The Truth About Cars » Dodge http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:00:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/category/reviews/dodge/ New York 2014: 2015 Dodge Challenger Debuts http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-dodge-challenger-debuted/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-dodge-challenger-debuted/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 21:07:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=803530 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.

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New York 2014: 2015 Dodge Charger Live Shots http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-dodge-charger-live-shots/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/new-york-2014-2015-dodge-charger-live-shots/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 20:32:15 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=803314 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.

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Chrysler Hellcat V8 Could Unseat Viper V10 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/chrysler-hellcat-v8-could-unseat-viper-v10/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/chrysler-hellcat-v8-could-unseat-viper-v10/#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 13:09:47 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=780489 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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/capsule-review-2014-dodge-durango/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/capsule-review-2014-dodge-durango/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 14:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=749777 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.

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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.

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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) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-dodge-durango-limited-v8-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/review-2014-dodge-durango-limited-v8-with-video/#comments Thu, 16 Jan 2014 15:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=695921 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?

Exterior

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.

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Interior

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.

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Infotainment

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

Drive

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.

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2013-charger-se-pentastar-5at-two-countries-and-two-thousand-miles-in-four-days/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2013-charger-se-pentastar-5at-two-countries-and-two-thousand-miles-in-four-days/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 13:15:34 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=500109 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.

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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:

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/rental-car-review-2013-dodge-avenger/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/rental-car-review-2013-dodge-avenger/#comments Fri, 09 Aug 2013 15:00:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=498142 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? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/dad-is-this-how-vipers-really-go-together/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/06/dad-is-this-how-vipers-really-go-together/#comments Wed, 05 Jun 2013 12:30:11 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=490150 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/review-2013-dodge-avenger-se/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/review-2013-dodge-avenger-se/#comments Fri, 26 Apr 2013 13:00:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=486108

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 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/cop-drives-cop-car-2012-dodge-charger-pursuit/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/cop-drives-cop-car-2012-dodge-charger-pursuit/#comments Sat, 06 Apr 2013 18:54:55 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=483788

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) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/review-2013-dodge-challenger-srt8-392/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/02/review-2013-dodge-challenger-srt8-392/#comments Tue, 12 Feb 2013 16:28:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=472956

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.

Exterior

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.

 

Interior

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.

Infotainment

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.

Drivetrain

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.

Drive

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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Review: 2013 Dodge Dart SXT Rallye http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/review-2013-dodge-dart-sxt-rallye/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/review-2013-dodge-dart-sxt-rallye/#comments Fri, 17 Aug 2012 14:03:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=457167

You’ve got to give Sergio Marchionne credit for at least one thing: he’s a masterful negotiator. The Italian-Canadian FIAT exec bluffed General Motors into paying $2 billion for the right to NOT buy the Italian company. He went on to acquire a controlling stake in Chrysler for no cash. Instead, FIAT agreed to provide the auto maker, hollowed out by Daimler and Cerberus, with powertrains and platforms. Three years after that deal, Chrysler has introduced the first car developed for North America around FIAT innards, the compact Dodge Dart sedan (pre-production review).

Take an Alfa Romeo Giulietta hatchback, stretch it and widen it, add a trunk, and you somehow end up with a car that, aesthetically, would have fit right into Dodge’s late 1990s lineup. The distended front clip and clean, rounded surfaces recall those of the Avenger coupe, with a hint of second-generation Neon. But the height of the car is pure 2012, so there’s a lot more metal over the wheel openings than you’d have found on a circa-2000 Dodge. Perhaps the Dart will look right in R/T form (coming this fall). The SXT Rallye’s wheels, though 17 inches in diameter, appear undersized. This said, those who find the styling of Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra overwrought might prefer the Dart’s simpler forms.

Parts of the Dart’s interior appear similarly dated, with the center stack and console marked by the organic shapes and non-flush faceplates of a 1990s Pontiac. Other parts, most notably the reconfigurable LCD instruments in the upper trim levels and the large 8.4” “Uconnect” touchscreen, could not be more current. Then there’s the grating over the speakers, which looks like it belongs in a different car on a different continent, if not a different planet. This hodgepodge cleans up fairly well in the upper trim levels, where the hood over the instruments is upholstered, the upper IP surround is lit in red, and additional splashes of color are available on the door panels and seats. The exterior is available in a dozen colors, while the interior is offered in 14 trim combinations, both numbers well above the current segment norm. For some reason, though, all of the cars I saw on dealer lots were drably outfitted in black or, worse, gray. Materials quality is fairly good, with cushy armrests among the many soft-touch surfaces, but isn’t quite up to that inside a Ford Focus or a Chevy Cruze.

Drop down into the driver’s seat and the first thing you notice is that you don’t drop down very far. Compared to the Focus or Cruze, you sit high in the Dart—another aspect of the car that’s more 2000 than today. Even the base Dart has manual height adjusters on both front seats, but only the shortest people will likely employ them. This would be good for visibility—if the instrument panel were not very deep and the A-pillars were not somewhat thick and steeply raked. I drove the Dart on a hot day, and the amount of heat radiating off the top of the IP strained the A/C. The view to the rear could be Exhibit A in the case for mandatory rearview cameras. A good one with lines that trace the car’s path is packaged with the 8.4-inch screen.

The Dart’s front seats, though not entirely bereft of lateral support, feel slightly overstuffed rather than form-fitting. The German flavor of recent Ford and GM compacts is absent here, perhaps because FIAT, though European, isn’t German. Like those in the Focus and Cruze, and unlike that in the Americanized VW Jetta, the Dart’s rear seat offers barely enough headroom and legroom for six-foot-tall passengers and its cushion feels undersized.

The new Dodge Dart’s base engine is a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine good for 160 horsepower. Spend another $1,300 and you get a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine good for…160 horsepower. But the boosted engine is considerably torquier at middling engine speeds, 184 pound-feet at 2,500 rpm vs. 148 at 4,600. Even the 2.4 that will power the R/T has less twist (171 pound-feet @4,800) if more power (184). This is what the spec sheets say, anyway. On the road, the 1.4T feels soft south of 3,000 rpm. The car’s portly, midsize sedan-like 3,200-pound curb weight doesn’t help, but a variant of the same engine also must be spun north of 3k in the 2,500-pound FIAT 500 Abarth for any semblance of alacrity. This engine will be available with a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual, but at intro was offered only with the three-pedal variety. The third pedal leaves much to be desired, grabbing with scant feedback only near the very top of its long, spongy travel. The shifter is similarly long of throw and somewhat clunky, but is passable aside from a metal knob that heats to finger-scorching temps in the sunlight.

The Dodge Dart earned FIAT five percent of Chrysler by managing over 40 miles-per-gallon in the EPA’s tests—before the adjustments to make the numbers on the window sticker realistic. The window sticker numbers aren’t terribly impressive with the 2.0: 25/36 with the manual transmission and 24/34 with the automatic. The 1.4T with the manual does better, 27/39, but still falls short of the segment’s best.

The Dart’s chassis behaves well, with decent balance, moderate lean, and minimal float or slop. Still, damping isn’t as tight as in a Ford Focus or even a Buick Verano. Between this, a feedback-free electric-assist steering system, and the ever-evident aforementioned heft the Dart lacks the character of a precision instrument. A connection between car and driver proves elusive. Those seeking isolation will be more satisfied. The Dart rides softer than either the Focus or the Elantra. If and when the HVAC blower isn’t working like mad, interior noise levels are very low. Credit the triple door seals that Lexus helped make popular in the 1990s but that bean counters have often cut in the years since.

Dodge has much ground to regain in the compact sedan segment, so you might expect the Dart to be priced aggressively. But is it? Much like Hyundai, the Dart doesn’t so much have a low price as a slightly lower price paired with more stuff. The tested middle-of-the-range SXT Rallye with 1.4T and nav listed for $22,965. About $800 of this can be chalked up to the Rallye’s sportier exterior and interior trim, probably not the best value.

Like with the Ford Focus, stepping up to a higher trim level adds more to the feature list than it does to the price. When loaded up with high-watt Alpine audio, nav, heated leather, and a sunroof, the Dodge Dart Limited 2.0 lists for $24,865. A similarly-equipped 2013 Ford Focus SE, among the most expensive cars in the segment, lists for $25,505. Adjust for feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, though, and the Dodge Dart ends up with a roughly $1,000 advantage thanks to features you can’t get on the Focus. These include four additional airbags, a heated steering wheel, rearview camera, rear cross-traffic detection, auto-dimming headlights, reconfigurable LCD instrumentation, and power four-way lumbar. Add the 1.4T engine to the Dodge, though, and they’re back near parity.

A 2013 Hyundia Elantra Limited with nav lists for $24,070, so less than the Dodge but not dramatically so. Adjust for feature differences and the Dodge ends up with a $500 advantage—until you add the 1.4T engine to get EPA numbers approaching the Hyundai’s.

Overall, the new Dodge Dart is a good car, even among the best in the segment, but some others are better looking, better constructed, roomier, more fun to drive, or more economical. An almost all-new car based on FIAT bits, its reliability very much remains to be seen. Its price is in the same ballpark as the Ford’s and the Hyundai’s, so until big rebates arrive, its window sticker isn’t compelling. Why buy one? A few features you can’t get anywhere else in the segment (but that won’t be found on most Darts on dealer lots) seem the most compelling reason. Is this enough? If the Ford Focus didn’t exist, I’d rate the Dart more highly. But the Focus does exist.

Brad Marshall of Suburban Chrysler in Novi, MI, provided the car. Brad can be reached at 248-427-7721.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Pre-Production Review: 2013 Dodge Dart http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/pre-production-review-2013-dodge-dart/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/06/pre-production-review-2013-dodge-dart/#comments Mon, 11 Jun 2012 16:23:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=447929

The last time Chrysler made a serious attempt at the C-segment was in 1995 with the Neon. High initial sales were soon followed by less-than-stellar crash scores, a redesign that put off buyers, the death of the Plymouth brand, and the unholy offspring that was the Dodge Caliber. With Fiat needing to add a “40 MPG CAFE” vehicle to the fleet to continue their acquisition, the Dodge Dart was born. This first fruit of the Fiat/Dodge marriage isn’t just a rebadged Alfa Romeo Giulietta (pronounced Juliet-ta), and there’s a reason for that. Dodge wants a bigger part of the pie since sedans account for 80% of the compact segment. Rather than “sedanify” the Giulietta, Dodge took the extra step of crafting an entirely new vehicle that shares little with the Italian organ donor. Can some Italian spice give Dodge what they need to compete with the growing compact sedan segment? Dodge invited us to a regional preview event to find out.

Exterior

I used to be a Mopar man. My folks have bought them for years and my first two new cars were a 1997 Eagle Vision and a 2000 Chrysler LHS. Keeping that era of Pentastar product in mind, the Dodge Dart fits right in with a tail straight out of the 1999 Dodge Intrepid. Before you flame, I think the look is far more attractive than many small cars on the market. What sets the Dart apart however is the aggressive front end with a broad grille and ginormous headlights. The front end styling is almost enough to make you forget this is the C-segment. So far, so good.

Interior

Inside the Dart you’ll find a cabin light-years ahead of the Caliber. While there are still plenty of hard plastic bits to be found, the cabin actually has more soft touch points than the Cruze or Sentra. While the styling may turn off some customers, the thick-rimmed steering wheel might hook some swing-voters. Dodge either has high sales goals or isn’t concerned about dwell time on dealer lots as there are around a dozen different interior trim color and style combinations. I’d call that good for the shopper, questionable for the profitable future of the Dart. Base SE models skip air conditioning and power door locks and use a lower grade of seat fabric to keep prices low. A quick look at the lineup indicates that Dodge expects the $17,995 SXT model to be the volume seller as it has the usual mix of equipment shoppers demand like A/C, keyless entry, folding rear seats and a sextuplet of speakers and a few extra cup holders. Despite considerable improvements, the Focus and Elantra are still better places to spend your time, but I’d rather be in the Dart than a Mazda 3 or a Cruze.

