dart GT, unlike the 2013 Limited, doesn’t come with a spare tire. Instead, nestled in a expanded polystyrene foam carrier that fits in the spare tire well, is an electric pump with a (hopefully replaceable) canister of tire sealant.

My drives of the two Darts sandwiched a ride and drive event for the new 2014 Toyota Corolla. While the Dart, based on Fiat Chrysler’s Compact U.S. Wide platform, is a bit larger than the typical compact car sold in America, and heavier by a few hundred pounds, it’s priced to play in the Corolla’s segment. How does it stack up against the Corolla, which dominates that segment along with the Honda Civic? Combining the two Darts that I drove, I think that a Dart in one of the mid-level trim lines, with the 2.4 L engine and the features most people would want, would make a reasonable alternative for someone not zealous with the Toyonda reliability faith. Is the Corolla more refined than the Dart? Maybe by a little bit, though the Dart handles better, feels quicker, and  is roomier, at least up front. At the very least, if you’re shopping for a new compact car, it’s worth it to at least cross-shop the Dart and talk to owners about their experiences.

In my review of the Dart Limited I mentioned how the Dodge Neon showed promise but that Chrysler let it die on the vine by not giving it continuous upgrades. The fact that Sergio Marchionne and his team acknowledge that they screwed up the initial Dart launch by not getting the powertrain mix correctly and that they’ve remedied it by putting the bigger motor in most Darts bode well. Unfortunately that botched launch may have permanently harmed the Dart’s market chances. The Civic and Corolla both sell 300,000+ units a year. In 2013, Chrysler sold about 83,000 Darts, and halfway through this year they’ve sold fewer than 31,000 units.


In November of 2014, John and Horace Dodge had this publicity photo taken of them sitting in the first Dodge Brothers automobile in front of John Dodge’s mansion on Detroit’s Boston Blvd. (the same location as used in my photos of the Dart GT). The Dodges started selling cars under their own brand after a decade of being Henry Ford’s primary supplier.

As far as enthusiasts are concerned, if you’re looking for something that’s moderately sporting and can still carry a small family, a Dart GT isn’t a bad idea, providing your spouse doesn’t object to the stiff ride. Still, considering that the new Chrysler 200 and Jeep Cherokee are also based on the CUSW platform and that those two vehicles are offered with Chrysler’s outstanding ~300 hp Pentastar V6, it’s easy to guess that a SRT version of the Dart with that engine (and, I was going to say, the bigger brakes from the 200 but I see that it shares the Dart’s 12″ front rotors) would be even more fun to drive than the GT.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click on the settings icon to select 2D or your choice of 3D formats.

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and a tank of gasoline.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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JD Power Initial Quality Study Shows GM, Hyundai, Porsche Leading The Pack Thu, 19 Jun 2014 12:00:29 +0000 2013 Buick Encore, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

J.D. Power has released their U.S. Initial Quality Study for 2014, where General Motors, Hyundai and Porsche earned top marks despite consumers still struggling with the gizmology taking over their vehicles.

Autoblog reports GM’s Buick, Chevrolet and GMC captured more awards than anyone else in the 2014 IQS, with six vehicles winning in their segments. Meanwhile, Hyundai and Porsche were ranked best overall mass-market and premium brand, respectively, where the former reported 94 issues per 100 vehicles reported in the first 90 days, 74/100 for the latter. Porsche also dominated the IQS, having the best score of all brands surveyed.

On the other end of the scale, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ranked poorly in the study, with Fiat holding dead last at 206 problems per 100 vehicles reported in the survey period. Jeep came second-to-last with 146/100, while Dodge was just below the industry average at 124/100. Only Ram and Chrysler fared the best, matching or just exceeding the average of 116/100.

Part of the results may be due to automakers pushing the envelope on technology and new features to make consumers’ lives easier. J.D. Power Vice President of Global Automotive David Sargent says “almost all automakers are struggling” to introduce these pieces “without introducing additional quality problems.” In turn, some consumers are noting the technologies involved are “hard to understand, difficult to use, or [do] not always work as designed.”

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NHTSA Investigates Chrysler Group Air Bag, Ignition Issues Thu, 19 Jun 2014 11:00:10 +0000 2010-dodge-grand-caravan

General Motors no longer has the monopoly on ignition and air bag problems, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Chrysler Group over those very issues.

Detroit Free Press reports the agency has opened two investigations into 1.2 million vehicles as follows:

  • 2005 – 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee; 2006 – 2007 Jeep Commander: Faulty air bags; 700,000 under preliminary investigation
  • 2008 – 2010 Dodge Journey; 2010 Chrysler Town & Country; 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan: Ignition switches shifting out of “on” position; 525,000 under recall query

The NHTSA received 23 complaints over air bags problems, though none involved non-deployment, and 32 complaints about the ignition switch. Both parties are working to find any links to the problems, though no more information has been made available thus far.

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Car Review: A Tale of Two Darts, Part the First – 2013 Dodge Dart Limited 2.0 L Tue, 10 Jun 2014 20:02:16 +0000 IMG_0092

Full gallery here.

A while back Chrysler loaned me a Dodge Dart Limited with the 2.0 liter Tigershark engine and six-speed automatic transmission for the purpose of writing a review. That’s how it works, they loan you the car, you write the review. A social contract, if you will. In this case, however, though I drove the car for a week and took scores of photos and copious notes, I decided not to write the review at the time. That sort of behavior comes with some risk, particularly if the next time you ask for a press car and they ask for a link to your last review. I had my reasons for putting off the review, and now that I’ve driven a Dart with the larger 2.4 liter motor, I’m glad that I waited, and I think Chrysler should be glad that I waited as well.

I’ll explain all that gladness in Part Two, my review of the 2014 Dodge Dart GT 2.4 L, but everything has a backstory.

Why didn’t I write the review? To begin with, I don’t particularly like to say what everyone else is saying, even if I may agree. I don’t need to add my voice to an echo chorus. If I don’t have something original to say, why bother with “me too”?

What everyone else was saying was that the combination of the 2 liter engine with the automatic resulted in rather canine behavior and we’re not talkin’ greyhounds here. The fact that the Dart with the two liter engine and slushbox is a dog has been attested to by most reviewers and it’s hardly any secret with Chrysler folks too. Detroit is a place where you might run into a decision maker in the auto industry at the grocery when out to buy bread and milk for your mom and where the Dart you park next to might very well have been bought by an engineer on an employee discount. Whenever I mention to Chrysler folks about that drivetrain being a slug, they sort of shrug their shoulders and smile sheepishly.

After my week with the Dart Limited 2.0L/6AT, I wanted to check out the Dart with the larger 2.4L engine. Unfortunatley, there weren’t very many of those made in the Dart’s early production mix. That’s another reason why I’ve waited to write this review. I wasn’t sure just how representative the car I tested was of the Darts you’d be able to buy going forward. I knew that months before I got the test car Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne admitted that the 2.0L/6AT and the Fiat 1.4 Multiair Turbo powertrains “were not the ideal solution,” and a company spokesperson said that the production mix would be rebalanced as 2.4 L engine production ramped up at the company’s Dundee, Michigan engine plant. The production mix has indeed changed and the 2.4 liter is now installed in the majority of Darts. The 2.0 liter is now only available in the base SE car and the 1.4 turbo shared with the Fiat 500 is only offered on the Dart Aero. In that sense I was correct, the car that I’m describing to you is not representative of what you can buy. In fact, you can’t even buy a 2014 Dart Limited with the 2.0.

So why write the review now? Well, to begin with the drivetrain is still available on the Dart, if not with the same high trim level. Also, as it turns out, I think the basic car is pretty decent, even better than that, and some buyers, out of a sense of frugality or budget realities, might decide to buy the Dart SE, thinking that they’ll get a nice car, and save money both on the purchase and on gasoline. As you’ll see, though, the 2.0 liter may be a false economy. Finally, reviewing this car puts the upcoming Dart GT review in context and much of this review will also still be relevant to those considering a Dart Limited.

The problem as I see it isn’t how much power that engine has, or doesn’t have. With 160 hp, it’s not going to be a speed demon but under normal circumstances with that much power in a slightly chubby compact car you should be fine in traffic and on the highway. However, every combination of engine and transmission these days seems to be calibrated to yield maximum Ms per G on the EPA test cycle, not maximum driveability. The 2.0L/6AT combination is EPA rated at 25/36 and it seems calibrated to get into the highest gear ratio as quickly as possible, meaning you’re in a higher gear before you ever get to the meaty part of the power curve.

I tend to treat “it was so slow as to be unsafe in traffic” reviews with some skepticism because 20 year old Hondas and Camrys can keep up with traffic just fine, even today when 300+ horsepower cars are commonplace. However, the way the 2.0/6AT combo drove, I genuinely felt nervous when trying to zip into a spot in traffic or when merging onto the freeway. I love a good stick shift, but I’ve never warmed to using paddle shifters or manually shifting with automatic transmissions. I figure that ZF et al know more about shifting than I do. Still, with this Dart I discovered that I had to autostick it to force the car to hold a gear long enough to be able to get on top of it and accelerate safely in traffic.

I also discovered why the transmission and engine are mapped the way they are. Leaving the car to its own devices in mixed suburban driving I was getting an indicated gas mileage in the high twenty-nines, but when I started shifting myself that dropped to about 26.5 mpg.

I really wanted to like the car. Based on the Compact U.S. Wide platform that Chrysler’s engineers in Auburn Hills derived from Fiat’s C-Evo platform first seen under the current Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the Dart feels spacious, at least for front seat passengers. Wide is no misnomer, there’s an airy feel to the cabin from behind the wheel. The belt line sweeps up towards the rear of the car but at the driver’s window it’s almost low enough for resting your elbow. Because of that rising belt line, though, rear passengers might feel a bit more closed in.

Visibility for the driver is pretty good, except for the fact that the hood slopes down sharply and you can’t see the front corners. Sajeev Mehta will rejoice at the Day Light Opening (DLO) win, as small triangular windows behind the rear door glass provide a clear look at your blind spots over your shoulders. They also help keep rear passengers from getting claustrophobic from the high belt line in back. Speaking of DLO, there is some DLO fail around the mirror and A pillar, with a black plastic insert.

Speaking of black plastic, there’s a variety of black colored and textured polymers at play in the interior. Most of the surfaces that you’d come into contact with, though, are of the soft touch kind.

Everything up front was properly ergonomic, with Chrysler’s industry leading 8.4″ UConnect touchscreen well integrated visually with the configurable display that sits directly in front of the driver. I thought the default red color scheme of the liquid crystal displays was a bit garish, compared to the cooler blue scheme on the Chrysler 300S I’d had the week before, but that’s just a matter of personal taste. YMMV. The instrument panel is surrounded by a band of red trim that lights up subtly when the headlights are on. It’s a nice touch in this class of car, providing you like red.

Chrysler is big on their sliding console storage bin in the company’s minivans. I think that’s where they got the idea for a two position armrest on top of the console storage bin. Whichever position you slide it to, when you open it, you’ll find a USB port, a 1/8″ AUX port, and, what is getting to be a rarity these days, a CD drive.

The 60/40 fold-down back seat features a console that flips down from the seat back and contains cupholders and a storage bin. When that console is flipped down, it reveals the hatch for passing though long items that are being stored in the trunk, like skis.

I thought the rear seat was roomy enough but then I’m a 5’6 tall guy with a 28″ inseam. I was left with about 3″ of headroom and about 5″ of knee room. Will it Zayde? Yes, I had no problems getting my grandson’s rear facing car seat in the Dart. There are child seat latch anchors on the back deck for all three rear seat positions.

In Limited trim, the Dart had most of the features most drivers will want, in fact, most of the options offered on the car – it was pretty loaded. With the Technology Group, Premium Group, automatic transmission, UConnect and a few odds and ends, it stickered out to $25,190, including a $795 destination charge.

The seats were full leather and quite comfortable. They feature the now ubiquitous contrasting detail stitching. The passenger seat has a hidden storage compartment under the hinged seat squab for stowing small valuables.