Infotainment

If you love gadgets, the Dart is the compact car of choice. With the exception of a self-parking feature like Ford’s Focus, the upper trim levels of the Dart allow some snazzy features you won’t find elsewhere in the segment. Starting with the Limited trim, the speedometer in the gauge cluster is replaced with a 7-inch LCD that is highly customizable. Unlike the LCD gauges Mercedes, Jaguar and Land Rover use, this one does more than just display a picture of a dial. Aside from navigation and infotainment displays, the system also doubles as the trip computer. Dodge also decided to allow a decent amount of customization from color choices to what date you see and where you see it. Also standard on the Limited model (optional on SXT and above) is Chrysler’s 8.4-inch uConnect system. Our brief time with the system showed that Chrysler has worked the Apple iDevice bugs out of the system. uConnect 8.4 now offers full voice command of your iDevice allowing you to say “play song, Red Solo Cup” and have the system do your bidding. The system works as well as Ford’s MyTouch but is far more responsive than Ford’s slow system.

Drivetrain

Despite the PR folks not commenting on the long rumored 9-speed transmissions, there was plenty of new metal to see under the hood. First up is the 2.0L engine. This is related to the Caliber’s 2.0L engine but only shares 20% of the parts. Most of the changes relate to smoothness and noise control, but power does get a slight bump to 160HP and 145lb-ft of torque. Next up is a 1.4L turbo Fiat engine almost directly transplanted from the Alfa. This “MutiAir” engine cranks out the same horsepower as the 2.0L but trumps with 184lb-ft of twist. Next up is the 2.4L engine (in the R/T model) which gets the same NVH improvements and incorporates MultiAir to boost power to 184HP and 171lb-ft of twist. MultiAir is Fiat’s way of saying that the intake valves on the 1.4L and 2.4L engines are actuated via solenoid-actuated hydraulic chamber that sits between the valve and the cam (at least on the 2.4L. The 1.4L doesn’t have an intake cam). The result is more controlled valve lift, the ability to remove the throttle body and some seriously complicated plumbing. What’s the reliability going to be like? Your guess is as good as mine. If you want to know more, check out this video. All engines can be mated to the 6-speed Fiat manual transmission while the 2.0 and 2.4 get the option of a 6-speed Hyundai-sourced slushbox and the 1.4 can be had with Fiat’s 6-speed dual dry clutch transmission.  How about that SRT Dart? The PR folks won’t say a word.

 

Drive

We had only a limited time and about 25 miles behind the wheel of two Limited trim Darts, so bear that in mind. The Dart uses a modified version of Giulietta’s suspension setup. If you think that gives you European handling, think again. The Dart weighs about 300lbs more than the Giulietta and the engineers softened the suspension and used softer bushings all around. While our brief cloverleaf-on-ramp-skidpad tests revealed admirable grip and less body roll than I would have assumed, the Dart loses its composure rapidly on broken pavement.

The base 2.0L engine and the 6-speed automatic are a the combination most owners will end up with. The pair work well together and never felt flustered in city traffic. The 1.4L turbo is more engaging and since it has more torque than even the 2.4L R/T engine it would be my engine of choice. The manual transmission had surprisingly long throws which I found cumbersome and tiring. Fortunately clutch pedal feel is good with a medium firm spring and very linear engagement. The 1.4L turbo didn’t suffer from turbo lag like some forced-induction mills and the extra twist is a welcome companion making the manual transmission easier to live with in real-world driving. Dodge didn’t have a dual clutch transmission available to test, so check back for a full review when the Dart starts shipping.

A wise man once told me that everything in the $12,000-$120,000 vehicle market competes on value. The question that kept coming to the lips of the masses assembled was: would you buy the Dart over X? The response was usually a long pause followed by a soft no. It’s not that the Dart is a bad car, it is solidly class competitive. So what’s the problem? Given a choice between the Ford Focus and the Dart, or the Hyundai Elantra and the Dart, the Dart comes in second. Why? Brand image.

Hyundai has spent the last decade producing consistently better products, but that’s not the entire reason for their recent success.  While the Darts offers more “whiz-bang” than the Elantra, the Korean alternative is slightly better put together and cheaper. That’s the hook. If the Dart was even $1,000 cheaper it would be one of the best choices in the segment. Still, if you’re in the market for a compact sedan, the Dart should be towards the top of your list, certainly above the Corola and Cruze. If you’re a tech-lover, place the Dart higher on your list, if you’re a technophobe, drop it to the middle.  Either way, be sure to stop by the Ford and Hyundai/Kia dealer before you import something from Detroit.

 

Dodge invited us to a regional event and allowed us unaccompanied drives in two pre-production Dodge Dart Limited vehicles.

Oddly enough, free beer and BBQ was also on tap.

2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Interior, Storage seat, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Interior, LCD gauge cluster, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Engine, 2.0L Tigershark four cylinder, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, Front, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, front, grille, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Engine, 1.4L Fiat MultiAir Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Engine, 1.4L Fiat MultiAir Turbo, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, Rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Exterior, rear, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, trunk, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, Interior, Dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, interior,  Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Dodge Dart Limited, interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

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Review: 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/review-2012-dodge-charger-sxt-plus/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/review-2012-dodge-charger-sxt-plus/#comments Sun, 01 Apr 2012 18:25:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=437430

A month ago, I reviewed the 470-horsepower, 470-pound-feet Chrysler 300C SRT8. Today, we have a much milder 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus with the 292-horsepower, 260-pound-feet V6 and Rallye Appearance Group. I enjoyed driving the weaker car more. This is where you note the date of publication. But I’m not foolin.

Chrysler’s new corporate V6 is “best in class” in some segments, but “worst in class” among V6-powered rear-wheel-drive sedans, where Hyundai’s revised 3.8 leads the pack. Blame the lack of direct injection. Better yet, forget the numbers. The V6 might give up 31 foot-pounds of torque to the Genesis and over 200 to the SRT mill, but it still feels plenty torquey in typical driving. No, it can’t break the rear tires loose at 35 miles-per-hour, but it can and will shove you into the seat when called upon to do so. In this application, the new corporate engine also sounds more like a good ol’ American V8 than any DOHC six has a right to, fitting the character of this 21st-century muscle car. Throttle-induced oversteer remains a very real possibility, and with fewer pound-feet in play it’s easier to modulate. In default mode the stability control, though better than most, kills the joy. Hit a button on the center console to raise its threshold to a more appropriate level.

The V6’s low-rpm grunt came as a surprise, as the same engine feels soft at low rpm in the Dodge Durango and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Credit two substantial differences. First, the Charger, at 3,996 pounds, checks in nearly a half-ton below the all-wheel-drive SUVs.

Second, the Charger is the first corporate application of a new eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Compared to the old five-speed automatic (which remains standard in the base Charger), the new one’s ratios start lower (12.48 vs. 10.99 overall) and top out higher (1.78 vs. 2.54), enabling both better performance and better fuel economy. Anyone who’s been thinking that five or six ratios is plenty—this transmission will change your mind. BMW uses a related transmission in its cars, but the Dodge variant actually shifts more smoothly. Compared to the old five-speed, the new transmission is much smoother, much more responsive, and smarter. It’s quick to upshift, but also quick to downshift when summoned by your right foot.

Want to select and hold a specific gear? We’ve debated whether, with a manumatic, it makes more sense to push forward or pull backward for a downshift. Chrysler, the first automaker to offer a manually-shiftable automatic in a mainstream car, went the road less traveled: side-to-side. With the new transmission, they’ve eliminated the ability to shift via the shifter altogether. Instead, the Rallye Appearance Group includes well-designed die-cast magnesium paddle shifters. Jaguars should (but don’t) come with paddles as nice as these.

A monostatic shifter (which, like a computer joystick, returns to center each time after being pushed or pulled) attends the new transmission. You’ll find these in nearly all current two-pedal BMWs, but the Chrysler/Dodge implementation is different. The Pentastar bunch (like the Audi A8 team) must have decided that BMW’s system–pushing a button to engage Park and pushing forward for Reverse—strays too far from long-established convention. So P-R-N-D remain in their usual order. The downside of this arrangement: the system must intuit from the distance of your pull whether you’re seeking Reverse or Drive, and the detents are nearly imperceptible. Too often the system, uncertain of your request, decides that the best action is no action at all. It sometimes took me three or four attempts to engage Drive—usually when I was most in a hurry to do so. Calmly and firmly pull back on the T-handle WHILE depressing the button on top of it, and you’ll get Drive (nearly) every time. Chrysler has done such a good job with the touch and voice controls of the car’s uconnect infotainment system, how could they botch something as simple as a shifter?

Pulling back on the Charger’s shifter once in D engages Sport mode. Pull back on the shifter again to revert to D. I didn’t notice a large difference in transmission behavior between the two—the transmission’s shifts become a little quicker and its shifting strategy becomes a little more aggressive. The biggest difference between the modes: if you use the paddles in S, the transmission won’t override your gear selection. I actually preferred D. The car takes corners well in second, which is six paddle pulls down from top gear in S-manual mode. But manually shift the car in D, then prod the accelerator, and you get second or third right away. The transmission will then hold until you approach the redline or request an upshift. (To exit manual mode hold down on the upshift paddle for a few seconds or toggle between S and D.)

Fuel economy? The new transmission bumps the Charger’s EPA ratings from 18 city, 27 highway to 19/31. The trip computer reported averages between 19 and 25 in typical suburban driving, dependent on the number of red lights and the aggressiveness of my right foot, with the average usually in the low 20s. On a 78-mph light-footed cruise to the airport it reported 31.5.

In any iteration the Dodge Charger and the closely related Chrysler 300 feel like the big, heavy cars they are. But the V6-powered car feels significantly lighter and better balanced than the SRT. Perhaps because it is. Three-quarters of the SRT8’s 369 additional pounds sit over the front wheels. Even 100 extra pounds in the nose can affect a car’s handling. Nearly three times this amount can be counted on to substantially change the character of a car. Where the SRT’s responses to steering inputs are deliberate, the V6 car feels almost chuckable. If the lighter car still isn’t rotating quickly enough for you, dip into the throttle to nudge the rear end around. Not looking to drive a big sedan like you stole it? Even in casual driving the lighter car simply feels better. The V6’s electro-hydraulic steering is at least as direct and communicative as the (not exactly chatty) belt-driven system in the SRT8. The weak link lies elsewhere: the 245/45VR20 Firestone Firehawk GTV tires lack grip despite their large contact patches and squeal loudly the moment they start to slip.

With the Rallye Appearance Group’s “performance suspension” (similar in tuning to the V8-powered R/T), the Charger sometimes rides a little lumpy and thumpy. Some will prefer the more relaxed tuning of the standard suspension. But the car glides down most roads smoothly and quietly. Add in the large, comfortable sport bucket seats, and the Charger proves exceedingly pleasant both around town and on the highway.

Luxury cues are mixed. The warmly hued Nappa leather upholstery looks and feels upscale, but the coarse texture of the black instrument panel and upper doors successfully disguises their soft-touch composition. Not that the Charger’s “modern day muscle car” exterior promises any luxury within. For those seeking more upscale styling (but the same texture to the black interior bits) Chrysler offers the 300.

The tested car (with most but not all options—no nav or adaptive cruise present) listed for $35,510. But the new powertrain can be had for much less if you’re willing to do without leather, sunroof, dubs, and such. A Charger SE with the optional ($1,000 well spent) 8-speed automatic lists for $27,420. A strongly recommended deletion even for those who like their cars loaded: do without the rear spoiler and save $225. Dropping the red tri-coat paint can save another $500, bringing the price to $34,785.

A Chrysler 300S equipped like the tested car lists for $41,460. It does include nearly $2,000 in additional content (based on TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool), most notably a larger sunroof and adaptive cruise control (also available on the Dodge), but this still leaves a gap of about $4,750. Suddenly I find myself warming to the Dodge’s styling. Only Hyundai (yes, Hyundai) offers another large rear-wheel-drive sedan in this price range, and that only if “this price range” extends all the way to $43,850. A nearly $2,500 feature adjustment in the Korean cruiser’s favor still leaves the Dodge with a roughly $6,600 price advantage. In this context, the tested car’s mid-thirties price seems a bargain.