Visually, to my tastes it’s an attractive car, sort of a muscular and squat wedge. Car companies are putting more style into their mass market compact sedans. There’s a lot of sheet metal contouring happening on the hood and around the front end that you probably wouldn’t have seen a few years ago in a class of cars that American’s have considered to be economy cars. On the outside, the Dart looks more expensive than it is.

I like the way the headlamp lenses stand proud of the fender and the rear end goes together in harmony, with an integrated. duck tail spoiler. The rear end also features a version of the Dodge Charger’s brand identifying full-width LED tail-lights. I think that the smarter designers today are using the flexibility of LED and other modern lighting technology to make a brand statement in the dark of night as well as in the light of the day.

Other than acceleration, what’s it like to drive? The Dart wants to handle. Those Alfa genes are strong. The problem is that under normal driving, letting the car shift for itself, the drivetrain’s lack of acceleration compromises the handling. You can dive bomb into a corner and it holds the line just fine, but when you want to power through the exit letting front wheel drive understeer help straighten the car out, there’s just no there there.

At first I was struck at some obvious price-pointing, but I realized that impression was biased by the fact that when they dropped off the Dart, they picked up that Chrysler 300S AWD with a Hemi, a car whose base price is almost double that of a stripper $16K Dart. While there’s indeed $14,000 worth of visible and tactile difference between the Dart and the 300, the Dart feels solid and has a fairly comfortable ride for a compact. The test car was equipped with 17″ X 7.5″ aluminum wheels mounted with 225/45 R17 Continental ContiproContact tires.

There was one visible quality control issue, a surprising one. While doing the photo shoot I noticed something I haven’t seen in a long time, a paint “run”, a drip at least an inch long near one of the rocker panels. I worked at a DuPont automotive paint lab from 1982 into the 21st century and I haven’t seen a visible paint defect that bad since the early 1990s. To be fair, the rest of the paint, and the rest of the Dart seemed to be defect free.

I noticed something else that, no pun intended, touches on quality control, or at least attention to detail, while doing the photo shoot. If you have to open the hood and the engine is hot, make sure that you’re wearing an oven mitt or using something else to protect your hand before you grab the prop rod that holds up the open hood. When stowed, the prop rod sits right above the radiator and it gets very hot.

I had high hopes for the Dart but as equipped with the 2.0L/6AT powertrain it left me disappointed. I thought the revival of the nameplate was brilliant, with many Americans holding fond memories of a reliable, inexpensive compact American car, powered by the almost indestructible Slant Six. I also knew that when they have tried, eg. Neon, the boffins in Auburn Hills know how to make a compact car, even if the company as a whole didn’t quite get the continuous improvement thing. I think that they still know how to make a decent small car, but my first encounter with the Dart suffered from expectations not met. So much so that it was my choice as my least favorite test car of 2013. Yep, not only did I not review a loaned car, I slagged it off at the end of the year. I suppose that also risked some displeasure of the folks in Auburn Hills, but they can’t complain that much since in that same end-of-year wrap up I also said that the Chrysler 300S AWD Hemi was my favorite car of 2013.

Maybe all that stuff about ticking off car companies with negative reviews is a bit exaggerated, because despite doing somethings that wouldn’t necessarily curry favor with them, the folks at Chrysler approved it when I asked the fleet company if they had a 2.4 liter Dart for me to try. We’ll look at that car, a GT model, in Part Two.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Reader Review: 2014 Dodge Charger R/T Fri, 06 Jun 2014 20:55:32 +0000 ChargerFront

TTAC reader and contributor Rich Murdocco sends us his review of his brand new 2014 Dodge Charger R/T

In the middle of the harsh winter of 2013, the lease on my beloved Ford Mustang was coming to an end. That car had a special place in my heart – The 305 horsepower power plant whisked me to my first  “big boy job”, my first date with a new girlfriend, the birth of my niece and was right there as I got down on one knee and proposed to that aforementioned girlfriend. I was faced with the difficult decision every leasee faces: Do I stick around, or see what else was out there?

Sunset Logo

I had my heart set on another Mustang. Myself, uncle and cousin walked into the Ford Dealer, priced out a GT (if it wasn’t an upgrade, what’s the point?) and left satisfied. The car I had in my head – a 2014 Ford Mustang GT in dark silver, complete with the beating 5.0 Coyote heart and sense of condescension towards Camaros. As we were driving home, my uncle casually suggested we look at the Dodge dealer down the road. I’ve always been intrigued by Dodge’s offerings, and was impressed by the then-freshly redesigned Journey’s build quality when my Uncle had one on loaner. Halfheartedly we pulled in and strolled around the lot. “There is nothing you want here, is there?” I shook my head no, and that’s when my cousin called me over to come see something he found – a Charger R/T

Sitting in the car, it didn’t feel like a Dodge. The panels fit well together. There wasn’t a rattle. What felt like metal, was in fact, metal. The chunky steering wheel’s leather was soft, flanked by paddle shifters that allow your index finger to comfortable slip between them. I pressed the push-button ignition and with the soft burble of the exhaust, I was sold. It was black, brash and just plain mean looking – in a way, it reminded me of a Buick GNX.


Before I knew it, I was handed a surprisingly quality key fob to my new 2014 Dodge Charger R/T with the new Blacktop package. The RWD (as God intended) car is powered by the 5.7 liter HEMI, has the 8.4 inch touchscreen with navigation and a 3:06 gear ratio setup.

The supportive yet comfortable seats are cloth, the HID headlights are automatic, and the sunroof is large. In fact, everything in this vehicle is large. It’s built for a supersize generation, of which my five foot seven inch height appreciates. My fiancée, who is a tiny little lady, disappears into the passenger seat, but when she drove it the power driver’s seat and adjustable steering wheel accommodated her just fine. The car’s dimensions are substantial.

At work, I’ve parked next to a BMW 5-series and dwarfed it. The Charger’s lines in the recent redesign added character to the slab-like sheet metal of the first new generation, with the most distinctive addition being the racetrack LED lights on the read end. Now, the Charger looks like well…a Charger (the odd looking 1980’s model notwithstanding). This isn’t a car for blending into the commuter pool. Even in the V6 guise, this car looks aggressive. It looks like it wants to kick puppies and wear fingerless gloves while smoke cigarettes like Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club.

Charger flag

Recently, when picking up my college roommate from the train, he said he found me by walking towards the “most obnoxiously angry looking car in the lot.” The attitude exerted by the sheet metal is only matched by its presence on the street. On Long Island, police of different stripes use the Charger Pursuit paired with their fleet of SHO’s. With the Blacktop package, you’re getting black 20’’ wheels that make many other drivers think you’re a cop. This is both awesome (when others let you pass) and annoying (people slam on their brakes to go the speed limit frequently). In my Mustang, few people ever wanted to rev their engines at me. In this, BMW’s especially, always want to start something – there are worse problems to have.


Coming from a Mustang, pretty much anything would look spacious, but the Charger’s trunk truly eats whatever you put in it. I recently bought a rather large A/C unit and the trunk swallowed it up. I bet if I tried, I can fit my Marshall half-stack in the car, with a guitar, with no problems. The back seat is roomy, with three of my friends in the back sitting comfortably on the two-hour trek to New Jersey when I first got it. My buddy’s girlfriend is five foot nine, and had room to spare.  The nav is simple, while the radio, “powered by Beats Audio”, is pretty punchy, with more than enough bang for an automotive system. To be honest, I don’t use the audio to its full potential, because I prefer the sound of the HEMI. The voice recognition isn’t as intuitive as my Mustang’s SYNC, but it gets the job done. If the Chrysler UConnect system and SYNC had a baby, it would be the perfect infotainment unit. One quirk that my Charger has is the placement of Sport mode. It’s accessed via the UConnect system on the same screen as the front and passenger heated seats. “Hold on Camaro… We shall duel our automobiles shortly. Please wait while I activate Sport mode!” The difference in the transmission is marked when sport mode is activated, with the aggressive upshifts quickly snapping into the next gear.

Sport Mode

Smooth. That’s the word passengers I’ve had thus far have used to describe the ride. The Mercedes sourced 5-speed gets complaints from automotive journalists, but the transmission feels pretty rock solid. It seems that the German’s leftovers have worked wonders for the brand. With decently aggressive driving, I average 16.7 miles to the gallon of mid-grade fuel, and it costs roughly $55-60 per fill up here on Long Island. The transmission would benefit from an extra gear or two, but in 2015 Chrysler is putting in their popular 8-speed which should soothe the naysayers. In manumatic mode, the paddle shifters or console shifter allows for some spirited red-line hitting runs, but the electrical nannies prevent any significant overrevving and overly aggressive downshifting. One of my newfound joys is cruising in 5th, drop it to 3rd to pass. The whole experience is very gratifying.

The HEMI provides more than enough get up and go, but acceleration is never violent like it is in my cousin’s 2013 Mustang GT. It’s a smooth crescendo mostly. Passengers will be taken by surprise, and sometimes, during a boring morning’s drive, it’s fun to plant your foot to wake up both yourself, and the car. It’s powerful, and the engine, which is typically library quiet at cruising, comes to life under hard acceleration. One complaint is that it may be too quiet. For its brash looks, you’d hope it will shoot flames from the twin exhaust. In reality, the acceleration is more than entertaining enough, but isn’t as brutal as you think it would be given the specs. It does however turn heads if you drive by a group of people at full blast. It sounds proper, especially in a tunnel, and allows for acceleration to 60 in the low to mid-fives. My brother, who passed the love of cars into his younger brother, was impressed at the Charger’s throttle response and handling as he took a sweeping turn at unmentionable speeds for taking such a turn. For a heavy sedan whose trunk can eat a 12,000 BTU AC unit while seating two in the back, it’s impressive. The car feels planted at 30 mph, 60 mph and beyond 100 mph. With the Blacktop package you get a “high speed engine controller” up to 149 mph, but good luck safely and legally hitting anywhere close to those speeds on Long Island.

One of the many surprises of the car I found was that it doesn’t handle like you expect it to. During my first test drive, I was picturing similarities to my grandma’s old Grand Marquis, but it drives very similarly to my Mustang. It’s eager on turn in, and handles the curves without too much drama. The turning radius is a bit wider, but not by as much as you’d think. My fiancée’s 2010 Accord is like turning the Queen Elizabeth compared to the Charger.

This car is unapologetically American (despite the fact that shhh…it’s made in Canada). It’s big, rear-wheel driven, and powered by a big ol’ V8 up front. The interior is made of quality materials with fit and finish that was unheard of even five years ago. The street presence is ample. The fuel economy isn’t as bad as you’d think it would be given the power and weight stats. The Dodge Charger may have four doors, but it has the soul of the old Charger, and thanks to the HEMI, the heart of one as well. So far, I do not regret my decision to jump ship from Ford to MOPAR. In the future I may return, but as of right now, I’m more than content with the Charger.


On the web I’ve read comments such as the following: “it’s a pig…”, “it’s too fat”, “UGH A FAMILY CAR! It NEEDs TWO DOORS”, “It needs a manual transmission.” I’d answer these naysayers, but I’m too busy doing burnouts in the angriest looking family sedan on the road.  Long live the four-door, American muscle car.

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Marchionne’s Grand Vision For FCA Faces Hard Financial Road To Success Thu, 08 May 2014 12:00:11 +0000 Sergio Marchionne - FCA

Though Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne’s five-year plan announced this week may be ambitious, analysts are raising questions about how the plan will be funded — and how much will be needed — if it is to be successful, let alone live up to Marchionne’s vision.

Automotive News Europe reports a large part of the problem for the plan, according to Bernstein Research analyst Max Warburton, is debt:

Much as we admire the ambition and think elements are achievable… it is hard to find conviction on the financing of the plan. Fiat is weighed down with huge debt, burdened by financing costs and is only thinly profitable. It’s (sic) cost of capital is huge.

Warburton adds FCA’s grand plan and its potential capital expenditure and R&D appear to be unaffordable and not prudent for investors, stating the company would need “a capital raise” for any part of the plan to pan out.

Aside from its debt, FCA also faces sales challenges from markets that are peaking or slowing down, with the European market being the biggest drag upon the automaker. However, independent analyst Marianne Keller said that with the recovery now taking place in Europe, paired with North American profits and a strong Jeep brand, Marchionne could “pull it off”; Marchionne himself announced during the five-year plan’s unveiling that he was considering a mandatory convertible bond to bring the needed financing for the plan.