With gas prices once again hovering around $4, and perhaps headed even higher, you’d think that a two-ton, 200-inch rear-wheel-drive sedan would make about as much sense as seat heaters in Miami. But, thanks to a new engine and transmission, the big Dodge’s EPA numbers are competitive with those of the much smaller, much lighter Accord and Camry V6s. Yet you don’t have to sacrifice performance. The powertrain provides plenty of thrust and its relatively low weight actually enables better handling than is possible with a massive HEMI pushing down on the front treads. Even more than the SRT8, the V6 car simply feels right. Add in a relatively low price, oversteer-on-demand, big comfy seats, and the ability to effortlessly devour miles by the hundreds, and (with assists from a German transmission, Canadian factory workers, and Italian overlords), the Charger successfully sustains the tradition of the big American sedan.

Dodge provided the car with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/review-2012-dodge-challenger-srt8-392/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/review-2012-dodge-challenger-srt8-392/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2011 16:00:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=419291 When you’re a 24 Hours of LeMons judge, it’s expected that you’ll roll up to the track in a righteous Judgemobile. Perhaps it’s a fenderless, three-wheeled Amazon, or maybe it’s a woodie Roadmaster… Sometimes, though, you need to call up a car manufacturer’s PR flack and get something new and shiny, then stand by helplessly as it gets T-boned by some LeMons racer’s runaway Winnebago see how the budget-challenged racer crowd responds to its presence. The ’11 Cadillac Escalade Platinum Hybrid Judgemobile was sort of terrible (though it did have great presence) so this time I decided I’d spend the race weekend with a manly, tire-smokin’ V8-powered vehicle that ought to make heartland American car freaks— for example, the sort we get at the Showroom-Schlock Shootout LeMons in Illinois— start chanting teary-eyed Pledges of Allegiance to a fiery sky full of imaginary F-111s. That would be the Challenger SRT8, of course, in Vanishing Point white.
So, I called up the Chrysler flack: “Hey, Giuseppe,” I didn’t say, “Remember all the nice stuff I wrote about your cutesy little Euro-eco-socialist commuter car? You owe me, paisan’! Now gimme something worthy of a real American, and make sure there’s a goddamn Hemi under the hood. Capisce?
So, next thing I know there’s a couple of heavies with wafer-thin watches and suspicious suit bulges handing over this baby at Midway Airport. Of course, the whole Italian schtick fell apart for me the moment it occurred to me that the Challenger’s chassis ancestry goes all the way back to the Renault 25 (via an illustrious Eagle Premier/LH platform/LX platform lineage), with a bunch of Mercedes-Benz W210 and W220 suspension bits thrown into the mix. Chrysler, AMC, Renault, Mercedes-Benz, Fiat, maybe even a bit of hidden Mitsubishi genetic material here and there— I’m liking the Challenger already!
It’s a good-looking machine, though I could rant for endless paragraphs about the psychological-voodoo/no-doubt-focus-grouped-to-death reasoning behind the choice of the E-Body Challenger as the inspiration for this car’s appearance.
Chrysler never really had a true head-to-head competitor with the original Mustang and Camaro, great as the original A-body-based Barracuda was. It doesn’t matter, because Plymouth’s demise meant the Barracuda nameplate was off the table, so the current Mustang/Camaro rival would have to grab its retro-ized look from the fatter, sales-failure E-body. The ace in the hole was the hagiographic Vanishing Point, which managed to cast the Challenger in a role symbolizing the individual’s victory over The Man’s oppression, breaking the downward-spiral sense of Vietnam-War-fueled American diminished expectations that led to the Malaise Era… or something like that. Freedom.
Personally, I think Vanishing Point‘s brush strokes are far too broad to really capture that early-70s proto-Malaise sense (though the chase scenes are pretty damn cool); Two-Lane Blacktop, also released in 1971, does a much better job. OK, meandering historio-cinematic digression over— let’s talk about now.
I suppose I’m a member of the target demographic for this thing; I got my first driver’s license in 1982, which was the Golden Age for cheap Detroit muscle in California, and the car stuff from Dazed and Confused might as well have been a documentary about the street-race-obsessed car culture at my high school. Battered-but-fast 10-to-15-year-old big-block Chevelles and Satellites and Fairlanes could be had for not much more than a grand. Back then, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to buy a new Cutlass 442 or Super Bee… and now Detroit can sell me the much faster, much better-built 21st-century version.
Right. So, what does this car do best? Burnouts! In all of my many years blowing the treads off junkyard bias-plies and rental-car rubber, I never experienced any vehicle that makes perfect, totally controlled burnouts anywhere near as easy as this car does. I’m willing to bet cash money that Chrysler’s engineers made this feature a design priority, and they deserve a healthy bonus for succeeding so admirably. This car had the automatic transmission, which made burnouts easier, but I have a feeling that the manual-trans car has no problem in that department. I also tried some hard drag-style launches and the car hooked up quite well; it wouldn’t be much of a trick to knock out some good dragstrip passes in this machine.
Seriously, you can create elaborate burnout novels with the Challenger SRT8… character development, climax, resolution, the works. The folks at Autobahn Country Club were kind enough to let me use their skidpad for a tire-smokin’ photograph session, and the clouds of tire smoke completely obscured the entire paddock, a quarter-mile downwind. I heard later that the smogged-out LeMons racers were cheering the car’s amazing burnout performance, and several were heard to state that they’d be visiting their nearest Dodge dealership and shopping for Challengers as soon as the race was over.
Unfortunately, the Challenger-as-Judgemobile got upstaged by a far superior Showroom-Schlock Shootout Judgemobile. Let’s face it: when a LeMons judge gets the choice between a 2012 Challenger SRT8 and a Reliant Super Robin for leading the penalty parade, there is no choice but to take the Reliant.
We did put both of them on the track as co-pace cars, which I feel certain is the first time a Robin and a Challenger have served together in that role.
Judge Sam agreed with me that the Challenger SRT8 was far nicer for real-world driving duties (i.e., driving between the hotel and the race track) than the Escalade Platinum had been. So, burnouts aside, how is it to drive?
The front seats are very comfortable and the quality of materials in the interior is quantum leaps ahead of the “unfit for human consumption” interiors that so horrified Sergio Marchionne. The suspension did a fine, Renault/Mercedes-Benz-style job of smoothing out the Stalingradian pothole-O-rama road surfaces in Chicago and Joliet. I’m sure I could take one of these things on an exurban-edge-city commute for hours every day and feel pretty good about the ride and comfort.
Granted, it’s something of an ergonomic disaster. You can’t see diddly-squat behind you, with the vast C pillars creating maddeningly huge blind spots. Your hands obscure the turn-signal indicators when they’re on the steering wheel. The back seat is all but useless; maybe it could hold a couple of small adults, but you won’t be able to get them into the seats in the first place (I gave up even on putting my LeMons Supreme Court bribe booze in the back seat, opting instead for the trunk). The lid for the center-console storage compartment can’t be operated by human hands.
The controls for the navigation/audio features are frustratingly unintuitive, with the lengthy response time for input that seems to be the norm for automotive computer interfaces. Why a $90 cellphone made by Malaysian sweatshop inmates can produce instant results from four memory-hog applications simultaneously while a simple choice of song title brings a $48,000 car’s computer to its knees is beyond me.
But who gives a shit about nickel/dime irritants like that? Not me! More burnouts!
In fact, I should be reviewing this automobile for the pages of Gnarly Burnout Magazine. Wooooooooooo!
Detroit has really lost its way in some areas over the last few decades, but not when it comes to V8 engines. GM and Chrysler are making some miraculously good pushrod V8s these days, and this 392-cubic-inch/470-horsepower powerplant isn’t even a member of the same species as the rough-idling, non-cold-starting, clattery, single-digit-MPG relics of the so-called Muscle Car Golden Age. This engine starts up instantly, idles in most civilized fashion, manages highway fuel mileage well into the 20s… and manages to drag a two-ton-plus car down the quarter-mile in under 13 seconds.
Speaking of tons, the big-block ’70 Challenger scaled in at nearly 3,800 pounds, so we can’t be too hard on the ’12 SRT8 version for weighing more than 4,200 pounds. Still, I can’t help but think of the two ways in which Chrysler might have built The Greatest Mopar Of All Freakin’ Time instead of a flawed-but-lovable burnout-king commuter car. The first way would have been to put this engine in a car weighing 2,900 pounds. We can all think of a dozen reasons why this could never happen, but just imagine it.
The other way would have been to use the 1971 Plymouth Satellite instead of the ’70 Challenger as retro-inspiration, bringing the Plymouth marque out of retirement if necessary. I’d buy one right now.
Image source: Old Car Brochures
As for handling and brakes and all that stuff them decadent Yurpeans seem to care about so much, I didn’t get a chance to take the Challenger out on the Autobahn CC road course, nor did I pound it at 11/10ths on the mean streets of Joliet. It seemed perfectly competent at my usual 3/10ths pace. Anyway, you don’t buy this car for going around corners, commie (though Baruth managed to do pretty well with the ’11 at Infineon).
Yep.
The LeMons Supreme Court decided that there was one way in which the Challenger made a superior Judgemobile: as the centerpiece of the Hair Of The Dog Air Guitar Penalty. Miscreant drivers were required to air-guitar their way through the entirety of Nazarath’s Challenger-centric Hair of the Dog, while waving a large American flag.


Look upon our works, wannabe superpowers, and despair.
Nazareth, a Hemi, and “AMERICAN MADE” tattooed on your back. Chrysler should hire this guy as their spokesman.
As for the quality of the little bits and pieces in out-of-the-way places, all the connectors and fasteners that I could find looked to be several notches above the quality of the parts I’ve seen in Chrysler products of a few years back. It appears that the days of the sub-low-bidder vendors may be over.
There were a few mildly flaky touches, such as this Neon-style weatherstrip seam, but nothing that felt like it was about to snap off in one’s hand.
The verdict: On the one-dimensional side, well-built, engine absolutely top notch. Would make a good real-world daily driver. King of the Smoky Burnouts.

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One Half-Lap Of America: 60 Hours and 1,970 Miles In A Rental Caravan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/one-half-lap-of-america-60-hours-and-1970-miles-in-a-rental-caravan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/one-half-lap-of-america-60-hours-and-1970-miles-in-a-rental-caravan/#comments Sat, 09 Jul 2011 23:13:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=402067

Women and minivans, women and minivans. They don’t quite go together like a horse and carriage, but it’s possible to be just a little more romantic about either when the location is right. I fell in love with the revise-and-retouch 2011 Chrysler minivans during an epic Northern California trip, as detailed in my first-drive review, but sometimes the girl who bewitched you in that far-away hotel room turns out to be a completely damaged headcase in daily living, and sometimes a manufacturer-prepped van in a gorgeous setting doesn’t hold up in that cold, no-makeup morning.

To find out, I requested (meaning “rented”) a Grand Caravan from my local PR flack (meaning “Enterprise counter agent”) and I set out on a trip designed to test the not-so-minivan to its limits (meaning “I had a trip I was going to take anyway and I want to get paid for doing it.”) Only by driving nearly two thousand miles in under three days could I determine if Chrysler was ready to compete against the leaders in the segment. Translation: “I will submit my fuel receipts for this trip, and they will not be paid because there was no reason to cover this kind of distance.”

My initial review of the Town & Country was so enthusiastic that Michael Karesh promptly contributed a counterpoint where he provided detailed statistical comparisons to other minivans, as well as a link to a site called “TrueDelta”. I’ve never been to “TrueDelta”, but based on the name I expect it has something to do with either maximizing acceleration or evaluating photos of the mons veneris. I’m interested in both of those things, both separately and together, so I’m saving my first trip to the site for a day when I really need a pick-me-up of hot, nasty, bad-ass speed.

The van I drove would cost a buyer $27,425 MSRP less rebates as of this writing. Frankly, it seems like a hell of a bargain and then some. It’s missing a lot of the goodies — heated seats, a moonroof, navigation, remote start, the super-duper Infinity sound system, leather interior, et al — but it has all the critical pieces of equipment for a middle-class family, from power doors to a rear-view camera. The stereo is pretty good, although the Caravan’s oddly hushed interior goes a long way towards flattering it.

My route was like so: from sunny Powell, Ohio, drive to Mt. Pico in Vermont, Mt. Kearsarge in New Hampshire, and then up the Maine coast so my partner in crime, Vodka McBigbra, could put on her favorite bikini and scandalize entire vacationing families while I played “Little Wing” on the hotel balcony. Follow a similar route, with less mountain-road driving and more freeway drone, on the way back.

I resolved to drive the entire trip in the Caravan’s “Econ” mode, which is selected by pressing a small button on the center console. That button is right next to the hazard button and it’s twice as big as said hazard button. I took this as a cheerful indicator that Chrysler didn’t expect the van to break down, and they didn’t expect me to misuse the hazard button for long-term parking in airport loading zones, but they did expect me to be economical and whatnot.

The dash readout doesn’t lie. Well, it may lie, but the (in)frequency of my fuel stops indicated that it wasn’t lying by much. That’s the overall readout for 1500 miles, much of it up and down some pretty curvy roads in Vermont. Yes, I did leave the transmission in “Econ” mode, which makes the Caravan a little sluggish in everyday driving, but when I needed to grab a gear or two I did it with the convenient dashboard tip-shifter, and once, during a particularly determined rush up an on-ramp, I looked down and realized I was doing a solid buck-oh-five. At that speed, the Caravan is quiet and controllable. Don’t give this to your teenaged son and think he’s going to slow down as a result. This is a quick vehicle and the engine absolutely encourages abuse in the same way that Ford’s Duratec really doesn’t.

Stow-N-Go: priceless if you have children and need quick space. Lame otherwise, although when I returned the vehicle to Enterprise I told the cutie behind the counter that “somebody stole the seats, I think” and then watched in complete satisfaction as she looked for them in the van.

The Grand Caravan is rated for 3600lbs towing capacity. That’s perilously close to what a Plymouth Neon race car weighs on a Featherlite trailer. I thought about that particular combination a lot during my trip. Why not enjoy a reasonably-sized vehicle with a massive amount of reconfigurable, weather-proofed interior space and outstanding fuel mileage for all the times when I’m not towing?

Let’s take a minute to talk about (in)famous auto writer LJK Setright and his “hundred-mile rule”. Setright said that legitimate automotive testing could consist of no more than one hundred miles. By the time the hundred-mile mark rolls around, you see, the faults of the vehicle would have receded in the tester’s consciousness, the same way a constant noise or smell tends to fade into the background of our awareness after some time has passed. I think he’s at least half-right, but it’s only well past the 100-mile mark that the fitness of the vehicle for long trips is truly apparent. Some minor faults in seating position or control effort aren’t too bothersome in a short trip, but they become all-conqueringly miserable while crossing a continent. Michael and I have already given you the 100-mile review.

Past one hundred miles, when the nine hundredth mile without any kind of meaningful rest stop appears, the Caravan reveals some unexpected strengths and weaknesses. Strength: unlike many vans, the seat position doesn’t put stress on the knees and ankles. Weakness: the seats need more back support, perhaps adjustable. Strength: it’s quiet, it tracks hands-off, and it’s relatively impervious to wind. Weakness: the armest on the right side is hard and the left side armrest is poorly positioned on the door. Strength: visibility is outstanding all the way around. Weakness: the center console makes it difficult to get into the back area for making out helping a child who needs help.

The bottom line? Over the course of some long, annoying drives, the Caravan is as good, or better, than any midsize sedan you can buy for this kind of money. Forget the space, forget the van-centric virtues. If you drive this vehicle a thousand miles out, all by your lonesome, and then drive a LaCrosse a thousand miles back, you’ll prefer the Caravan. I’m not kidding. Why buy a sedan? The Caravan matches most of them for economy, is priced within shouting distance of them, and then you turn around and OMFG FIVE MORE PEOPLE AND A BUNCH OF STUFF GOES BACK THERE TOO. Down a backroad, the G/C will bitchslap a lot of fairly recent mid-sizers, it will beat them up the ramp to the freeway, and you can just happen to PUT A ZILLION CUBIC FEET OF RARE CAGED BIRDS FROM MEXICO IN THE BACK.

It turns out this is one California romance that holds up in the cold light of a Maine sunrise. The Grand Caravan is simply a great car. It isn’t a Great Little Car — the spiritual successor to that is a Mazda 2 — but it’s a Nice Big Van. Money well spent, as a rental, and I suspect it would be money well spent as a purchase, too. The word will spread. The Caravan wasn’t the original minivan — that was a bit of Iacocca marketing magic — but it’s one of the best.

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Review: 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/review-2011-dodge-durango-citadel/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/review-2011-dodge-durango-citadel/#comments Wed, 15 Jun 2011 18:57:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=398837

The Chevrolet TrailBlazer and its many sibs are extinct. The Ford Explorer nameplate survives, but it’s now attached to a car-based crossover. Only one family of domestic midsize conventional SUVs remains—and, quite ironically, it’s based on a Mercedes platform. We’ve examined the five-seat Jeep Grand Cherokee before. For those more focused on people hauling than rock crawling Chrysler more recently introduced the seven-seat Dodge Durango. Is the all-new 2011 Durango only for people who need the dependable towing capacity of a conventional SUV? Or can it compete with the transverse-engined competition on their own terms?


As in its first two generations, the 2011 Dodge Durango combines the width of a midsize SUV with the length of a full-size SUV. The third-generation’s clean, well-proportioned exterior is a huge improvement over the perpetually pregnant previous one. If there is any fault with the new SUV’s handsome styling it’s that little aside from a crosshair grille distinguishes it as a Dodge. Also, it could easily be from a decade ago. But there’s also much to be said for timeless designs. The new Durango might not be au courant, but it also won’t look dated tomorrow.

The 2011 Durango’s interior is similarly almost too tasteful for its own good. The design could hardly be simpler, and some areas like the center console appear plain. With no racy curves and no fancy graphics, there’s nothing in here to surprise and delight—unless you’re surprised and delighted to find first-rate materials in a Dodge. Chrysler has upgraded nearly all of its interiors for the 2011 model year, and those in the Durango and the related Jeep Grand Cherokee are the best of the bunch. Not only does the top-of-the-line Citadel’s tan leather with black stitching feel as good as it looks (black leather is also available), but just about everything feels solid enough to go the distance. In terms of interior materials and workmanship, the more highly styled Ford Explorer is a step or two behind and GM’s large crossovers are hopelessly outclassed.
The Durango’s touchscreen controls don’t look as slick as those in the Explorer’s MyFord Touch system, but they’re easier to operate. One exception: the Garmin-powered navigation screens don’t only appear crudely rendered, but they don’t display many street names, so it’s often hard to tell where you are at a glance. The main instruments are similar to those in other 2011 Dodges. Their red perimeters, a Dodge brand cue, don’t fit the upscale, un-Dodge character of the rest of the interior.


Getting into the Durango highlights its first serious deficiency: the floor is considerably higher than in a car-based crossover, so it’s not as easy to step up onto. Once you’re up in the seat, though, the driving position is very good. The instrument panel and the pillars flanking the windshield are far less massive than those in the Ford. The Dodge’s windshield is comfortably raked and is neither too close nor too distant. Then there’s the width of the interior. With 58.5 inches of shoulder room up front, the Durango is about three inches narrower inside than the Explorer and GM’s large crossovers. There’s less headroom in the Dodge as well. So people seeking the roomiest possible vehicle won’t find it in the Durango. But, for others, the Durango’s cozier interior together with its driving position make it easy to drive for a vehicle that’s nearly 200 inches long and nearly 5,400 pounds.

The front seats are firm, perhaps too firm for some people. My main problem with them: I had to struggle to position the four-way-adjustable lumbar support so that it didn’t prod me uncomfortably. It’s a great feature very badly executed. On the other hand, the headrests have some fore-aft adjustment, a rarity these days.

The second row is comfortably high off the floor. The third isn’t, but this is typical, and the new Durango’s way back is considerably roomier than in the past and competitive with the car-based competition. And, if the kids back there get out of line, there’s a button on the dash to whack them on the back of the head with the headrest. This also serves to lower the headrests to improve rearward visibility, which is limited regardless. The rearview monitor proves very helpful.

Partly because so much space has been allocated to the third-row seat, there’s less cargo space behind it than in the Explorer or larger GM crossovers. Good enough for sizable grocery runs, but on family trips all of the luggage isn’t likely to fit without folding a seat or putting some up on the roof. Fold both rows—very easily done, as unlike in the Explorer the headrests flop forward automatically—and there’s still much less cargo volume than in the GM crossovers (84.5 vs. 116.9 cubic feet), but a few cubes more than in the Explorer. The Dodge does have an ace up its sleeve: unlike in these competitors, its front passenger seat also folds flat, to form a very long load floor (except in the Citadel, where the front passenger seat power reclines).

The new Durango is available with two engines, a DOHC 290-horsepower 3.6-liter “Pentastar” V6 and a cam-in-block 360-horsepower 5.7-liter “Hemi” V8. I’ve sampled the former in the related Jeep Grand Cherokee, and found it sluggish up to 35 mph or so. A new transmission with more than five-speeds of the Mercedes-supplied unit would help, but one isn’t available yet. Until one is, the V8 is the obvious choice for anyone who cares about low-speed performance. Because of the Hemi-powered Durango’s curb weight and the tall initial gearing of its Chrysler-engineered five-speed automatic (where the ratios are based on what was doable rather than what was desirable), even the V8 feels a little soft up to 4,500 rpm. Bottom line: with the 2011 Durango you need the V8 to match the low-speed performance of the V6s in competitors. 360 horsepower isn’t what it used to be.

In which case you won’t be matching their fuel economy. While the Durango V6 AWD earns competitive EPA ratings of 16/22, the Hemi AWD manages only 13/20 despite the ability to run on four cylinders while cruising. Even the old-school Chevrolet Tahoe achieves 15/21. In the real world the trip computer reported 13.5 to 16.5 in suburban driving but only about 18 on the highway.


In the V8’s defense, you can tow 7,200 pounds with it (7,400 with RWD), which is over a ton more than with car-based competitors. And the official specs might understate the difference. The longitudinal transmission in the Durango was designed with a high towing capacity in mind, and has been used in Dodge trucks for years. The transverse automatic in the Explorer and GM crossovers is inherently more fragile, and was designed primarily for use in cars. So if you need to tow a few tons the Dodge has a clear advantage.

If only the Durango’s brakes felt as strong as its powertrain. While they might be up to the task when pressed (with no mountains nearby and nothing to tow, I didn’t work them hard), they require an unusual amount of effort. Press down with a typical amount of force and it seems like the Durango doesn’t want to stop.

Partly because you sit so high, the Durango feels less agile than the Explorer and large GM crossovers. A VW Touareg feels even more car-like, aided by more compact dimensions and firmer suspension tuning. But the Durango’s handling is stable, balanced, and thoroughly predictable, with better body control than you’ll find in large conventional SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition. It also feels less massive and bulky than the platform donor Mercedes GL-Class, or the Infiniti QX56, for that matter. The Dodge’s all-wheel-drive system effectively limits the potential for fun. With it the attitude of the chassis is always dull but safe moderate understeer. I drove a rear-wheel-drive Durango earlier, when there was snow on the roads, and found it much more entertaining, with progressive, easily controllable oversteer when powering out of turns. I didn’t feel the need for all-wheel-drive, though the great majority of snow belt residents will no doubt insist upon it. The stability control system works very well, smoothly intervening only as much as is necessary.

While some bobbling is unavoidable with such a tall vehicle, the Durango generally rides very smoothly and quietly. Above all, it feels solid and precisely controlled the way premium European vehicles tend to. In comparison the large GM SUVs and, to an even greater extent, the large Ford SUVs feel unrefined and dated. Even the car-based crossover’s from these manufacturers can’t quite match the Dodge in this regard. Between its ride and its interior the Durango oozes quality.