Finally, FCA’s Q1 2014 results — a net loss of 319 million euros compared to a net profit of 31 million euros the year before — serve as a sign for both the company and its investors that FCA has more hard road ahead, a view best summed up by Macquarie Group analyst Jens Schattner:

If it was so easy just to launch new products to be successful in this industry, why wouldn’t everybody do exactly the same.

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Shudder To Think: New Transmissions, Bad Friends and the DaimlerChrysler Merger Wed, 07 May 2014 20:38:07 +0000 Dodge Challenger chromed T-shifter automatic transmission knob

I never would’ve known about the WA850/NAG1 transmission if it weren’t for that dead-beat roommate I had in Miami. It was desperate times for Chrysler and myself —we both just needed a friend.

16 years ago today, the Chrysler Group found an abusively negligent partner in Daimler AG. The “merger of equals” proved to be anything but, as the German camp rapidly oscillated between ignoring the American’s input and engaging in full-blown Teutonic pedantry. Rumor has it they even insulted the American’s taste in typeface by forcing them to get new business cards.

My friendship wasn’t nearly as toxic. I had been living in Miami for a few months, but had failed to adapt to the social scene. He was also a transplant from the North Atlantic so he understood my pain. He had friends that I admired, so I stuck by him. Despite his professed love for the BMX bike and only the BMX bike, he was in possession of a hand-me-down 2003 Mercedes-Benz E500. This example was a former Enron fleet-car his mother had purchased at auction in late 2006, just months before Daimler offloaded their American bedfellow. He didn’t keep up with the maintenance; it was in poor shape but I loved it. It was everything my Miata wasn’t: heavy, powerful and smooth.

It was equipped with the WA850 transmission, or as it is more commonly known, the 5G-Tronic. A five-speed automatic of Mercedes design, one of Daimler’s first acts after the merger was to force this part on Chrysler. It was clearly a superior gearbox than Chrysler’s ubiquitous 545RFE, but it was the principle of the matter. Chrysler was saddled with what they perceived to be needless logistical complications. The official Chrysler designation for the part was “New Automatic Gearbox Version 1” or NAG1. Very funny Chrysler.

In theory it was an excellent transmission, but there were serious qualms about its reliability on American roads. It wasn’t about road quality; rather it was its needy maintenance schedule and complex service that was out of line with American ownership habits. Anything less than perfectly precise handling by a tech and the thing would shudder and shake for the rest of its days.

Like Chrysler, My friend had forced something on me as well: the pointless pursuit of fun at a time in my life when I should have been saving money, exercising, and improving my craft. An apt comparison because like the WA580, a life of partying works on paper, but without the discipline to perform proper maintenance you are end up shuddering and leaking fluid in public.

The Daimler-Chrysler merger was a clear failure, and so was my friendship. Both partnerships could’ve been successful, but they required more compromise and hard work than either party was prepared for. That’s not to say the respective mergers were complete failures. Chrysler walked away with an excellent transmission that’s still in use today, and I learned how to have fun and not take myself so seriously. What we both learned was that in business like life, you can only rely on yourself for meaningful improvement.


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New York 2014: 2015 Dodge Challenger Debuts Thu, 17 Apr 2014 21:07:21 +0000 2015-Dodge-Challenger-7

Prior to the 2015 Dodge Charger descending onto the stage, the 2015 Challenger made its world debut at the 2014 New York Auto Show.

The Challenger will arrive in showrooms ahead of its sedan brother in Q3 2014, and will bring with it eight different trims, including the R/T Shaker and 392 HEMI Scat Pack. Under the hood — whether shaking or static — a choice of three engines will send power to either the standard six-speed manual or the new eight-speed Torqueflite automatic: 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 (305 hp); 5.7-liter HEMI V8 (375 hp); and 6.4-liter HEMI V8 (470 hp/lb-ft of torque).

Inside, drivers will have adjustable gauges, UConnect with remote-start and Performance Pages adjustable performance system, and two touchscreens at the ready.

As for outside, the new Challenger takes its cues from the 1971 Challenger, though with modern upgrades such as LED daytime running lights and LED tail lamps.

2015-Dodge-Challenger-7 2015-Dodge-Challenger-6 2015-Dodge-Challenger-1 2015-Dodge-Challenger-5 2015-Dodge-Challenger-4 2015-Dodge-Challenger-3 ]]> 29
New York 2014: 2015 Dodge Charger Live Shots Thu, 17 Apr 2014 20:32:15 +0000 2015-Dodge-Charger-10

Alongside the 2015 Dodge Challenger, the 2015 Charger made its debut at the 2014 New York Auto Show.

The Charger, which will follow the Challenger to the showroom a few months later, will bring both the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and 5.7-liter HEMI V8 to the party. The former will push 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque through an eight-speed automatic, which will also help send the HEMI’s 370 horses and 395 lb-ft of tire-destroying torque to the back or, if equipped, all four wheels.

The big change, however, is its Dart/Durango-esque look, including LED daytime running lights and the blacked-out grill that will likely be obscured by the bull bar of the police-ready variant when the fleet orders are delivered and prepped.

2015-Dodge-Charger-10 2015-Dodge-Charger-13 2015-Dodge-Charger-18 2015-Dodge-Charger-17 2015-Dodge-Charger-7 2015-Dodge-Charger-9 2015-Dodge-Charger-8 2015-Dodge-Charger-23 2015-Dodge-Charger-16 2015-Dodge-Charger-20 ]]> 44
Chrysler Hellcat V8 Could Unseat Viper V10 Tue, 25 Mar 2014 13:09:47 +0000 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

For over a year, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been working on a Hemi V8 dubbed the Hellcat, which set to debut in a revised Dodge Challenger. However, the Hellcat could prove a challenge to the SRT Viper’s V10, possibly unseating the venerable monster from the throne.

Automotive News reports the rumored V8 has caused an internal debate within FCA, in particular what it would mean for the Viper when the Challenger receives the engine. SRT brand boss Ralph Giles told Hot Rod magazine:

We have a situation where, you know — we may have a situation — where the flagship car is not the most powerful car in our arsenal … how do we explain that to ourselves? So we have an internal horsepower race as well as an external one.

While the Viper’s naturally aspirated V10 pushes 660 horsepower, the SRT variant of the Challenger — pitted against the Ford Mustang GT500 and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 — is rumored to put out as much as 700 horses .

The 2015 Challenger is rumored to debut in New York next month.

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Capsule Review: 2014 Dodge Durango Fri, 07 Mar 2014 14:00:29 +0000 2014 Dodge Duranto_0014

It’s a shame about the 2014 Dodge Durango. Every car eventually gets wound down, but the Durango will be going out in its prime. If the way a vehicle drives is a high priority for you, it’s hard not to adore the Durango’s comportment. More tragic, the Durango has been the quiet way to get Grand Cherokee goodness with some bonus wheelbase and space for exceptionally-aggressive Dodge pricing. That’s going to be over soon.

If the Durango is so good, and Chrysler even bothered to update it this year, why is it going away? The answer: Because it’s a Dodge.

But the Durango won’t be gone for long.

2014 Dodge Duranto_0001

Soon, the vehicle we know as the Dodge Durango will go back from whence it came. It’s being re-absorbed into the Jeep line, which has aggressive volume targets and can command higher prices. Back in the mid-aughties, Jeep tried a three-row range topper. The Commander did not do well, but it’s where this generation of Durango came from. The story is brought to you by the letters W, X and K, but here’s the short version: When Jeep cleaned up the Grand Cherokee for the 2011 model year, the Dodge Durango took over as the three-row version of that WK2 architecture.

At one time, the Durango was booking nearly 200,000 sales per year for Dodge, but that’s ancient history. Those hot numbers happened back when the Durango was the latest masterstroke from Bob Lutz. Most recently, the Durango has been racking up the critical affection while actual sales seem asbestos-lined, with no heat going on. Despite the Durango’s roots, it’s a lot harder to demand premium pricing without the power of deep Jeep love. Dodge has to be a lot more aggressive about putting cash on the hood to move iron. If you want to feel smarter than the average bear, act now to get the best deal on what’s probably the best vehicle in this segment.

2014 Dodge Duranto_0005

You’re giving up a few things for the sake of the deal, chief among them is brand cachet. That might not be important to you, but it matters for resale. While the Grand Cherokee enjoys strong resale and sniffs of approval from the other twit parents at soccer practice, the Durango’s residual value drops farther, faster. Also, the Durango isn’t as space-efficient as other three-row family crossovers, and it can feel a little more trucky than the car-based competition. Fuel economy is also a challenge, though the new 8-speed automatic takes smaller sips.

Still, the positives of the Durango outweigh the negatives. There’s huge rear seat legroom, extra cargo space, a human-sized third row and composed highway ride thanks to the significantly longer wheelbase. Inside, there’s good materials, luxury touches like laminated side glass, universally-praised UConnect infotainment, now with an 8.8” screen and deeper functionality, and surprising quiet. I drove a V6 Durango dressed up like an R/T, but lacking the Hemi. I also had some time with a full-boat Durango Citadel that topped out over $52,000, but I spent the most time with this mid-$30,000s Durango with AWD, V6, 8-speed automatic with spiffy rotary shifter and utility-focused cloth upholstery. Unlike most models facing their sunset, the Durango is to-the-minute current in its level of competitiveness. You can be sure that when this vehicle is wearing Jeep emblems it will have a thicker bottom line and thinner incentives.

2014 Dodge Duranto_0028

It’s counter-intuitive, but the fact that Jeep is pulling a Godfather 3 on the three-row is an acknowledgement of its fundamental goodness. Coming back into the fold will give Jeep a comprehensive model range from Patriot/Compass, through to Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, and on up. In spite of the looming change, because the Durango and Grand Cherokee are built together, it’s less expensive to give the outgoing model the same mechanical changes as the Jeep. Variations on the assembly line cost money. What the spec sheets can’t tell you is how well all the facts and features come together out on the road. Despite the unitized construction, the attitude of the Durango is more SUV than mall-trawler crossover. You feel it in the ride, which carries the feeling of weighty authority as it smothers bad pavement into submission. You’re up higher in the Durango, and while it’s smooth and quiet, she’s a big girl that’s clearly got some Ram in her family. There’s more rugged resistance than carlike compliance, but the structure is solid and the machinery feels refined.

Saddled with 4,700 lbs, the Pentastar engine does a lot better than you’d expect a 290 hp, 3.6 liter V6 could manage. That’s partly due to the new 8-speed transmission, but there are times where it feels like it shoulda had a V8. Of course, you can get one of the best V8s on the market, the 360 hp 5.7 liter Hemi. The V8’s fat torque is still blunted by the big-time curb weight, but it does enable quicker getaways and significant bump in towing capability to 7400 lbs. The table stakes for the Hemi are higher, with fuel economy taking a significant hit, even with MDS cylinder deactivation.

2014 Dodge Duranto_0018

The fuel economy numbers to pay attention to for the Durango are the city and combined EPA ratings. Family crossovers often do a lot of in-town driving, and that kind of use with a Hemi Durango Citadel had me staring at 14.5 MPG. The red Durango in the photos, a Pentastar-powered all-wheel driver with the 8-speed automatic returned a 19.5 MPG average with a heavy emphasis on secondary roads. That’s pretty good, though lots of stop and go will drive it down further. Either way, the claim of 25 MPG highway seems like fantasy.

Another issue is visibility. The mirrors are large and forward visibility is good, plus the elevated ride height doesn’t hurt. But the back window is small and far away. It wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the constrained view to the rear has sunk more than one potential sale during the test drive. At 8.1”, ground clearance for the Durango is higher than in other competitors like the GM Lambda triplets (7.1”), the Nissan Pathfinder (6.5) or Ford Explorer (7.6”), so it’s not as easy to get in and out of as those vehicles, and you’ll also be perfecting your clean-and-jerk to load stuff in the back of the Durango versus the lower lift-over heights of the competition.