The 2011 Durango has the look and feel of a premium car, but not necessarily a premium price. The tested vehicle’s $48,530 sticker might seem steep, but this is the top-of-the-line Citadel with every available option except the towing package. (A Durango Crew with V6, AWD, and leather lists for $37,565.) A similarly loaded 2011 Ford Explorer lists for $400 more. Adjusting for feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool give’s the Ford a $1,775 advantage, but removing the $1,895 Hemi from the equation would more than cancel this out. Compared to the GMC Acadia, the Dodge with the Hemi is about $500 less before adjusting for feature differences and about $2,250 less afterwards. Remove the Hemi and the Dodge is significantly less expensive than the GMC. And compared to the Mercedes-Benz GL450 that provided its platform? Over $32,000 less before adjusting for feature differences, and nearly $29,000 less afterwards. From this perspective the Dodge could be a bargain.

Ultimately, the 2011 Dodge Dodge competes strongly with the Ford Explorer and large GM crossovers on their own terms. It does have a higher step-in and tighter interior, but handles nearly as well, rides better, and looks and feels considerably more expensive—without actually being more expensive. For heavy towing, GM and Ford offer only large conventional SUVs, and these feel unrefined and dated in comparison. The Durango’s weakest area: its transmissions. Fuel economy lags with the V8, while the V6 needs a transmission with a larger number of better ratios to provide competitive low-speed performance. Granted, most people drive in a relaxed fashion and so will find nothing wrong with the current powertrain. For the others, a new transmission is on the way.

Dodge provided the Durango Citadel, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

The Durango Crew was provided by Michael Williams at Southfield Dodge in Southfield, MI (248) 354-2950.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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Review & Competition Comparo: 2011 Dodge Journey http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/review-competition-comparo-2011-dodge-journey/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/review-competition-comparo-2011-dodge-journey/#comments Sat, 04 Jun 2011 09:06:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=397299

When I first heard that Chrysler had revised nearly every one of its models for the 2011 model year, I cynically assumed the changes couldn’t possibility make much of a difference. After all, how much could they have done with little money and even less time—and with Detroit’s tendency to make minor changes and expect them to have a major impact? Then I drove the new Dodge Grand Caravan, and was amazed at how much its ride and handling had improved. For those seeking something smaller, or who simply refuse to buy a minivan, Dodge offers the Journey crossover. Underwhelming before, does it now similarly surprise?

The Journey’s sheet metal remains the same. It’s nearly as boxy as the minivan’s, but with the higher stance and the longer, more horizontal front clip of a crossover. Nothing fancy, but nothing off-putting, either. Of course, paint it “mango tango” and even a basic box will get noticed. A revised front fascia and the new 19-inch alloys fitted to the Crew and R/T trim levels suggest that the Journey is now a driving machine. The chrome-clad wheels fitted to the tested Lux, though equally large, aren’t as aggressively styled. One potential mod: even the 19s don’t begin to fill the wheel openings, and the rear in particular could be lowered a couple of inches.

The Journey’s interior revisions are much more extensive, and have an immediate impact. The tan leather fitted to the seats of the tested car looks and feels rich. It attractively contrasts with the black stitching and the soft-touch black trim panels. The thickly padded faux leather on the door panels extends to the inner surface of the door pulls—a premium touch too rarely found even among much more expensive cars. The doors shut with reassuring solidity. The instrument panel was already a soft-touch affair, but the new one has a cleaner, more upscale appearance to match. The various switches aren’t quite up to the rest of the interior. Even so, this is now easily the most upscale interior in the segment. Now in the bottom spot: the Honda Pilot.

The Journey’s ergonomics are also much improved. A large touchscreen, shared with the redesigned Charger sedan, is located where it’s easy to see and reach, without being awkwardly perched atop the instrument panel (as it was previously). The screen’s graphics are larger than most, making it easy to quickly find and tap the desired control (in distinct contrast to the Ford’s newest system). The screen does wash out at times, but simply designed and conveniently located knobs and buttons remain for key functions. A potential source of confusion: the fan speed knob is located between two for the audio system. But I never had the slightest trouble finding the right one. The Bluetooth for the phone works well. It’s possible to dial using the touchscreen, but the voice recognition system got the number right on the first try (simply hit the phone button on the steering wheel then say “Dial 1-234-555-1212”).

The front buckets continue the Journey’s newly premium character, with ample padding and enough contour that you’re coddled within the seat rather than sitting upon it. The driver gets an effective four-way power lumbar adjustment—but oddly a manual recliner. The view forward is very car-like, similar to the Chevrolet Equinox (but with much less of a sense of tunnel vision) and not nearly as high and upright as in the Kia Sorento or Toyota Highlander. The view rearward: not so good thanks to a small rear window and tall headrests that fill most of it.

Unfortunately, nothing could be done about the tight rear seats – short of reworking the metal. The second row—which continues to lack contour but is comfortably high off the floor—must be nearly all of the way back to provide enough legroom for adults, but if this is done there’s almost no legroom in the optional third row.

Adults might occupy both rows in a pinch, but the rearmost is best suited for pre-teens. (Built-in booster seats are an option in the second row.)

The Sorento offers a little more rear legroom (but less headroom in the third row) while the Highlander offers much more. The latter offers more shoulder room as well. The GM crossovers offer about the same amount of shoulder room as the Dodge, but far more rear legroom—easily done since they have no optional third row. Even the Mazda5 microvan, much smaller on the outside, is roomier on the inside.

There might not be much room in the back of the Journey, but Chrysler has equipped it like a large minivan. Every outboard seating position gets an airliner-like aimable LED reading light that looks classy and works well. The third-row seat package includes rear automatic climate control with vents in the ceiling.

In its original iteration, the Journey included an unusually large number of places to stash things. Storage compartments inside the front passenger seat and beneath the floor in the second row have been carried over. A well at the base of the center stack could easily hold a large camera.

There’s a couple inches more cargo space behind the third row than in the Sorento and Highlander—so unlike in those competitors, a single row of grocery bags would fit with no crushing of the eggs. Every seat save the driver’s can be folded to extend the cargo area. The load floor is high off the ground, though, a casualty of the crossover stance.

Like just about every other Chrysler product, for 2011 the Journey can be outfitted with the corporation’s new “Pentastar” 3.6-liter DOHC V6 engine mated to a manually-shiftable six-speed automatic. With 283-horsepower, this mill is considerably more powerful than last year’s 235-horsepower 3.5-liter and competitive in terms of both performance and refinement with the V6s in the Highlander and Sorento. GM’s 3.0-liter feels weak and sounds strained in comparison. Especially when prodded with a heavy right foot, the Chrysler automatic’s shifts have an unusual, firm feel—sporty perhaps, but less refined than the engine. The optional all-wheel-drive effectively blunts torque steer.

Fuel economy as reported by the EPA is a little better than last year, 16/24 vs. 15/23, but the city figure still lags the most efficient competitors. The trip computer confirmed the EPA ratings in real-world driving. Willing to sacrifice performance and/or all-wheel-drive for a couple additional MPG? A 173-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine remains standard in the base trim level. It’s good for 19/26, well below the 22/32 of the Equinox and 2012 Sorento.

The Journey’s chassis tweaks aren’t substantial. In turns, lean is moderate and body motions are fairly well controlled, but the revised steering is too light and lacks feel, especially on center. For the first 90 degrees, the wheel doesn’t load up at all. The Kumho Solus tires further indicate that sporty handling wasn’t a priority. Chrysler should let the people who tuned the minivan’s chassis have a go at the Journey.

So, if you’ve been looking for the domestic auto industry’s answer to the Audi Q5, this isn’t it. Not that most crossover buyers will mind. Instead, they’ll find a vehicle that is easy to drive and that rides very smoothly and quietly, with a cushier character than the Chevrolet and Kia. The Dodge doesn’t only look more expensive. It also feels more expensive.

The 2011 Journey Lux with all-wheel-drive, third row, sunroof, and nav lists for $36,685, about $3,000 more than the 2010. Roughly $500 of this increase pays for additional features like keyless ignition, Bluetooth, and the four-way power lumbar, according to TrueDelta’s car pricing tool. The rest covers the engine and interior material upgrades. A GM executive once told me that if only the bean counters would let him spend $300 more on interior materials he could charge $3,000 more for the car. Now we have a test. Does the resulting price seem steep? A Chevrolet Equinox LTZ is very close in price to a two-row Journey Lux after a small adjustment for feature differences. A similarly-equipped Toyota Highlander Limited lists for another $3,000 more. Then, of course, there are the Koreans. A Kia Sorento EX V6 with these features lists for nearly $2,000 less. But the Kia has a more truck-like driving position and doesn’t ride as smoothly.

Previously, the Dodge Journey had little to recommend it aside from a relatively low price. Its tight, cheaply outfitted interior did put it at a severe disadvantage. Now, the interior isn’t any roomier, but it is much nicer, even the best in the segment. The new V6 is similarly a match for the segment’s best. Between these two improvements, the Dodge Journey’s higher but still competitive price seems justified. The Dodge Journey’s now deserves a serious look by crossover buyers who don’t need a lot of interior room. Chrysler’s people clearly took the company’s recent brush with death seriously, and in this case accomplished a surprising amount, especially considering the time and money they had to do it.

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

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

Journey second row. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey instrument panel. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey instrument panel. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey HVAC display. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey front. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey front quarter. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey engine. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey rear quarter. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey rear quarter. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey cargo all folded. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey cargo 3rd up. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey cargo 3rd folded. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey interior. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey vs. Sorento. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey vs. Mazda5 rear. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey vs. Mazda5 rear open. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey view forward. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey third row. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey tailllight. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey side. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh Journey vs. Taurus X side. Picture courtesy Michael Karesh and Greater Detroit MLS Journey-vs.-Sorento-thumb

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Review: 2011 Dodge Charger R/T Take One http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/review-2011-dodge-charger-rt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/05/review-2011-dodge-charger-rt/#comments Wed, 11 May 2011 20:53:04 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=394641

So I’m driving a $69,000 Cadillac CTS-V, and it makes me wonder—if you can only spend half as much, how much performance do you sacrifice? And if you can spend twice as much, how much can you gain? Today, the first question. If you’re seeking a V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive sedan, but have a budget in the mid-30s, the 2011 Dodge Charger R/T is your only option.

For 2011, Dodge has excised the aggressive chunkiness from the Charger’s exterior, substituting smoothly flowing curves. Scallops in the hood and bodysides provide a link to the classic 1968-70 car. The sedan’s face remains suitably menacing, with a large, protruding crosshairs grille. This face notwithstanding, the new Charger is prettier, and less distinctive. Though the 199.9×75.0×58.4-inch exterior dimensions remain about the same, the new car looks longer, with too much visual mass for $995 of bright red paint. The no-extra-charge metallic gray of the tested car much better suits the big body. Even so attired, the Charger lacks upscale aspirations—that’s the related Chrysler 300’s territory. Instead, the Charger’s achieved intent is “four-door muscle car.”

The same is the case inside the new Charger: more flowing lines, limited luxury. The silver patterned trim plate that spans two-thirds of the instrument panel has a retro vibe, though the materials and workmanship here and elsewhere in the interior are mostly up to 2011 standards. Some switches continue to look and feel cheap, and some elements lack finesse. For example, why is the hood over the instruments a couple inches thick? The entire instrument panel could be much more compact with no loss in functionality. The graphics on the 8.4” touchscreen are unusually large, good for usability but not so good for a refined appearance. The best part of the interior: the attractively styled, comfortably upholstered door panels. The most disappointing: the $3,000 Road & Track package no longer includes the aggressively bolstered seats from the SRT8. Instead, synthetic suede center panels have been added to the Charger’s minimally bolstered, less enticing standard seats.