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With all these gotchas, it might sound like the Durango isn’t as good as those Crossovers that came from cars. The opposite is true. The ride is supple with disciplined control, and the whole vehicle feels solid. On smooth roads or the surface-of-the-moon byways that seem to cover 90 percent of the nation, the Durango chassis is always graceful. The steering, an electro-hydraulic rack and pinion, is precise and confident with good weighting but not a whole lot of feel.

The Durango is well screwed together, and it feels as good as the Grand Cherokee from behind the wheel. The Durangos which came before are really the issue here. The original sold really well, a bit of parts-bin genius, but it looked tougher than it proved to be. The second-generation Durango is best left out of this conversation, unless you’re trolling CraigsList for a bargain on a loaded-up truck-based SUV that looks Chinese. That leaves this one as the last, and best Durango. Hold on to your wallets, it’s gonna make one hell of a Jeep. 2014 Dodge Duranto_0001 2014 Dodge Duranto_0002 2014 Dodge Duranto_0003 2014 Dodge Duranto_0004 2014 Dodge Duranto_0005 2014 Dodge Duranto_0006 2014 Dodge Duranto_0007 2014 Dodge Duranto_0008 2014 Dodge Duranto_0009 2014 Dodge Duranto_0010 2014 Dodge Duranto_0011 2014 Dodge Duranto_0012 2014 Dodge Duranto_0013 2014 Dodge Duranto_0014 2014 Dodge Duranto_0015 2014 Dodge Duranto_0016 2014 Dodge Duranto_0017 2014 Dodge Duranto_0018 2014 Dodge Duranto_0019 2014 Dodge Duranto_0020 2014 Dodge Duranto_0021 2014 Dodge Duranto_0022 2014 Dodge Duranto_0023 2014 Dodge Duranto_0024 2014 Dodge Duranto_0025 2014 Dodge Duranto_0026 2014 Dodge Duranto_0027 2014 Dodge Duranto_0028

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Review: 2014 Dodge Durango Limited V8 (with Video) Thu, 16 Jan 2014 15:00:23 +0000 2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-002

Car shopping used to be so simple: you could buy a truck or a car. Then came the wagon, minivan, sport utility and the latest craze: the crossover. There’s just one problem with the crossover for me however: it’s not a crossover. With a name like that you’d assume that a modern crossover blended the lines between a truck/SUV with a car/minivan. The reality of course is that the modern three-row crossover is just a front-driving minivan that doesn’t handle as well or haul as much stuff. In this sea of transverse minivans in SUV clothing lies just one mass-market vehicle that I can honestly call a three-row crossover: the Dodge Durango. Instead of a car that’s been turned into an AWD minivan with a longer hood, the Dodge uses drivetrains out of the RAM 1500 combined with a car-like unibody. While rumors swirled that the Durango would be canceled in favor of a 7-seat Jeep, Dodge was working a substantial makeover for 2014.

Click here to view the embedded video.

So what is the Durango? Is it an SUV? Is it a crossover? In my mind, both. If a Grand Cherokee can be a unibody SUV and not a crossover, the Durango must be an SUV. But if a crossover is a hybrid between a car and a truck, then the Durango is one as well. While the first and second generation Durangos were body-on-frame SUVs based on the Dakota pickup, this Durango is a three-row Grand Cherokee, which is a two-row Jeep version of the three-row Mercedes ML which is quasi related to the Mercedes E-Class, which is quasi related to the Chrysler 300. Lost yet?


2014 brings few changes to the outside of the Durango. The design first released in 2011 still looks fresh to my eye but that could be because I don’t see many on the road. Up front we get a tweaked corporate grille and new lamps while out back we get “race track” inspired light pipes circling the rump. Aside from a lowered right height on certain models and new wheels, little has changed for the Durango’s slab-sided profile, which I think is one of the Dodge’s best features. No, I’m not talking about the plain-Jane acres of sheet metal, I’m talking about RWD proportions. Bucking the trend, this three-row sports a long (and tall) hood, blunt nose, short front overhang and high belt-line.

To create the Durango from the Grand Cherokee, Chrysler stretched the Jeep’s wheelbase by 5-inches to 119.8 inches and added three inches to the body. The result is four-inches longer than an Explorer but two inches shorter than the Traverse, Acadia and Enclave triplets. Thanks to the Durango’s short front overhand, the Dodge has the longest wheelbase by a long way, beating even the full-size Chevy Tahoe. Speaking of the body-on-frame competition, the Durango may have been a size too small in the past, but this generation is just 8/10ths of an inch shorter than that Tahoe.



Body-on-frame SUVs have a practicality problem when it comes to space efficiency. Because the frame sits between the body and the road, they tend to be taller than unibody crossovers despite having less interior volume. Like the rest of the crossover crowd, this allows the Durango to have a spacious interior with a comparatively low entry height. 2014 brings a raft of much-needed interior updates to the cabin including a new soft touch dashboard, Chrysler’s latest corporate steering wheel with shift paddles, revised climate controls, Chrysler’s latest uConnect 2 infotainment system and a standard 7-inch LCD instrument cluster. Like the other Chrysler products with this LCD, the screen is flanked by a traditional tachometer, fuel and temperature gauge. Oddly enough, the standard infotainment screen is a smallish (in comparison) 5-inches.

Front seat comfort proves excellent in the Durango which was something of a relief, as the last few Chrysler products I have driven had form and oddly shaped seat bottom cushions that make me feel as if I was “sitting on and not in the seat.” As with all three-row vehicles, the accommodations get less comfortable as you move toward the back. By default all Durango trims are 7-passenger vehicles with a three-across second row. For $895 Dodge will delete the middle seat and insert a pair of more comfortable captain’s chairs and a center console with cup holders and a storage compartment. The third row is a strictly two-person affair and, like most crossovers, is best left to children and your mother in law. Those who do find themselves in “the way back” will be comforted by above average headroom and soft touch plastic arm rests. With large exterior proportions you’d expect a big cargo hold like in the cavernous Traverse, alas the RWD layout that makes the Durango so unique renders the interior less practical. With more of the body used up for “hood,” we get just 17 cubes of space behind the third row. That’s three less than an Explorer, seven less than GM’s Lambda triplets and about the same as a Honda Pilot. On the bright side this is more than you will find in a Highlander or Sorento and shockingly enough, more than in the Tahoe as well.



uConnect 2 is the first major update to Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen system that launched in 2011 and the first version of this system the Durango has ever had. Based on a QNX UNIX operating system, the system features well polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. For the second edition of uConnect, Chrysler smoothed out the few rough edges in the first generation of this system and added a boat-load of trendy tech features you may or may not care about. In addition to improved voice commands for USB/iDevice control, uConnect 2 offers smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart Radio or Slacker Radio. You can have text messages read to you and dictate replies (if your phone supports it) and search for restaurants and businesses via Yelp. In addition to all the smartphone-tied features, uConnect 2 integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network into the unit for over-the-air software updates and access to the new “App Store” where you will be able to buy apps for your car. Since there’s a cell modem onboard, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices as well. Keep in mind speeds are 3G, not Sprint’s WiMAX or LTE network.

Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services which include traffic, movie times, sports scores, fuel prices and weather reports. As with uConnect data services, there’s a fee associated after the first few months so keep that in mind. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports. Garmin’s navigation software is still available as a $500 add-on (standard on Summit) and it still looks like someone cut a hole in the screen and stuck a hand-held Garmin unit in the dash. The interface is easy to use but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. If the bevy of USB ports has you confused, you can rock your Cat Stevens CD by paying $190 for a single-slot disc player jammed into the center armrest.

2014 Dodge Durango 5.7L HEMI V8 Engine-001Drivetrain

Dodge shoppers will find two of the Grand Cherokee’s four engines under the hood. First up we have a 290HP/260lb-ft 3.6L V6 (295HP in certain trims) standard in all trims except the R/T. R/T models get a standard 360HP/390lb-ft 5.7L HEMI V8 which can be added to the other trims for $2,795. 2014 brings a beefed up cooling system and a number of minor tweaks in the name of fuel economy. Sadly Chrysler has decided to keep the V6 EcoDiesel engine and 6.4L SRT V8 Grand Cherokee only options, so if you hoped to sip diesel or burn rubber in your three row crossover, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Both engines are mated to a ZF-designed 8-speed automatic. V6 models use the low torque variety made by Chrysler while V8 models use a heavy-duty 8HP70 made in a ZF factory. If you’re up to date on Euro inbreeding, you know this is the same transmission used by BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover and Rolls Royce. To say this is a step up from the vilified Mercedes 5-speed or the Chrysler 6 speed (the 65RFE featured some of the strangest ratio spacing ever) is putting it mildly. Fuel economy jumps 9% in the V6, 10% in the V8. No small feat in a 4,835lb SUV (as tested). All Durangos start out as rear wheel drive vehicles but you can add a two-speed four-wheel-drive system for $2,400. Although Dodge bills this as AWD, it is the same transfer case that Jeep calls 4×4 in Selec-Trac II equipped Grand Cherokees. Thanks to the heavy-duty drivetrain towing rings in at 6,200lbs for the V6 and 7,400lbs for the V8. Like the Jeeps the Durango has moved to more car-like 5-lug wheels which should widen after-market selection.

2014 Dodge Durango Exterior


The engineers took the refresh opportunity to tweak the Durango toward the sportier side of the segment with stiffer springs and beefier sway bars. While far from a night-and-day transformation, the difference is noticeable and appreciated out on the roads. While never harsh, it is obvious the Durango is tuned towards the firm side of this segment. Thanks to the long wheelbase the Durango feels well composed on the highway or on broken pavement.

With a nearly 50/50 weight balance, wide 265-width tires, and a lower center of gravity than a “traditional SUV”, the Durango is easily the handling and road feeling champion. That’s not to say the Durango is some sort of sports car in disguise, but when you compare a well balanced 360 horsepower rear wheel drive elephant to a slightly lighter but much less balanced front driving elephant on skinny rubber, it’s easy to see which is more exciting. Thanks to the Mercedes roots there’s even a whiff of feedback in the steering, more than you can say for the average crossover. Despite the long wheelbase and wide tires, the Durango still cuts a fairly respectable 37-foot turning circle.

Those statement may have you scratching your head if you recall what I said about Jeep on which the Durango is based, I must admit I scratched my head as well. Although the Dodge and the Jeep share suspension design elements and a limited number of components, the tuning is quite different. The Grand Cherokee Summit rides 3.1-inchs higher and was equipped with the off-road oriented air suspension.

2014 Dodge Durango Exterior-005

When it comes to performance, the new 8-speed automatic makes a night and day difference shaving a whopping 1.4 seconds off the 0-60 time versus the last V8 Durango we tested. The reason is all in the gear ratios. While the 545RFE and 65RFE transmissions suffered from some truly odd ratios, the ZF unit’s ratios are more evenly spread and dig deeper in the low gears. The result is a 6.0 second sprint to highway speeds which finally nips on the tails of the Explorer Sport which we’re told will do the same in 5.9-6.0 (TTAC hasn’t tested one yet). This proves what extra gears can do for you because the Explorer is 200lbs lighter and has a far more advantageous torque curve thanks to the twin turbos.

You can also thank the ZF transmission for the Durango’s robust towing numbers. V6 models are now rated for 6,200lbs while the V8 can haul up to 7,400lbs when properly equipped. That’s nearly 50% more than you can tow in any of the crossover competition and just 1,000 lbs shy of the average full-size body-on-frame hauler.

The transmission is also responsible for a whopping 20% increase in fuel economy. The last V8 Durango I tested eked out a combined 14.8 MPG over a week while the 2014 managed 18.0 MPG. While 18 MPG isn’t impressive in wider terms, it is 1/2 an MPG better than GM’s Lambda crossovers or the Ford Explorer on my commute cycle. The V6 yields improved fuel economy at the expense of thrust, but you should know that although the acceleration provided by the V6 is competitive with the V6 three-row competition, the 20 MPG average falls short of the new Highlander, Pathfinder and the rest of the FWD eco-minded competition.

After a week with the Durango I was no closer to answering the biggest question car buffs have: is this Dodge a crossover or an SUV? One thing is sure however, the Durango is likely the most fun you can have with 6 of your friends for under $50,000.


Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.4

0-60: 6.0

1/4 Mile: 14.6 Seconds @ 96 MPH

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 69dB @ 50 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 18 MPG over 811 miles


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Review: 2013 Charger SE Pentastar 5AT — Two Countries And Two Thousand Miles In Four Days Tue, 20 Aug 2013 13:15:34 +0000 charger1

The scheme was both ridiculous and somewhat unlikely to succeed as written. Drive from Columbus, Ohio to Toronto for the John Mayer concert. Turn immediately around and drive home. Go to work for a day, go to sleep. Wake up and drive from Columbus to Charlotte, NC via Lexington, KY. Play three sets with Bark M. at a rooftop party chock-full of impossibly gorgeous women and free Tito’s vodka. Sleep. Drive home. Do not damage car, do not play an Em7 when a Emaj7 is called for, do not short my brother on the “A” section in the middle of his solo, do not attempt to crash bachelorette party in the next room.

We needed room for equipment and people, the ability to hit 110 mph on hilly freeways in order to make soundcheck on time, a boomin’ system, and the maximum possible fuel economy. The car had to be spacious enough for three people to travel and/or take roadside naps in while being small enough to fit in a downtown parking garage spot. Most of all, it had to be relaxing on the freeway, because I’d be doing almost all the driving on low or no sleep, but not so relaxing that I fell asleep behind the wheel.

In other words, what I needed was what your parents or grandparents might have called a grown man’s car. I love the Camry and I respect the Altima, but with a task like this ahead, only one rental ride would do. Mr. Charger, step forward.


Much hay’s being made of the new eight-speed transmission in Pentastar Chargers, but if you take the base “SE” model, which retails for just over $27K, you’ll get the NAG1 Benz unit that has appeared, with various parts swapped out, everywhere from the Maybach 62 to the pre-PDK Porsche 997 Turbo. I don’t know that this is such a bad thing. The transmission is well-understood and many places can fix it. If you were looking to run a Charger for a long time or under severe conditions, it might well be a better choice than the octo-box. It certainly doesn’t hobble the car the way the cheapo four-speed did its entry-level predecessors.

We’ll follow the example of the Greek playwrights and provide some of the conclusion of this review right here in the fifth paragraph. This is not a full-sized car, not in the way that a Panther is a full-sized car or even in the way that the Avalon is a full-sized car. If you’re looking to get the most metal for your money, this isn’t for you. Get a slightly used or dealership-remainder W-body Impala. Nor is the Charger a “value” in the traditional sense. The Camry SE has it matched for feature count at an MSRP five grand beneath that of the Dodge, plus it will probably be worth more when you trade it in five years from now. Nor is it an SRT-8 on a budget; the Pentastar is massively strong and it handles okay but there’s a tangible universe of difference in the way an SE goes down the road and the way the big-bore model rips the asphalt off it.

So. Not a value, not a big car, not a sports car. What is it? Why, it’s nothing more — and nothing less — than the perfection of the Mopar M-body. I realized it as I was casually bopping across a set of raised train tracks near my neighborhood at eighty-five miles per hour. Of all the cars I’ve driven around here, only my Town Car pulls that same trick off with aplomb. Most mass-market sedans, even high-priced ones, produce a Suspension Death Rattle(tm) at about fifty mph, but I’d somehow just naturally assumed that the Charger could do it. This is a proper heavy-duty automobile. I don’t mean to imply that it will last forever or that every part on the thing is built to MIL-SPEC. Far from it. But the bones of the thing are pure, sheer, bad ass. It has the power-to-weight ratio of the original BMW 750il but returned nearly 32 miles per gallon in long-distance freeway usage. Twenty-seven thousand dollars would get you “more car” in a Camry or a Malibu but that really means more gingerbread, more shine slathered on a sixteen-grand metal box that accepts its entire powertrain in a single unit from beneath on the factory line like a working girl nonchalantly descending upon two customers at once. Just to speed the process. To save the client money. The bones of the Charger aren’t really from a Mercedes-Benz, no matter how much the car’s champions and critics wish it to be so, but they are thoroughbred, heavy-duty, worthy of mention along with the everlasting Fifth Avenue or Gran Fury. Under the skin, the Charger is an expensive automobile.

No surprise, then, that the rest of it’s depressingly cheap and crappy. Get in the car and suddenly it’s 1998 all over again at Chrysler. The flat black plastic interior would barely have passed muster in my old Neon. There’s an odd sort of fascia laid over the driver’s side of the thing. I know it’s real metal because it retains heat and cold but it doesn’t look very nice. Ten minutes in the thing and you’re ready to buy a Chrysler 300 without regard for the additional cost. Just to see some color and design, you know? It’s not very good. The Avenger interior is kind of better and the Grand Caravan interior is considerably superior. The instrument panel is laughably bad. It’s the lowest-contrast set of gauges I’ve ever seen on a production automobile. Grey and dark red on black. Learn to change the center display to show your speed. You’ll need to in order to avoid tickets. At twilight the dashboard is all but invisible. This is damned near unacceptable in 2013 and I don’t care that it looks cool in a mega-watt-lit showroom.

It doesn’t help that after the airy, well-lit environment of my cream-interior Town Car the Charger’s cockpit feels like falling into a well. The doors are so high and visibility is indifferent to the rear and sides. It took me all of LJK Setright’s one hundred miles for me to get over it. If I could wave a wand and change one thing about the Charger, it would be to drop the beltline four or five inches. I don’t want to hide in the car.

This particular fault is in no way unique to Chrysler LX sedans, however. Everybody runs the beltline high now. It’s not worth bitching about. I just wish this car had an M-body’s worth of glass around me. Wish in one hand, grab the Charger’s shifter in the other, throw it across the strangely vacant pattern down to “D”, stomp the throttle, achieve redemption. My hand to God, this has to be the best big-inch V-6 available. No, it doesn’t have a VQ37′s worth of raw horsepower but it just revs and sounds great and exudes willingness at all times. Car and Driver says it’s noticeably slower than the V-6 front-wheel-drivers and they have numbers to prove it. In the real world, however, the Charger has traction and composure the Accord and Camry can’t match. You can drive this thing full-throttle all the time if you want and your license has the points to spare. The old Impala can probably walk it but you’d need to be on the freeway because everywhere there’s broken pavement or camber problems the Dodge is unstoppable. Like I said. Heavy duty.

The Toronto leg of my trip passed without incident, the trip computer reporting more than thirty miles per gallon even once I hit the city’s infamous Gardiner Expressway. Once on the surface streets the Mopar displayed its big-wheeled indifference to potholes under full throttle and I took spot after spot away from slower, less certain traffic. On the drive home I had to stop and take a nap. Turns out I’m no longer superhuman at the age of forty-one and after thirty-six hours and seven hundred miles I need a rest. Two hours reclined in the mouse-fur seat was easy as pie then it was back to the road. This is a highway car. It doesn’t stress you on the six-lane the way the lighter, tidier competition does. It doesn’t transmit those fatiguing vibrations to your hands and it doesn’t wander and it isn’t sensitive to wind. Only an oddly spooky noise from the trunk area betrays the presence of serious cross-breeze. There’s only one real annoyance in the car, and it’s not going to affect everyone, but from what I’ve researched it’s not unique to my tester, so I’ll mention it. The mini-screen uConnect system plays individual albums from iPods in alphabetical order. This, as I’m sure you all know, places “Friends, Lovers, or Nothing” right after “Edge of Desire”. I don’t mind that, but try listening to Contra that way. Starting with “A-Punk” instead of “Mansard Roof”? Bitch pleeeeeeeeease.

Prepping for the second leg of my trip revealed another less-than-stellar aspect of the Charger: the trunk isn’t full-sized either. I ended up taking one amplifier (a Roland VGA-5, hedging my bet with solid-state electronics for a long trip) instead of two, and two guitars instead of three. The Town Car is so far beyond the Charger in trunk space it’s not funny. And don’t forget that if you decide you want the nice interior and the hip look of the Chrysler 300 — it has less trunk than this. Ridiculous. They should make a long-trunk 300C and call it the Newport. It would look nice in my driveway. I don’t recall the M-body having much of a trunk so I suppose they’re staying on-message here.

I handed the wheel over to Bark for the second half of the Lexington-to-Charlotte leg and he dropped my average mileage right down to twenty-four and a half by lead-footing a hundred miles of mountain freeway and rarely dipping beneath ninety miles per hour. He said we were going to miss soundcheck if he didn’t drive like a crazy person. Turns out we missed soundcheck anyway, mostly because he wanted to iron the shirt he had tailored in Toulouse last week for this gig. Oh well.

After an utterly fascinating gig beneath a steel tent and a furious amount of rain (if you’re interested in what we were playing and with whom, I’ll tell you) it was time to retire to my room. The bachelorette party next door proved to be a totally lame group of girls with husbands. Who brings husbands to a bachelorette party? Six hours and sleep then back on the road. My goal was to restore the Charger’s 30-mpg honor in the five-hundred-plus miles to come but at some point I forgot about that and accidentally decided to test the car’s top-speed limiter. It has one. Final stats:



Thirty miles per gallon in a car that leaps for triple digits and smokes back tires and holds four people. Hell yes. I was charged five days for the rental because I brought it back a trifle late. It would have been a bargain at twice the price. Listen. I cannot recommend the Charger over the Camry to you, the TTAC reader. It costs more. It will probably break more often and retain less value and if you’re driving in the city the mileage really can’t hang with the four-cylinder cars. In the winter it really, really needs snow tires and I know you never buy them, even though I always do, even for Audis. This isn’t the interior you want. You really want at least a 300 Luxury Edition and that’s real money and the trunk is smaller. The smart thing to do at that point is to buy an ES350 anyway.

But there are a few of you out there who will love the Charger, as I do. Because it’s a road warrior, because the bones of it feel heavy, because you can throw the tail out on rainy city streets, because it looks like Mike Tyson in some sucker’s rearview mirror, because it’s a man’s car in an era where just writing “man’s car” in this review will upset some people and probably rightly so, I can’t apologize for how I was raised and what I believe. I suppose a woman could own and love it but she’d have to be a bad-ass herself, Anne Hathaway in a black leather outfit or that one girl from Sleater-Kinney who screams all the time. This Canadian automobile is meant to serve a declining number of traditional Americans, that cool dad who swears at dinner then winks at you and who owns Snap-On tools and who holds the door for old people and who has a preference between Ozzy and Dio. If you’ve ever seriously thought about font choice or identity politics for more than thirty seconds, this may not be the car for you. But if you want the toughest car twenty-seven grand can buy, if you want to know what it was like to open the throttle on a 360-powered Fifth Avenue in an era of ninety-horsepower Accords, step right up. It won’t be here forever. I promise you that.

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Rental Car Review: 2013 Dodge Avenger Fri, 09 Aug 2013 15:00:41 +0000 IMG_1026

I had dinner recently with TTAC’s enfant terrible, Doug Demuro, something we do every few weeks as our respective schedules permit.  Predictably, our pre-, mid- and post-prandial conversation revolved around our shared passion for automobiles, as well as the people who read and write about them.  At one point I made a hasty proclamation, which was in retrospect unwise given my audience: “Doug, I really don’t think any manufacturers are making objectively bad cars right now.”  Doug paused and replied: “My friend, have you ever heard of Chrys-ler?,” enunciating the last pair of syllables as if speaking to an alien.  He continued, “check out the 200 if you have a chance.”

As (bad) luck would have it, I found myself at the local Porsche dealer not long ago, eager to trade my hard-earned dollars in exchange for renewed braking capabilities for my car.  As always, they were bereft of loaner cars, but they promised to provide me with an Enterprise rental car.  After leaving my 911 at its home-away-from-home – I am legitimately on a first name basis with the majority of the service department at my local Porsche emporium – I rode with the Enterprise lady (they really did pick me up!) to their nearby lot.  I was confronted with two options – a ubiquitous Ford F-150 or a 2013 Dodge Avenger.  Mindful that the Avenger is the ostensibly edgier stablemate of the aforementioned Chrysler 200, as well as some recent accolades directed at the sub-prime striver’s car of choice I chose the Dodge.  After the perfunctory walk-around and paperwork, I was on my way.