The windshield has been laid back a few degrees, and the windows have been enlarged about 15 percent, so the view from the driver’s seat is considerably less gangsta than before. Given the size of the instrument panel, though, drivers under 6-2 will still want to raise the seat, and even then will feel like they’re wearing a car that’s a couple sizes too large. On the other hand, those who shop at the “big and tall” store might find the XXL interior they’ve been looking for. Room is similarly plentiful in the comfortably high back seat. Perhaps because of its encapsulated conventional hinges, the trunk isn’t as roomy as before (15.4 vs. 16.2 cubic feet). Some midsize sedans have more space for cargo. A split folding rear seat remains standard.

The Charger R/T’s standard 5.7-liter V8 kicks out 370 horsepower at an easily accessible 5,250 rpm, and sounds good while doing so. Torque: 395 foot-pounds at 4,200 rpm. A far cry from the CTS-V’s 556 horsepower, but still about 100 more than in the typical V6-powered midsize sedan. Even though the curb weight is up over 200 pounds, to 4,253, this is a quick car, with a zero-to-sixty in the low fives. Impediments to visceral thrills lie elsewhere. Effective soundproofing reduces the sensation of acceleration and responses to the throttle lack immediacy. The ancient Mercedes-Benz five-speed automatic deserves much of the blame for the latter. A new eight-speed automatic, available with the V6 at the start of the 2012 model year and with the V8 at some point in the future, should improve responsiveness and acceleration. A six-speed manual would provide an even more direct, responsive connection, but this option is restricted to the related Challenger coupe.

The Charger’s chassis similarly feels distant and slow to respond. The Road & Track Package didn’t only lose the SRT’s seats this year. It also lost SRT-like suspension tuning. In standard Charger R/T tune the steering feels light and numb. In sharp contrast to the CTS-V and the late, lamented Pontiac G8, where progressive oversteer can be dialed in almost intuitively, with the Charger it’s necessary to dig deep into the throttle to affect the attitude of the chassis. Though lean in turns is moderate, the Charger always feels every bit as large and heavy as it is. Easy to control, certainly, and far from the floaty land yachts of yore, but a satisfying tight connection between man and machine proves elusive. A $400 Super Track Pak, which includes firmer suspension tuning, should help, but how much? Unless this package makes a huge difference, the Charger simply isn’t in the same league as the CTS-V dynamically. Instead, it’s a modern embodiment of the classic large American sedan, complete with a (mostly) smooth, quiet ride. More controlled and capable, but the spirit remains the same.

Ultimately, the Charger R/T isn’t remotely a half-price substitute for a CTS-V. Compared to the Cadillac, the Dodge feels large, soft, lethargic, and disconnected. Whatever was done to make the revised Grand Caravan ride and handle so well needs to be done here, and hopefully will be done for the upcoming SRT. As is, I didn’t much enjoy driving the big sedan. Nevertheless, the Charger does fill a gaping hole in the market. In every way save trunk space it’s a superior substitute for Ford’s Panthers, now in their final months of production. With ample V8 power, predictable handling, a quiet ride, and a roomy interior, the Charger should fill the Crown Vic’s shoes quite nicely. Watch your speed, or you’ll see a big crosshair grille (further enhanced with flashing lights) in your rearview mirror often.

Bryan Galczynski of Suburban Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep in Novi, MI, provided the car. Bryan can be reached at 248-427-7767.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive reliability and pricing data

Charger? I just met her! Charger front Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Charger view forward Charger trunk Charger instrument panel Charger front quarter 2 Charger-front-quarter-thumb Charger front seats Charger red Charger rear Charger engine Charger rear quarter Charger interior ]]>
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Review: 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/review-2011-dodge-grand-caravan/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/03/review-2011-dodge-grand-caravan/#comments Fri, 11 Mar 2011 20:35:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=387007

When Jack Baruth reviewed the 2011 Town & Country his praise for the minivan’s handling was so effusive that I wondered what sort of Kool-Aid Chrysler served at the launch event. Were mind-altering substances involved? To find out, I requested one of the new minivans for a week.

Some background: Chrysler substantially revised nearly every car and truck it sells for the 2011 model year, something which no manufacturer has attempted in decades. This in itself displayed a surprising amount of energy and ambition. FIAT will get the credit, but truth be told new parts cannot be tooled up overnight so these changes must have been underway before Sergio arrived on the scene. Cerberus, much maligned, is actually due the credit. How much could possibly have been done with Chrysler’s cut-to-the-bone staff stretched so thin and with the company bankrupt?

Given the limited budget and even more limited time, the Grand Caravan’s sheetmetal didn’t change. There’s the new Dodge grille and some nifty “ring of fire” LED tail lights, but the boxy—even for a minivan—exterior they attempt to dress up remains the same. I never could shake the feeling that I was driving a cargo van.

The interior was thoroughly redone. The new instrument panel upper remains hard plastic, but it’s now a single piece and doesn’t look shoddy the way the old one did. The door panels, which you’re much more likely to touch, are soft. The tested van was a $29,660 special, cleverly packaged to include key functional options (power doors, review camera, Bluetooth, multi-functional console, roof rails) for a sticker with a leading two. So no leather (or even seat adjustments beyond fore-aft and recline), though the cloth is much nicer than last year’s stain-resistant textiles. It further helps that blah gray has been exiled in favor of a high contrast black / gray combination. Even with the improvements the interior doesn’t seem as upscale as that in the new Honda Odyssey. One reason: Chrysler has done such a good job of designing for usability that the center stack looks plain. The center stack in the Honda isn’t as easy to reach or operate, but it looks more exciting. While functionality should matter more to buyers, will it actually matter more?

Even compared to that in other minivans the seating position in the Grand Caravan is high and upright. At this price point the seat height isn’t adjustable, not even manually. I wouldn’t want to raise it, but I might want to lower it. Visibility is outstanding, and confidence behind the wheel is inspired. But, in another test of how much functionality truly matters, it’s also harder to forget that you’re driving a minivan.

The cloth seats provide good lateral support, but lower back support is lacking and is not adjustable. Moving to the second row, the “stow-n-go” seats have been enlarged but they remain lower to the floor and less comfortable than the second rows in key competitors. They’re not bad, but wouldn’t be the best place for an adult to spend a few hours. Kids? No problem. Third-row comfort is more competitive, partly thanks to an aggressively angled seat cushion. There’s enough room for adults in all three rows, but the Sienna and especially the Odyssey are roomier. The official stats indicate a huge difference. While the Grand Caravan has 36.5 and 32.7 inches of legroom in its second and third rows, respectively, the Odyssey has 40.9 and 42.4. Such stats can be gamed, and these do appear to exaggerate the real-world difference between the two vans, but it is there.

The Grand Caravan has a clear advantage in cargo hauling versatility. Both the second and third rows stow completely beneath a low floor. In the Odyssey and Sienna the second-row seats must be removed to get a flat floor. The seats in the new Nissan Quest fold to form a flat floor, but on top of rather than beneath the floorpan, SUV style. As a result there’s much less space between the floor and ceiling. When the Dodge’s seats aren’t stowed there’s a deep well behind the third row and two large covered storage compartments ahead of the second row. In the past I’ve fit two large 17-inch laptops in their storage bags in one of these compartments. Up in the front seat there’s plenty of storage space in the bi-level removable center console, a pair of glove compartments, and the center stack. If you cannot tuck all of your stuff into the storage areas of this van, you’re schlepping too much stuff.

As part of its sweeping 2011 model year revisions, Chrysler installed an all-new V6 in its midsize sedans, large sedans, and SUVs in addition to the minivans. The “Pentastar” engine will get direct injection, FIAT’s “MultiAir” intake system, and even turbocharging in future iterations. Even without any of these technologies the 3.6-liter V6 is good for 283 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. Both figures are the highest in the minivan class. Pair them with a six-speed automatic with short initial gearing, and the new Grand Caravan accelerates briskly. If it’s not the quickest minivan ever, it’s close.

Dip deep into the throttle and torque steer enters the picture—not a surprise given the amount of torque being channeled through the front wheels. Subjectively, the new V6 sounds and feels better when revved than any other minivan powerplant with the possible exception of the Toyota Sienna’s. The V6s from Ford and Nissan are considerably less refined. While the 3.6 really comes on strong (and then rushes for the redline) over 4,000 rpm, acceleration also feels effortless at much lower rpm in casual driving. By following everyone else in developing a contemporary V6 Chrysler could learn from everyone else, and seems to have done so.

The six-speed automatic transmission is a placeholder until Chrysler starts receiving a new nine-speed from ZF. The box is calibrated pretty well for full-throttle acceleration, with quick, firm shifts in this mode, but oddly slurs shifts in more casual driving. Hit the “econ” button on the center console and the transmission rushes to get into top gear. Unlike in other minivans you can manually select a specific gear. There are no paddles, but a gearshift just to the right of the steering wheel is the next best thing. Downshifts can be summoned without removing a hand from the wheel. Perhaps all automatic shifters should be positioned this way? A conventional column shifter isn’t nearly as handy.

Manually downshifting a minivan—what’s the point? Well, last year there wasn’t much of one, except perhaps in the mountains. The 2010 Town & Country I rented for a 1,500-mile trip last Thanksgiving bounced, floated, and generally felt ponderous and clumsy. Especially given this starting point, the handling of the 2011 is remarkable. The revised minivan has precise, firm, perfectly weighted steering and tightly controlled body motions. In comparison, other minivans, including the Odyssey, feel soft, and even sloppy. (Ditto the Ford Taurus X I recently purchased.) In a marked change from last year, the 2011 Grand Caravan feels smaller and lighter than it actually is. I found myself taking turns at speed for the joy of it—something I’ve never done in a minivan before. Bear in mind that this was in the “Mainstreet” trim level shod with 235/60R16 Kumho treads. There’s a sport-suspended R/T on the way, but the base suspension handles so well I have a hard time imagining how the R/T could handle better.

Instead, I fear that the R/T’s tuning will harm the ride. As it is, despite (or perhaps because of?) its aggressively damped suspension tuning the 2011 Grand Caravan also rides extraordinarily well. Pockmarked roads that have bedeviled most of the cars I’ve tested failed to faze this minivan. No pitch, no head toss, just level cruising regardless of the road surface. Impacts are heard, but not felt. A Sienna or Odyssey seems quieter and more luxurious, and so more like a luxury car, but they aren’t nearly this composed. Frankly, hardly anything is.

As mentioned earlier, the new Grand Caravan with key functional options lists for just under $30,000. You simply cannot get a Honda Odyssey with three power doors and a rearview monitor for anything close, as Honda forces you to step up to the leather-and-sunroof-equipped EX-L for these features. Compare the Mainstreet with power doors to the Odyssey EX, and you’ll find that the Dodge lists for a substantial $3,825 less. The Honda does include some additional features, such as a power driver seat and automatic climate control. But adjust for these (easily done using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool) and the Dodge’s price advantage remains over $3,000. Toyota is a little more flexible—you can get a Sienna LE with dual power sliding doors and a rearview monitor, but for a power tailgate you need to step up to the SE or XLE. A Sienna LE with Preferred and Convenience Packages lists for only a few hundred more than a comparable Dodge, and if you compare invoices (which often more accurately reflect transaction prices) the Toyota is even about $900 less.

So, the Grand Caravan remains nothing special to look at. And other minivans are more comfortable. But the Dodge and its Chrysler counterpart lead the field in versatility and—with the recent changes—in performance and handling as well. How did Chrysler manage this, starting with a very basic suspension design (MacPherson struts up front, beam in the back) that did nothing especially well? Perhaps they cribbed some of the tweaks VW made for the Routan? If they’ve done the same with the rest of the line—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—there could even be hope for the Chrysler Sebring 200. Driving the revised minivan shifted my opinion of Chrysler all the way from “What’s the point of keeping them around?” to “Time to take the fork out.” Seemingly “done” a year ago, it’s now clear that a thoroughly revitalized Chrysler is just getting started.

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

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

Grand Caravan rear quarter Grand-Caravan-front-thumb rings of fire Pentastar Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail Grand Caravan instrument panel GC and Ody gates open Grand Caravan second row Grand Caravan front seat GC and Ody rear Grand Caravan front GC upper glove compartment Grand Caravan third row 2010 Grand Caravan instrument panel Grand Caravan side Grand Caravan cargo area Grand Caravan front quarter ]]>
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Review: 2011 Dodge Durango R/T http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/review-2011-dodge-durango-rt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/12/review-2011-dodge-durango-rt/#comments Thu, 16 Dec 2010 14:40:53 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=376323

I knew Mercedes GL.
Mercedes GL was almost a friend of mine.
And you, Dodge Durango, are no Mercedes GL.
Thank God.