Truth be told, I was a little excited to try out the Dodge.  Walter P. Chrysler’s namesake company has endured ups and downs and a variety of masters and bedfellows throughout its nearly 90-year history.  Like anyone who would name a car after himself, or commission an iconic, Art Deco Manhattan skyscraper with the same nomenclature, the eponym obviously took great pride in his body of work, the representation of his endeavors.  The company endured after his passing, but fell on hard times by the late 1970s, with newly hired executive Lee Iacocca approaching Congress for a bailout in late 1979.  After over $1 billion in backstopping, Chrysler was back on its feet in the next decade, riding the successful restructuring and the strength of its product offerings, including the minivan.  Chrysler later consorted with Daimler and ended up in the arms of private equity sponsor Cerberus after the dissolution of the uneasy union with the Germans.  The automaker suffered more misfortune courtesy of the financial crisis and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in the spring of 2009.  A curious ownership structure resulted, with Fiat and the United Auto Workers union sharing custody of the company.  In recent years we’ve seen Super Bowl sloganeering that appeals to emotion – “Imported from Detroit”, “Halftime in America”, and “God Made a Farmer” in succession – and suffered partisan bloviating and mudslinging concerning the company’s direction.

But how are the products, the cars that the company designs and manufactures with the intention of returning a profit to its owners?  I wanted to find out.

My Avenger for a few days was a 15,000 mile example that was already showing considerable wear due to its rental fleet usage.  Upon getting settled inside I was struck by the exceptionally cheap plastics that permeated the interior.  Enterprise had helpfully added an admonishment against smoking inside the car, presumably to prevent those trapped inside it from attempting self-immolation.

Avenger No Smoking

I adjusted the trio of mirrors in an attempt to enhance rearward visibility, but it was futile.  You might forgive compromised situational awareness in, say, a Lamborghini Countach, but I found this distressing in the Dodge, in particular the enormous blind spots created by the plastic cladding extending from the c-pillars.

Avenger C Pillar Inside

This design feature was apparently elected to facilitate the placement of aerodynamic addenda on the exterior, ensuring that the rear end of this front-wheel drive economy car remains planted during aggressive maneuvering.

 Avenger C Pillar Exterior

While I wasn’t able to position the rear-view mirror at any angle that afforded a reasonable view of whatever was tailgating me, I was permitted an excellent view of the rear shelf, which appeared to be upholstered in scraps that otherwise could have been used to form the coarse outer covering for a stack of Marshall amplifiers.

 Avenger Rear Shelf

I eventually composed myself and reasoned that the poor visibility could be a blessing in disguise – I couldn’t see out, but no one else would be able to see me driving the car.  I cranked the engine and returned to work.  The Avenger featured 4 cylinders and 4 forward gears, and it moaned like a dying animal when anything beyond half throttle was applied.  The transmission proved extraordinarily dimwitted, pausing for several seconds before swapping cogs, even when cruising on surface streets.  The steering wheel featured small buttons on its reverse, and I hoped that they would allow me to control gear selection, just like Doug’s Cadillac CTS-V station wagon, which was also made by a bailed-out domestic automaker.  Instead, I later found out via the world-wide web that the buttons controlled the car’s stereo, although on my car they were already broken (or never functional), as pressing them elicited no response from the Dodge.

Speaking of the steering wheel… steering feel is often discussed by car reviewers and enthusiasts, but its something that’s quite difficult to describe adequately using only words.  It depends on the complex interplay among weighting, linearity of response, and the transmission of the tires’ relationship with the tarmac back to the helm; perhaps it’s a bit like pornography, you know it when you feel it.  You also know when you don’t feel it, and the Avenger provided no feel whatsoever.  It reminded me of playing Cruis’n USA at the local arcade as a child.

Despite the record levels of rain that have plagued Atlanta this year, it still gets hot in the Dirty South during the Dog Days of summer.  I cranked up the air conditioning on my maiden voyage, but quickly noticed that it mostly provided a huffing and puffing of sound and fury, rather than serving its intended purpose, so I just rolled down the windows instead.  The Avenger’s window switches are quite interesting.  Whereas my 20th century Porsche’s switches return a precise click upon reaching their detents, the Dodge’s switches appear to be made from a Styrofoam packing peanut that was spray-painted black.  They are so flimsy that I could easily detach them from their housings using only two fingers.

 Avenger Window Switch

The passenger side window features an ironic sticker.

 Avenger Sticker

There’s no pride to be taken in any aspect of the Dodge Avenger.  There’s no pride to be taken by the taxpayers who have facilitated the continued existence of this stinker of a car.  There’s none of that pride that Walter P. Chrysler had when he put his name on his cars.  All that’s left is shame.

David Walton grew up in the North Georgia mountains before moving to Virginia to study Economics, Classics, and Natural Light at Washington and Lee University. Post-graduation, he returned to his home state to work in the financial services industry in Atlanta.  A lifelong automotive enthusiast, particular interests include (old) Porsches and sports car racing.

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Dad, Is This How Vipers Really Go Together? Wed, 05 Jun 2013 12:30:11 +0000 IMG_0011

The longer I do this, the more I realize that it’s about people, not machines. Don’t get me wrong, I still think that cars are way cool, something only human beings could create, but it’s those human beings involved in that creation that make stories worth telling and hearing. When my son, my only son, Moshe, whom I love, was a boy we put model cars together. It was a father-son thing but I also wanted him to learn a little patience. We took care putting them together, but we rarely painted them. That too took much patience. Sometime when he was in fifth grade, so this would have been 1994 or 1995 when Mo was ten years old, we were building a model of a Dodge Viper. It was an AMT/Ertl kit, in 1:25 scale.


I let him pick out the models that we built and by the time he picked out a Viper, we’d already assembled a Lamborghini Diablo and a Ferrari Testarossa and by then we might have made his Pinewood Derby racer too (the fastest finisher that wasn’t over the legal weight limit). While building the Viper, though, he asked me a question about the Viper kit that he hadn’t asked about the other models. “Abba,” he said, “is this how Vipers really go together?”  I told him that it was a pretty detailed and accurate model, but no, they didn’t go together quite the same way as the model kit. Then I said to him, “Well, the factory where they build them is on Conner in Detroit. The president of Chrysler is a man named Robert Lutz. I’ll get you the address of the Chrysler headquarters in Highland Park (this was before the move to Auburn Hills), and you can write him a letter about visiting the factory with your classmates from school.”


I got the address and Mo wrote the letter. He composed it himself (with some guidance) and wrote it in his best penmanship, which by the time he was 10 had devolved to a bit of a scrawl. He even addressed the envelope himself. I didn’t really think anything would come of it, but Mo’s grandfather always told me that it never hurts to ask, the worst that can happen is that someone will say no. A couple of weeks later Moshe’s mom called me at work and told me that someone from Chrysler was trying to get in touch with me. We had a ’91 Dodge AWD minivan that we liked a lot but it also went through four of those 604 transmissions while we owned it, mostly at Chrysler’s expense. I figured it was something to do with our Caravan so I called the number.


The gentleman identified himself as the general manager of manufacturing for the Chrysler corporation. I’ve lived around Detroit my whole life, I was working for DuPont Automotive at the time, one of the few companies that was a Tier One, Tier Two and Tier Three supplier to the auto industry, and I knew right away that people at that high level don’t call up folks about their bad transmissions.


“I have a letter here that your son apparently wrote. I want you to know that it’s gotten more attention here than a letter from President Clinton would have. Honestly, if an adult had written it, it would have gone into the circular file, but Mr. Lutz liked how your son wrote it himself and we’d like to invite his class for a field trip to see how Vipers are really built at the Conner Ave plant.”


I told him that the school had two fifth grades, so we’d be talking about fifty 10 year olds, not twenty five, plus adult chaperones. He said that would be no problem. This was one school field trip for which finding enough adult supervision was also going to be no problem at all. He laid out the proposed itinerary, a VIP tour of the plant and assembly line, a question and answer period with some snacks, and maybe some gifts. I explained that it was a Jewish parochial school and that Detroit favorites Faygo pop and Better Made potato chips were kosher.


The tour went off without a hitch. The factory workers, handpicked from Chrysler’s employees at large, were thrilled to see kids come through the plant. The last thing they do before hanging the body panels is test the rolling chassis on a dynamometer. Large concrete pillars rose up, hydraulically, from the floor to keep the car in place should it manage to get off of the rollers. The then took it up through all the gears to about 160 MPH.  During the question and answer period, one boy asked if it was the same car as on Knight Rider. Our hosts laughed and said no. Perhaps the lad was a bit confused because the Viper indeed starred in a television show, called, wait for it, “Viper”. Chrysler Design even designed the Viper Defender “star” car for the show. Perhaps the fact that product placement was more important than things like plot and dialog is why it only lasted a year on NBC. On the other hand, the show had its fans because it lived on in syndication until 1999, with a number of revisions. The Viper Defender  from the series comes up for sale from time to time. It recently failed to sell eBay with a high bid of $174,100, reserve not reached.


Back at the factory, after the boys and girls had their soft drinks, they handed out the swag, red t-shirts with black Viper logos and then it was time to go home. At the time I believe all production Vipers were either red, black or yellow. On our way out of the factory I noticed one in a dark blue green. In the almost 20 years since then I’ve only seen one other Viper in that color. Mo and I still have our shirts, his is a bit faded and has a tear or two, mine is almost brand new. Considering that he used the finished Viper model as a toy, it’s still in decent condition. One front wheel is missing and one of the rears needs to be cemented back on. The plastic has yellowed a bit – Mo used to keep it on a window ledge so it’s been exposed to a bit of UV. When Mo’s son Aryeh is old enough to play with it without breaking it, it’ll be his. The Viper is back in production and if Chrysler manages to hang around for till Aryeh is ten, maybe he and Mo will build their own model of a 2022 Viper.


The kids learned a lot that day and not just how cars go together and are an important part of the industry and culture of their hometown. The Conner Ave plant is on Detroit’s east side. These were all suburban kids who had most likely never been driven on surface streets in the less genteel parts of the city. Detroit’s blight is infamous today and that decay didn’t start yesterday. From some of the kids’ comments about some of the houses that they saw, I think they learned that they were rather fortunate, and not just because they were getting a field trip to the Viper factory.

Fast forward a decade or so to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Mo had been helping me work the press previews of the big Detroit show for a few years by then. I was up on the stage after a GM press conference, asking Bob Lutz some questions and when I noticed my son walking towards us, I said to him, “You may not remember this, but when you were still at Chrysler in Highland Park, a ten year old boy wrote you a letter about the Viper factory and you arranged a field trip for his class. That boy is now an engineering student,” and I motioned to my son to join us.

Lutz asked him what kind of engineering, and he said he hadn’t yet decided, maybe mechanical. Lutz then urged him to consider chemical engineering because of the push for electric cars. Chemistry is at the heart of every electric cell. I thought to myself, “cool, a captain of industry is giving my son career advice.” This was in 2007 or 2008, when Lutz was championing the Chevy Volt project and when many others in the auto industry also thought that EVs were the next big thing. Lutz is the consummate marketer, always trying to pitch something, if not a car or some automotive business, then himself and his ideas. The skeptic in me says that he was using the opportunity to promote one of his pet projects, the Volt. The dad in me says that it was a genuine moment.


Next to the times that I get paid for it, the best thing about writing about cars is the access that I get to people, places and some exceptionally cool cars. For instance, at the media luncheon for the just completed Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, I had the opportunity to chat with recent Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, and ask Roger Penske if he’d take the job if GM’s board offered him the CEO position. We tend to define public figures like Kanaan, Penske and Lutz by their singular accomplishments in the public eye but the simple truism is that famous people are people too. At the Grand Prix luncheon Tony’s racing colleagues and competitors seemed genuinely happy for his win and you’ll excuse me if I think that Lutz was actually giving my son career advice.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Review: 2013 Dodge Avenger SE Fri, 26 Apr 2013 13:00:43 +0000

How much car can you get in this country for sixteen thousand bucks? Well, you could try a base-model Elantra, or with a bit of sharp dealing you might come up with a Sentra. TrueCar thinks you might be able to sneak into a Cruze LS. Certainly you could get a Ford Focus, which might be the best choice if you can shift for yourself or you trust the PowerShift double-clutcher.

How about something a little bigger and more powerful? Would you be interested? What if I told you it wasn’t all that bad on a racetrack? What if you’re a subprime buyer?

With the current group of incentives, it’s possible to get a 2013 Avenger SE like the nearly-new one I rented last week for about sixteen grand. The bad news is that you don’t really want an Avenger SE. You want an Avenger SE V6 For an extra $2100 or so, you get alloy wheels and a six-speed transmission with AutoStick manumatic control to replace the prehistoric four-cogger. Oh, and there’s the minor matter of a Pentastar V-6, which enables the Avenger to crank out fourteen-second quarter-mile times at will.

Unfortunately for me, nobody wanted to rent me an Avenger SE V6 for a little trip I had to take to GingerMan Raceway last week. (If you’re curious as to what I was driving at GingerMan, you’ll need to click here.) In fact, they didn’t even want to rent me an Avenger SE. They wanted to rent me a Corolla. I had to beg and plead and cajole to get the Avenger. I did this because the Corolla is about my least favorite rental car ever. Compared to the Corolla, the Avenger is a Viper.

Well, maybe it’s not a Viper. But neither is it a Fleetwood Talisman. In fact, the Avenger is closer size-wise to the Corolla than it is to the Camry. Mitsubishi and Chrysler failed to correctly predict the Cretaceous explosion in mid-sized cars — or maybe they did but figured the LX cars would cover the high end. Either way, the Avenger is positively tidy in the modern context. Visibility’s decent all the way around despite the face-down-ass-up proportions stolen from the last-generation Charger. There’s a noticeable amount of extra space both front and rear compared to the compact cars but it’s not even Altima-sized inside.

I’m repeatedly told all over the Internet that the Avenger and 200 have a horrifyingly cheap interior despite the recent round of revisions. I’m not sure about that. The plastic’s about the same as what you get everywhere else (with the possible exception of the Cruze) and there’s a fair amount of actual metal trim which has to be a unique selling point at this price. If you can compare this to, say, a Mazda3 Grand Touring, which costs three grand more before incentives, and say there’s any real difference in materials quality or assembly, I congratulate you on your ability to perceive a difference that is nonexistent to me.

The seats, on the other hand, immediately impressed me as being positively medieval and after fifty miles I had a sore back. I’m used to knocking out five or six hundred miles before back pain sets in so this was an unpleasant surprise. I never got comfortable in the Avenger’s seats and no amount of adjustment helped. I recall quite enjoying the seats in the Chrysler 200, so make sure you try both cars if you’re thinking about buying either. There’s a difference there.

Luckily for me this was one of my shorter rental trips, with barely 315 miles between my front door and the registration tower at GingerMan. With temperatures swinging between 22 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, every moment I spent driving an open-cockpit car was pretty miserable. I wanted to take a few friends out on the racetrack and thought about taking the Avenger. Naturally, my rental contract prevented doing something irresponsible like that. But as I was looking through the glovebox to find my rental contract just to make sure it prevented something irresponsible like that, a handwritten note fell out. This is what it said,

Dear Avenger Driver,

To save you the trouble of violating your rental contract to take this Avenger around the track, I’ve done it for you and taken some basic notes on how the car behaved.

First, the power. It’s not bad, really, and with just 3400 pounds to move it’s no trouble to hit 90mph on Gingerman’s back straight. What a shame there’s no AutoStick in this model! But the transmission won’t catch you out. Just hit the throttle a half-second before you know you’ll need it, because the four-speed will shift up a gear under hard braking and kind of loaf in the mid-corner.

Handling is remarkably neutral and the rear end can be manipulated with light trail braking. With the traction control turned off, the nose doesn’t push too badly. With better brake pads it would be suited to 20-lap runs. As it is, the pedal gets a little hard after five laps or so.

Steering isn’t terribly responsive but it’s honest and you’d be able to place the Avenger within a few inches of your desired apex. Body roll’s pretty good! A lot of so-called sporty German sedans roll more than the Avenger does.

The Avenger’s easily capable of catching mid-pack LeMons racers. They don’t like it when you do this. In fact, you’ll be able to pull the 944 that’s out there in the straights and hang with it in the corners. It’s far from an utterly hopeless track car. With decent tires it might surprise you. I bet the V-6 AutoStick is a corker. Thanks for reading.

Well, that was convenient. My drive home reaffirmed my hatred of the seats but after a long day in an unmuffled open car I appreciated the relatively quiet Avenger interior. It would be nice to have a little more clarity and power in the stereo; really, I think Ford still has the edge, no pun intended, in base sound systems. Not that you could even touch a Fusion for this kind of cash.

I wouldn’t buy this Avenger for the simple reason that a V-6 Chrysler 200 is far, far more satisfying and it doesn’t cost much more. As a way to carry four full-sized adults with reasonable pace and economy for a rock-bottom price, however, this humble Dodge is tough to beat. The buyers for the 2013 Avenger may be subprime, but the Avenger itself is pretty okay.

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Cop Drives Cop Car: 2012 Dodge Charger Pursuit Sat, 06 Apr 2013 18:54:55 +0000

My takedown of the Ford Police Interceptor Sedan Taurus generated almost two hundred comments. Having recognized what the people want, I immediately began scheming for rides in the Ford’s two major competitors in order to give it to them. An E-mail, followed by a visit to the municipal sales manager at Lexington’s Freedom Dodge- Chrysler- Jeep- Fiat and I was provided with a 2012 Dodge Charger Pursuit for a weekend evaluation.

Mr. Jim Sawrie is the cop car guy at Freedom Dodge and generally keeps a demonstration unit on hand equipped with a center console, protective barrier, and a lightbar. He stripes his demo cars up in various ways, even aping the decal package Lexington PD uses a couple of years ago. He gave his current model a pretty basic decal job, plain enough that you wouldn’t think it would ever be mistaken for a real police car. So, of course, when I stopped to take photos of the car near downtown Lexington I was approached by a guy who wanted to know which Federal alphabet agency was represented by the acronym DEMO.

“DEMO? Why, that’s the Department of Energy Military Operations Command. The “C” is silent and for your safety and in the interest of National Security, you need to move along…”

I can’t really blame the citizen for his concern. Even in refrigerator white and with minimal markings the Charger screams “Official Government Business” as loudly as the Crown Vic ever did. “Beautiful and intimidating,” was how the supervisor in charge of the fleet of Chargers being run by a neighboring agency described it when I called to get his views on the Dodge’s long term durability.  Compared to the plain- Jane styling of the Caprice and the bulbous, dog-with-it’s-butt-in-the-air look of the Taurus, the Charger’s long, low, and wide profile definitely has the most character.

That exterior design helps make the Charger’s interior a much more comfortable place to get to the business of police work, especially compared to the Taurus. I donned my gunbelt and spent much of a Saturday morning driving around with it on. The center console Mr. Sawrie had chosen to install in the car was fairly wide, starting at 11 inches wide at the base of the center stack and tapering to 9 inches wide by the time it reached the area of the seatbelt buckles. Even with a full gunbelt, I had plenty of room without the console pressing in on me, although a slightly narrower console wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Note to equipment vendors: Just because you have the space doesn’t mean you have to fill it.

The extra space makes entering and exiting the front seats of the car very easy, particularly when doing so quickly. Both the front and rear doors open 90 degrees, further than the doors on a Crown Vic and much further than on the Taurus with it’s nylon retntion strap that retards the opening of the front doors. Getting into the backseat is very tight, particularly for a prisoner with his hands secured behind his back. The Dodge’s low roofline is the main culprit here, particularly the way it slopes sharply back towards the “C” pillar. The routine admonition given to prisoners by cops all over the world to “Watch your head and knees” becomes more meaningful when herding perps in and out of a Charger instead of a Crown Vic. Seriously, jailbirds. Watch your heads.

The interior was quieter than I expected, even at highway speeds when air turbulence around the exterior spotlight mounted on the “A” pillar and around the lightbar tends to create a lot of wind noise in marked police vehicles. I was also surprised by the visibility. I had expected that the Charger’s low slung roofline would create a driving experience similar to that of the Taurus. That wasn’t the case at all. While blindspots still existed, particularly with a protective barrier installed, I never felt closed in and blind the way I did when driving the Taurus. Parallel parking, even without the benefit of a rearview camera, was fine.

Controls for the HVAC and stereo were handled primarily through the Uconnect touchscreen, although there were redundant controls for both mounted below. A USB outlet and auxillary port are standard. I found Uconnect to be easy to learn without resorting to the owner’s manual. The car was equipped with optional Bluetooth and paired quickly and easily with my Samsung phone. An option like Bluetooth is probably not taken up by most departments, but perhaps more of them should consider it. Like it or not, fair or unfair, the simple reality is that the cellphone is a vital tool to most patrol officers and one that will be used while driving. The nature of the job will simply require a certain number of distractions to the driver and any technology that can reduce those should be embraced, even if it costs a bit more per unit.

The car I drove was equipped with the 5.7 L Hemi V-8 and included cylinder deactivation. If anything the cylinder deactivation programming is over- aggressive. It seemed as if everytime I glanced at the instrument cluster, the computer was advising me that I was in ECO mode. The transition between four and eight-cylinder operation was relatively seemless and definitely makes a huge difference in fuel consumption. I averaged 15 mpg over 168 miles of driving. (I simulated the time spent idling in a normal patrol shift by leaving the engine running every time I got out to take photos of the car.)

That’s actually pretty good for a police car, particularly one with the 370 horsepower of the Charger’s Hemi V-8. Put your foot in it and all attempts at ECO management vanish with a roar. Testing by the Michigan State Police recorded a top speed of 152 mph. I believe it. In fact, the Hemi might be too much. Had I been given a Charger instead of a Crown Vic when I first hit the streets at age 22, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here to write these articles today.  For most departments the 292 horsepower 3.7 L V-6 and a top speed of 141 mph would probably be a better choice.

Power is routed to the rear wheels through a 5 speed automatic, which includes Chrysler’s Autostick system. A column mounted gear selection lever is a welcome touch although it makes using Autostick almost impossible. The selection buttons for up and down shifting are mounted on the shift lever, which puts them in an awkward position for use during performance driving. I tried Autostick out on a twisty road near my home and found it nearly impossible to use while maintaining control of the wheel.

Control is definitely something you want to maintain. Overall the Charger is incredibly stable, but the Hemi will sneak up on you. The Crown Vic doesn’t particularly like to be hustled through the curves and responds with a certain amount of float and instability. Consequently you’re more aware of your speed as you approach corners in a Crown Vic.

The Charger hugs the road much better and builds your confidence until you glance down at the digital speedo readout as you enter a curve and HOLY CRAP THAT’S TOO FAST! I can report that the brakes  and the traction control work very well and kept me from having to have any awkward conversations with Bertel and Mr. Sawrie.

At least the bill wouldn’t have been too high. Fleet price for a Hemi powered Charger Pursuit starts at $23,585. For reference the most comparable civilian trim level, the Charger R/T, has a base MSRP of $29,995. For the budget minded municipal fleet manager, the V-6 powered Charger Pursuit starts at $21,949, undercutting the price of the cheapest Ford by $790.

Cheap is not usually considered a compliment and Dodge has a reputation, probably undeserved, for poor quality. My own agency’s experiences with Pentastar products has been negative. We were all issued Fords when I started in 1997, but the last of the old Diplomats had only been retired a couple of years before. No one I know who had the misfortune to have been issued one has anything good to say about them. When the previous generation of police Chargers hit the streets in 2006, we actually bought a few of them for use by detectives. Three out of eight developed transmission problems in the first two years of service.

Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial

With that track record in mind, I called a nearby agecy that has switched exclusively to Chargers and asked how their cars have held up. The sergeant in charge of the fleet, Mister “beautiful and intimidating,” reported that their experience has generally been positive. One unit had gone through three motor mounts in six months, but my source felt that was more an issue of operator error than a failure of the car. Front ends tend to need replacing around 75,000 miles. Unlike Lexington’s experience he’d only had to have two transmissions rebuilt and both of those were in cars that had done over 120,000 miles. He only had one of the new generation of Charger in his fleet, but it seemed to be holding up as well or better than the older cars.