It’s true. I signed a lease on a new GL320 Bluetec a year and a half ago, backing out when the dealer “discovered” that they’d “mis-written” the options on the truck and that the payment would be $150 a month higher as a result. I’ve driven the GL a fair amount. It’s a solid-feeling but rather charmless vehicle that barely makes a case for itself as a $499-a-month race-car tow rig.

Several of my compatriots in the press have noticed that — OMG! — the new Durango shares some basic platform engineering with the GL, and that — whoa! — it’s about the same size. It must be the GL to the Grand Cherokee’s ML! One intrepid fellow even claimed that his finely-calibrated posterior even detected extremely similar suspension motions during a test drive of the Durango R/T.

Hogwash. I happened to drive the same example R/T, which was a last-minute addition to the model lineup driven, one suspects, by Ralph Gilles’ desire to have a bitchin’ tow rig of his own. It may share a common genetic background with the Mercedes GL, but I remind the reader that Jessica and Ashlee Simpson are also related. In this case, the HEMI-powered Durango is the spotlight-stealing, voluptuous blonde while the clunky, cheap-feeling, deliberately ponderous GL is lip-syncing on Saturday Night Live while making an odd kicking motion.

In a resurgent seven-passenger SUV marketplace, the Durango poses an interesting question, namely: Can a longitudinal-engined truck compete effectively against transverse-engined cars? The Ford Flex is fundamentally a Taurus wagon, while the Traverse is a car design buffed and bloated up to two-and-a-half-ton size. Against those competitors, the previous Durango fell short in four major areas: third-row space, ride quality, fuel economy, and interior quality.

A switch to independent rear suspension addresses the first two problems, giving the Durango usable rear room and ride quality that, if not quite up to Flex standards, is competitive with the GM Lambdas. Fuel economy is no longer a problem: the new Pentastar V-6 outpowers GM and Ford while delivering 16/23 for RWD trucks and 16/22 for AWD. (The Flex and Traverse both score 17/24 for FWD, with the Traverse AWD at 16/23 and the Flex AWD at 16/22.) The five-speed transmission is short a gear to the competition but one might argue that the payoff in long-term durability is worth it.

The interior is best summed-up in a single detail: the USB port for attaching iPods and the like to the very solid stereo system is located in the armrest, and it is backlit by fiber optics so it can be easily found at night. The same obsessive attention to quality and customer satisfaction is evident throughout the Durango. The metal trim is real; the plastic trim is superb; the leather is clearly the product of bovine suffering instead of polyvinyl processing. With this generation of interior design, Chrysler has leapt from the remedial class to the National Honor Society. No excuses are necessary.

If only the same could be said for the uConnect system, which continues to resemble a Chinese knockoff of SYNC. There are four different “media centers” available, but none of them are as good as what the Flex had last year, and they are miles behind the myFordTouch system that is arriving with the new Explorer. On the positive side, the new instrument-panel display is both informative and easy to look at.

Dodge hopes that the Pentastar V-6 will be the volume engine in this vehicle; in order for the Durango to have long-term success in the market, it can’t exist in customer perception as a big, heavy, HEMI-powered monster. That didn’t stop your humble reviewer from stomping my feet and holding my breath until I was given the sole “R/T HEMI RWD” for my 106-mile test drive. With tickets in hand for a blues show that evening and the prospect of some fascinating companionship, I was thoroughly motivated to hustle back to the hotel.

I’ve sung the on-road praises of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee before. The Durango is longer and heavier, but in R/T form it’s also far more road-biased. The result is a very quick truck indeed. I used to drive a six-speed Cayenne GTS on a semi-daily basis, and although the Durango doesn’t have quite that level of pace, it’s just as willing to hustle down a curving road. In the modern context, curb weights in the 4700-pound range no longer seem outrageous, and the HEMI gives the R/T a better power-to-weight ratio than an ’86 Corvette.

If the Grand Cherokee relies on off-road prowess to stand out from the SUV crowd, the Durango depends on towing. A 7400-pound capacity for RWD V-8 models is significantly ahead of the competition, but even the AWD V-6 can pull five thousand pounds, and it’s likely to do it better than any transverse-engined crossover. Dodge doesn’t have a direct competitor to the Tahoe, but most buyers will find that the Durango can tow just as well while offering a more pleasant, manageable daily drive.

Trim levels range from the under-$30,000 “Express” through the most-people-will-pick “Crew” and top out with R/T and “Citadel”. For “Citadel”, read “Denali with a side of Aspen”. If you’re planning on buying a Pilot, Highlander, or Traverse, the Durango offers additional capability at virtually no penalty in efficiency or space. Most Durango buyers would actually be better-served with a minivan or mid-sized sedan, but until the day that every comrade in the union is issued a Harvest Beige Toyota Prius, some folks are going to exercise their freedom to choose an SUV.

Once again, Chrysler has delivered a vehicle that competes on both tangible and intangible qualities. As long as the consumer frogs continue to boil slowly in the gasoline-price pan, Durangos should fly off the lots. It’s no Mercedes GL, and that’s a good thing, since it costs less, looks better, and is very probably better-built. Nor is it a “crossover”, CUV, or cute-ute. It’s simply a real SUV, priced realistically, that happens to be real(ly) good.

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Review: 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT-8 “392″ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/review-2011-dodge-challenger-srt-8-392/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/11/review-2011-dodge-challenger-srt-8-392/#comments Tue, 23 Nov 2010 15:46:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=374047

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” The fellow from the Jim Russell School at Infineon couldn’t hear me screaming through my helmet and the rolled-up windows of my blue-and-white Challenger “392″, but surely he saw me gesturing. Let me out first! In the last ten-minute session, I lapped all the other journalists at least once and some of them twice! Let me out FIRST!

Smiling and making a “calm down” motion at me, the Russell instructor waved the other 392 out, this one piloted by one of the usual potbelly-avec-cheap shoes barfly journalists. And then he ostentatiously counted off fifteen or so seconds. You see? I’m gapping you out! But it didn’t matter. Four turns later, I was attached to the back bumper of that other car, where I would remain for three laps while the journosaur in question steadfastly ignored, in order of occurrence, flashing lights, honking, a black flag from two different stations, and another Russell instructor screaming and waving his arms from the pit wall. By the time I decided to break the rules and blast past this jerkoff without a point-by, I had one lap left in which to test the car.

Are you ready for the one-lap review of the 2011 Challenger?

The conventional wisdom tells us that the current Challenger is a disappointment in racetrack or “fast road” situations. While that is true for some models, it doesn’t hold true for the SRT-8. It’s not an idiot-proof track rat along the lines of a Miata or Focus SVT, but if you are willing to manage your brake and tire heat it can be a very rapid way to get around a road course. The primary complaints I had with the 6.1-liter SRT-8 were a certain reluctance to turn into slow corners and a surprising lack of push from the HEMI in the middle of the rev range.

For 2011, Dodge has swapped out the shock absorbers, retuned the suspension bushings, and added negative camber at all four corners. The result is a car which feels considerably more eager to enter slow hairpins, such as the final turn of Infineon Raceway’s “NASCAR” configuration. I continue to believe that this is a platform which is best experienced in the longer wheelbase; the Charger R/T models on hand were easier to throw around Infineon’s massive elevation changes and deliberately unsettling Esses. Still, there’s noticeable improvement to be had in the 2011 model.

On the motivational side of things, Dodge has bumped the HEMI out to 6.4L — 392 cubic inches — and it now turns out 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. The torque peak is at 4200rpm, which is still a little high for a traditional musclecar, but the new model never feels short of breath. Most importantly, the new “392″ is never in danger from the hated and feared Camaro SS in a straight line. You’ll need a new Shelby GT500 to mount a serious challenge, since both cars are capable of running low twelves in the quarter-mile. My offhand impression after driving both cars is that the Shelby is still faster but that the Mopar entry continues to bring a little more character to the table in terms of engine sound and responsiveness.

1,492 “Inaugural Edition” Challenger 392s will be made available, with both the Tremec six-speed and the Mercedes-Benz WA-class transmission. There are a few color choices and some rather unfortunate-looking interior details. The white-leather seats were literally too bright for my Android phone to photograph correctly in the Nor-Cal sun.

Drivers who choose the big HEMI have at least one more pleasant surprise in store: this year, the MDS cylinder-deactivation system is included for extra freeway fuel economy. If ever this was a V-8 which was capable of pushing a car along with half the cylinders on welfare, this is the one, but anything other than flat-road cruise control will call all the spark plugs back into action.

The rest of the car is the Challenger you know and either love or hate: tall-body retro styling, imperfect ergonomics, bathtub visibility for most drivers, a street presence exceeding that of the competition. Chrysler expected the Challenger to be a quick-selling novelty which would quickly fade in the market place — think Plymouth Prowler — but sales have risen steadily in the past two years. Don’t look for the new 6.4 liter model to reverse that trend.

The other new engine in the lineup is the well-received Pentastar V-6, previously discussed on these pages. Although there was one V-6 Challenger available at Infineon, complete with automatic transmission, our hosts somehow found themselves unable to get me any track time in that particular vehicle. It may be that my announced intention to “shove that V-6 up the bleeding ass of every lame-sauce, color-rag rolling chicane out there in the HEMI cars” gave them some reason for mild concern. Instead, I was sent out in another Charger R/T, which I proceeded to shove up the bleeding ass of every color-rag rolling chicane out there, only with a greater closing speed. I’ll have a review on that car for you tomorrow, dear readers.

I cannot justify the purchase of a Challenger 392 on any rational grounds. The Shelby GT500 is cheaper and faster, and the additional size and weight of the big Dodge don’t pay off anywhere except on the boulevard. This is no domestic M3 killer, nor is it a particularly comfortable way to travel. The revised Charger even manages to trump it a bit in the desirability stakes, with its fabulous new interior and characterful new sheetmetal.

Regardless of the above, the Inaugural Edition will still sell out in a big hurry, and the Challenger will continue to sell in record quantities. It’s a satisfying car to own, it looks good, and it’s finally fast enough to back up the promise made by those good looks. It’s that rarest of things in the modern environment: a man’s car. Testosterone-challenged fossils like my journosaur pals can’t drive it correctly and won’t do it justice, but some of you may find it absolutely irresistible. Just make sure you get in line first at the local trackday, okay?

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Review: 2010 Dodge Ram 3500 SLT Crew Cab 4X4 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/review-2010-ram-3500-crew/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/09/review-2010-ram-3500-crew/#comments Fri, 10 Sep 2010 21:35:40 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=365385

Trucks are a hot commodity in America. According to a few pickup truck forums, if you’re not some leftist tree hugger, then you either have a pickup truck or want a pickup truck. Truth be told, every time I bought a new car, I secretly wanted a pickup truck: a huge red one-ton diesel pickup truck. So when the US Government Dodge said one would be available for a week, I jumped at the opportunity. Not one week later and occupying four parking spots was that boyhood Tonka-truck dream: an extended bed, dually-equipped 2010 Dodge Ram 2500 SLT Crew Cab 4X4 (seriously, could that name be any longer?), but is the boyhood dream shattered by adult realities?

Before we jump right into the meat of the review, let’s start with a reality check. I’m not a contractor, construction worker, rancher, or vehicle transporter, nor am I the owner of a ginormous fifth-wheel RV. I am building my own home singlehandedly however (ok, so there are two sets of hands involved), but even still the biggest payload I ask of a truck is a pallet of concrete weighing in at 3360lbs, which I can put in the bed of the non-dually Ram 3500. Since I don’t own a truck however, I just toss the pallet in my trailer and tow it with my Volvo wagon. So that begs the question, who needs a truck this big? Not too many people really, but if you need it, it’d better be good.