His major complaint was that the Chargers cost more to repair than the Crown Vics did. That’s probably going to be a complaint with all of the new generation cop cars, however. The second-best thing about the Crown Vic, after it’s size, was it’s simplicity. In a fleet maintenance situation simplicity usually equates to “cheap to fix.”  All of the new models are significantly more complex.

Still, Dodge’s quality problems seemed to have mostly been resolved, at least in my source’s experience. The testimony of one fleet manager may not be evidence of a turnaround in and of itself, but it appears that the Charger has made significant inroads into the police market in Central Kentucky.

The introduction of the first generation of Charger was the first real challenge to Ford’s domination of the police market in a decade. The second generation appears to be better than the first, while still undercutting the price of the Taurus. I concluded my review of the Taurus by noting that the competition was nipping at Ford’s heels. I was wrong. With the new Charger, Dodge has passed them.

Freedom Dodge of Lexington, KY provided the vehicle and one tank of gas for this review.

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Review: 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 (Video) Tue, 12 Feb 2013 16:28:20 +0000

Last time we had a Challenger SRT8 to review, well, we didn’t review it so much as we burnt the rubber off the rear wheels. Sorry Dodge, we couldn’t help it. After a few Facebook requests, we put Dodge’s 470HP retro coupé back on our wish list and someone at Chrysler decided to trust me with their retro cruiser. If you couldn’t afford that Challenger in the poster on your wall when you were in college, click through the jump to find out what Dodge’s 470HP two-door is like to live with for a week before you throw down 45-large on this retro bruiser.

Click here to view the embedded video.


Designing “retro” sounds easy to me. You pull out a picture of ye olde Challenger from 1972, put it next to a picture of your largest sedan and make the shapes fit. Next you round things off a bit, tack on some 5MPH inspired bumpers, spray it with metallic paint and hey-presto, you have a modern Challenger. You also have one enormous coupé. Sure, Chrysler says the “LC” platform Challenger is shorter than their “LX” platform sedans, but you’d be hard pressed to say where inches were excised. The result is a heavyweight muscle car with a wheelbase 9-inches longer and a body that’s 10-inches longer than Ford’s pony car.

Parked next to the Camaro and Mustang, the Challenger dwarfs them both like the Jolly Green Giant next to Little Pea. This means comparisons between the three muscle cars is difficult. It doesn’t make rational sense either because I have a hard time believing anyone will seriously cross-shop a Mustang Boss 302 and a Challenger SRT8. Why? They’re just not the same kind of car. While the Challenger’s portly dimensions are likely to turn off some shoppers, I was strangely intrigued. But then again, I have a soft spot for big Chryslers having owned both a Chrysler LHS and an Eagle Vision. The size (visual and on paper) of this beast brought another vehicle to mind: the BMW 650i. Blasphemy? Perhaps, but they’re about the same size.



2008 is an important year to keep in mind as it was post-Mercedes but pre-Fiat. It was in that Cerberus window that the Challenger was born. As a result, the cabin’s plastics aren’t as awful as the first generation 300/Charger, but neither are they as good as the 2011 revisions of the same. Still, the Camaro and Mustang don’t exactly come covered in the best plastics that money can buy, so while the Challenger feels a little rubbery and low-rent, the American competition isn’t much better.

On the bright side, the SRT8 392 version of the Challenger is brought up-market by standard leather upholstery with Alcantara seat and door inserts, high levels of standard equipment and one of the best OEM steering wheels available. The new SRT wheel is chunky, deeply cushioned, covered in soft leather, heated, thoroughly addictive and enough for me to forgive the rubbery dash and oddly positioned door handles. Of course, only a few days before the “publish” button was pressed on this review, Chrysler announced a “core” version of the SRT8 Challenger that drops the price by removing the leather and other options. Full details on the low-cost model have yet to be released at this time.

Front seat comfort proved excellent for long trips, although the seat design suffers from the same problem as the Chrysler 200: the bottom cushion is shaped like a “dome” making it feel as if you’re sitting “on” the seat and not “in” the seat. To hold you “on” the leather clad gumdrop during the inevitable shenanigans 470HP will invite, Dodge severely bolstered the seats. Thankfully (and unlike the Mercedes C63), Chrysler was kind enough to make the seats wide enough for normal Americans. Back in 2011 when the 392 debuted, an ivory/blue leather interior was offered, but for 2013 your only options are black on black or the red and black interior our tester wore.

Thanks to the proportions and long wheelbase, rear accommodations are large, comfortable and “normally” shaped. What do I mean by that? Sit in a Mustang, Camaro, or most other two-door four-seat coupés and you’ll notice the seat backs are set at an odd angle to “improve” the headroom and legroom numbers in an otherwise small rear compartment. Despite having (on paper) only three inches more legroom and two more inches of headroom than the Mustang or Camaro, the rear cabin feels cavernous. It’s even possible to squeeze a third adult in the rear of the Challenger, something you can’t do in the four-seat Camaro or Mustang. Chrysler also designed the optional $995 sunroof so that it doesn’t cut into rear headroom.

When it comes to cargo schlepping, Dodge went retro with a trunk lid rather than a modern trunk “hatch.” The result is a high lift-over making it difficult to lift heavy suitcases into the trunk without scuffing the rear bumper. On the bright side, the cargo hold is a cavernous 16.2 cubic feet, a whopping 44% larger than the Camaro. While the Challenger lost points in our exclusive Trunk Comfort Index (see the video segment) for having cheap trunk fabric, it gained more for having trunk hinges that don’t cut down on usable trunk space.


Dodge’s snazzy new engine didn’t bring Chrysler’s new uConnect system with it leaving shoppers to choose from three retro radio and navigation options. We start off with a base 6-speaker Dodge-branded audio system and a 6.5-inch touchscreen head unit with a standard CD/DVD player, Bluetooth phone interface aND USB/iPod interface port. $595 buys you the 6.5-inch touchscreen Garmin-based navigation system and Sirius Satellite radio. The system is as easy to use as after-market Garmin systems but doesn’t have the ability to enter a destination address via voice commands. Chrysler’s “730N’” navigation head unit adds the ability to voice command your navigation wishes but the cost is dear at $2,190 because it must be ordered with the optional Harmon Kardon amplifier/speaker package.

The $1,995 Harmon system used their Logic 7 surround processing engine (as seen in the BMW 6-Series), 18 speakers and Green Edge amplifiers. The system can be added to any of the infotainment options on the Challenger. (No, the irony of power efficient “green” amplifiers on a vehicle that wears a gas guzzler tax was not lost on me.) In terms of sound quality, the base system is barely average while the Logic 7 system wouldn’t be out of place on a $60,000 luxury vehicle. Before you check any of the option boxes however, you should know this generation of uConnect system doesn’t exactly love USB/iDevices and browsing your tunes is a drag. Compared to Chevy’s MyLink system or the older SYNC system in the Mustang, the Challenger’s interface is ancient and a distant third place.


HEMI. 392. Almost, but not quite. Chrysler (like everyone else) designs their engines with metric measurements and the chief engineer at Dodge claims the displacement translation to English units was done after the fact. That’s why this 392 is really a 391, but that’s close enough for the marketing department. If we’re splitting hairs, the heads are only partially hemispherical. Does any of that matter? Nope.

Any complaints about the rubbery interior evaporate you look at the engine’s numbers. Chrysler didn’t just bore out the 6.1 to get more displacement. Instead, the 6.4L shares its tech with Chrysler’s revised 5.7L V8. Unlike the competition, you won’t find any overhead cams, no special direct injection sauce and only 2 valves per cylinder. Despite that, the 6.4L engine is far from retro. This pushrod V8 gets variable valve timing thanks to a trick camshaft, a variable length intake manifold and cylinder deactivation (with the automatic transmission only). The changes vs the old 6.1L SRT engine are transformative. Power is up 45HP to 470 while torque takes a 90ft-lb leap to a horsepower matching 470. More important is the significant improvement in torque from 2,000-4,000RPM. The old 6.1L engine had some odd power peaks and felt out of breath at the top end. The 6.4 on the other hand feels eager at almost any RPM.

Dodge made the Tremec TR6060 6-speed manual transmission (borrowed from the old Viper) standard, a surprising twist in a portfolio that’s automatic heavy. The manual’s shifts are short, the engagement is near perfection and the clutch pedal is linear with predictable engagement and low effort. Should you be a left-leg amputee, a Mercedes 5-speed automatic is available. Don’t do it. While the automatic transmission enables Chrysler’s Multi Displacement System to function, the 6-speed manual is better in every way including fuel economy. Speaking of economy, the Challenger wears a $1,000 gas guzzler tax because of its 14/23/17 MPG numbers (City/Highway/Combined). However, thanks to an extremely tall 6th gear we averaged 19.5MPG over our week with the Challenger and averaged an impressive 25MPG on a long road trip. Real world economy numbers with the automatic appeared to be 1-2MPG lower based on a short drive with a dealer provided vehicle.


At 4,200lbs and 198-inches long, the Challenger is a GT car at heart, much like BMW’s 4,368lb 193-inch 6-Series. That means (if you haven’t figured it out by now) that being behind the wheel of the Challenger SRT8 is more like being behind the wheel of BMW’s two-door luxury barge than Ford’s pony car. Is that a bad thing? Not in my book. Sure the Challenger cuts a circle 5-feet bigger than the Mustang, doesn’t handle as well on the track, and delivers straight line performance numbers similar to the less expensive Mustang GT, but it’s the car I’d rather drive. Why? The Challenger delivers the most polished ride of the high-horsepower American trio thanks to a standard computer controlled suspension system. If that makes me sound like an old man, let me remind you that Mustang/Camaro vs Challenger is always going to be an apples vs oranges comparison.

No performance car review would be complete without performance numbers. Before we dig in, it is important to keep in mind that the test car had a manual transmission. This means the driver is the single biggest factor involved. The 2013 SRT8 has “launch control” but it proved too cumbersome so it wasn’t used in our tests. You should also know that a single shift (1-2) is required to get the Challenger to 60 while four are required for the 1/4 mile (1-4). Traction is also a problem with any 2WD vehicle and this much power; the more control you have over your rubber burning, the faster your 0-30 times will be.

With that out of the way, let’s dive in. Our first test resulted in an 8.1 second run to 60… Because we only used third gear. That should tell you the kind of torque this engine produces. When not joking around, my best time was a 4.4 second run to 60 with a respectable 2.0 second 0-30 time. You can see from these two numbers that traction is the issue. I estimate with wider, grippier tires in the rear, a 1.8 second 0-30 and 4.2 second 0-60 would be achievable. If you opt for the automatic, 60MPH will take a few ticks longer, but because the Mercedes slushbox only needs gears 1-3 for the 1/4 mile (1-4 in the manual) Chrysler says the time will be about 4/10ths faster.

With a starting price of $44,775, the Challenger is about $2,000 more than a Mustang Boss 302 and around $5,000 more dear than a Camaro SS when comparably equipped. Of course for the price you get dynamic suspension, a larger trunk, bigger back seat and one of the best exhaust notes in the industry. In an attempt to even the playing field, Dodge just announced a new “core” model which will start just under $40-large. When pitted against the competition, the Challenger may march to a different drummer, but this is a beat I dig. The SRT8 392 is ginormous, impractical and eats like a teenager with the munchies. It’s also comfortable, powerful and put more smiles per mile on my face than I had expected. It’s hard to go wrong with those results. Just don’t race for pinks, ok?

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30:2.0 Seconds

0-60: 4.4 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 12.8 Seconds @ 115 MPH

Observed Average Fuel Economy: 19.5MPG over 829 miles

2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Front, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Front Wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, 392 Logo, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Rear Spoiler, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Trunk, Cargo Area, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Trunk, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Door Panel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Steering wheel, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, 6-Speed Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, 6-Speed Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Infotainment, uConnect, Picture Courtesty of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Passenger Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Driver's Side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Dashboard Driver's side, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Center Console, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Engine, 6.4L HEMI V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Engine, 6.4L HEMI V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Engine, 6.4L 470HP HEMI V8, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Front Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Exterior, Fuel Door, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8, Interior, Gauges, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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