The first thing that strikes you about the 3500 is its size. This is an imposing vehicle from every angle. Our tester measured in at just under 22 feet long, 8 feet wide and tipped the scales at 7,743lbs. This baby is BIG. Really BIG. Ever wonder why 3500 drivers are camping out in the left lane? As I soon discovered, there is a reason: these things are huge and not terribly nimble, so you need to choose a lane where you only have to worry about traffic on one side and don’t have entering/exiting traffic to deal with. Parking? Yet again, an education for me: why do drivers of big trucks park like pricks taking up multiple spaces? Because you have to in order to ensure that you will be able to get the thing out of the parking lot later.

On the outside, the Ram dually has finally gotten the respect it deserves. It’s no longer a 3500 truck with some bulging fiberglass fender extensions bolted on. The dually has its own rear sheet metal, and parked next to a Ford or Chevy one ton truck, the exterior lines work for me. Sadly the same cannot be said of the interior. While I would say that the interior is good for Chrysler standards, and not really that far below the competition in style, the materials choices leave something to be desired. In a vehicle intended for the working crowd, the acre of metallic-effect plastic trim is an idea that only works in a focus group. In reality, with less than 5,000 miles on the clock (all driven by the press who I can guarantee you never had tools rolling around the interior), the fake metallic surfaces were already showing significant wear. I’m not sure I want to know what this interior looks like after 100,000 miles.

The rest of the driving experience with the 3500 is the same mixed bag. The interior of this beast is quiet, and I don’t mean quiet by truck standards, I mean quiet by any standard. Sadly even the standard engine, the 6.7L Cummins diesel is eerily quiet. I miss the loud Ram pickup trucks of the past. What kid playing with their Tonka doesn’t make noises? The ride is hard, but then that’s to be expected with a payload capacity sufficient to haul a Range Rover in the bed. When you hammer the throttle, you get what feels like decent acceleration from the 350HP, 650 lb-ft of torque engine, but when the clock is finished the 60MPH run took over 12.2 seconds every time. Of course it also ran a similar time with quite literally a ton of bricks in the bed. 12.2 would be quite respectable if Ford’s new monstrous diesel V8 didn’t propel the 2011 F-350 to 60 in a rumored 9 seconds.

Let’s talk fuel economy, or lack thereof. In our 860 miles of testing, mostly highway miles with little traffic, we averaged 14.2MPG. Not stellar, but again, expected and not out of the ordinary for this segment. Speaking of engines, the Cummins diesel boasts a 350,000 mile time-between-overhaul rating which is 100K more than the Chevy or Ford, but I wonder how many people ever keep their truck to 250,000 miles let alone 350,000? If you have, let us know in the comment section below. Dodge tells us that 79% of Ram heavy duty trucks sold in 2008 were diesels and more recently the number approached 87% which explains why Dodge dropped the gasoline engine for 2010.

The thing about the Ram 3500 is that it kept charming me in unexpected ways. The up-level audio system is excellent, almost good enough for me to overlook the uConnect radio/nav system that has to be hands down the worst I have used in a long, long time. Seriously, there were better after market head units in the 1990s, what gives?

The real fly in Chrysler’s truck ointment is the Ram’s tow rating. Allpar.com claims that the 2011 models will be class competitive with a tow rating of 22,000lbs, but the 2010 Ram Dodge loaned us was only rated at 17,600lbs. Sure, over 8.5 tons sounds like a huge tow rating, but compared to the F350 which tops out at 22,600lbs, or the F450 that bumps the tow rating to 24,400lbs, 8.5 tons seems like weak sauce. Let’s hope Dodge gets their tow on for 2011. Reality checks are always important, so I have to temper towing capacities with the fact that few people will ever tow would be a conventional hitch trailer which would top out well within the tow capacity of the Dodge. Of far more use is the payload rating where unfortunately the Dodge still falls short with a 5130lb capacity to the Ford’s 6360. S

As my week with the Ram drew to a close, I realized that I would actually miss my boyhood fantasy truck. The big-rig style Jake brake had earned a special place in my heart on my daily commute, as had the fact that the Ram meets 2010.5 emissions requirements without urea injection. Dodge chose to use the more expensive NOx scrubbers instead of some expensive pee injection system like other makers. It should be noted that chassis cab versions of the Ram trucks do use urea injection instead of the NOx scrubbers as a cost reducing measure.

Our tester was $55,000 as equipped, and there’s the final rub, a similarly equipped F350 rings in a hair cheaper and brings more hauling cred to the party. If you’re just going to buy a truck on looks, your boyhood dream, or you want to tow your non-fifth wheel trailer, then the Dodge is competitive, otherwise you should just drive right past the Ram dealer. At the end of the day Chrysler’s financial condition is likely to blame for the tune the Ram 3500 plays and unless they take their engine and chassis back to the drawing board, Dodge will need to get used to being the handsome brute at the back of the pack.

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

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Review: Dodge Challenger SE http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/review-dodge-challenger-se/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/review-dodge-challenger-se/#comments Fri, 30 Apr 2010 21:51:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=354861

One of the strangest phenomena of the revived retro muscle car wars is the renewed emphasis on V6 performance. Once derided as “Secretary Specials,” the V6 versions of the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro now make upwards of 300 horsepower, while earning EPA highway ratings that surpass the 30 MPG mark. But if these latter-day pony cars herald a new era of performance and practicality, the V6-powered Dodge Challenger is as retro as its 1970-again styling.

The Challenger has always been the third wheel in the pony car wars: a little too heavy, a little too big, and a little too late to the game. Sure, the maddest of the mad versions were fire-breathing beasts, but the Challenger never wormed its way into the American psyche the way the lither, more sporty Camaro and Mustang did. And with all three nameplates back in showrooms, the old relationship remains the same: the 6.1 liter SRT-8 Challenger may give up nothing to its perennial rivals, but the volume SE version comes up well short of the competition.

Of course, what the modern Challenger might lack in emotional capital, it more than makes up for in sheer retro, street-level appeal. Even without Hemi badges, the Challenger looks big, mean and slick, by far the most retro of the modern pony car designs, and to this reviewer’s eyes, the most clean and pleasing as well. And it doesn’t just look good, it looks right. It’s a long car, but it’s got a vertical heft to it that balances the design. And with its classic lines and proportions executed in thick modern body panels, the Challenger looks as much like an expensive toy model grown to street size as anything else.

From outside the Challenger’s deceptively large cabin, it seems like nothing could break the spell cast by the car’s sheer presence. At least until the driver sticks the Challenger’s plastic key fob into the appropriate receptacle and turns it, kicking the old 3.5 liter SOHC V6 to life with all the drama of a Grand Caravan. At this point, the observer of this unremarkable process is likely to come down with a bad case of cognitive dissonance: the eyes tell you to expect the lumpy loping of big V8, but all the ears hear are, well, almost nothing.  With a stab of the throttle, the muted tickover rises to a tremulous drone. With enough motivation, the engine eventually manages to sound blustery, but it’s never in danger of making a sound that’s in the least bit purposeful.

Nor, given the performance numbers, should it. With a mere 250 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque on tap, it’s a good 50 ponies and about 25 lb-ft short of its V6 adversaries. And with 3,720 lbs of retro coupe to carry around, the old V6 has its work cut out for it. Luckily, the five-speed automatic is well-calibrated for the task, flattering the Challenger’s weak on-paper numbers with easy-to-use real-world performance. First gear is short enough to give the Challenger just enough pop from the traffic lights to keep it from being a complete embarrassment, but it’s also long enough to keep things from becoming a thrash-fest. Just don’t expect those rear tires to emit even the softest chirrup, unless you’re turning from a stop on a horrendously-paved road. While treating the gas pedal like it’s a particularly resilient cockroach.

In fact, if you’re even remotely interested in performance or fun, look elsewhere. Though the steering is only slightly overboosted, the Challenger’s weight makes it a clumsy dancer, and without the brute force needed to manhandle its softly-sprung chassis, you quickly settle into cruising mode. On suburban side streets, it glides sedately and uses its power well. On the freeway, it accelerates acceptably before running out of useable puff at relatively low (although still illegal) speeds. A sideways bump on the transmission’s autostick drops the Mopar back into its powerband more rapidly than pedalwork alone, but there’s still a palpable pause as your order makes its way to the engine room. Long, sweeping turns at higher speeds are as close as the Challenger gets to a driving thrill, but with so much weight, and so little steering feel, it’s got one of the fastest boredom-to-fear times in the business.

What we have then, in the Challenger SE, is a big, retro cruiser. It’s quiet and refined at freeway speeds, and it’s got enough power to keep up with the rest of the commuters. And shockingly for a Chrysler product, the interior is even a fairly inoffensive place to spend time. Though it lacks the retro flair promised by its exterior and competitors alike, its a clean design with simple functionality and relatively high-quality components… for a Chrysler. We could nitpick a few plastics choices, the lack of mirrors on the sun visors and more, but as stripped, sub-$25k Chrysler Group products go, it’s a revelation. Only the large, cheap and nasty steering wheel is truly offensive.

Unlike the more musclebound V6 pony car competition, the Challenger offers real-world rear seating. Wedge five people (including three six-footers) into a Camaro or Mustang, and after 45 minutes at least three of them will need either a chiropractor, a relationship counselor, or both. Thanks to the Challenger’s lengthy LX underpinnings, the same five people will make the same trip in relative luxury. In fact, the only professional assistance a passenger might need is seasonal affective disorder therapy: spacious though it may be, the rear seat is still a lightless bunker, with little visibility anywhere.

And though poor visibility as a result of bold styling is a nearly universal problem affecting nearly every car on the market, in this case it creates a special disadvantage. After all, this particular Challenger was a rental, and the SE’s lack of performance credentials vis-a-vis its rivals seems to doom this model to heavy rental-fleet service. The problem is that, having arrived at one’s destination and made the questionable decision to splash out for a “fancy” rental, the last thing one wants to find out is that famous landmarks are only barely visible out of the Challenger’s gun-slit windows. Want to see more than the bottom third of the Washington monument as you drive by? Be prepared to hang half your body out the window. Want the kids to enjoy a memorable back-seat tour of their nation’s capitol? Rent the Mustang convertible instead.

So, if this Challenger fails as a performance car, a musclebound cruiser and a rental, what is it good for? How about a better-looking Solara or Accord Coupe? From the cabin it’s not that hard to forget that it’s rear-drive, or related to anything with a Hemi, but from the outside it’s pure retro confection. You just won’t be getting the efficiency or reliability of the Japanese snooze-coupes. But when Chrysler’s new “Pentastar” V6 comes out, it should offer close enough to 300 horsepower to make it feel a little less like an afterthought to the Camaro and Mustang… at least on paper. In the meantime, unless you can’t live without its looks but can’t afford a Hemi, look elsewhere.

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Review: 2010 Dodge Caliber SXT [Updated Interior] http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/review-2010-dodge-caliber-sxt-updated-interior/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/03/review-2010-dodge-caliber-sxt-updated-interior/#comments Wed, 24 Mar 2010 16:42:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=350204

For a moment, turn away from the uncertain prospects of Chrysler’s Fiat-directed future and consider the subject of this review as nothing other than one entry in the popular five-door hatchback segment of the North American compact car market.

That’s what I had to do, anyway, in order to rationalize driving and writing about a vehicle that a lot of folks would justifiably consider to be a loser car from a loser car company. The question is, is it really?

Regardless of whether or not the 2010 Dodge Caliber SXT is a loser, one thing’s for sure: it’s a goner, as a Fiat-sourced replacement will be phased in somewhere within Chrysler’s multi-brand lineup over the next five years. That doesn’t matter to the compact hatchback customer who’s looking for cheap-but-new (and ostensibly dependable) wheels today, though. Fortunately, the Italian corporate shot-callers decided to make Dodge’s current contender in this market a little more tolerable by giving it a new interior for 2010, something the dealer source I spoke with said was the result of a $500 per car endowment from Fiat that tasked Chrysler with improving the vehicle without raising its price.

Alleged interior improvements notwithstanding, the exterior remains the visual equivalent of what a Star Trek-type transporter might yield if it malfunctioned and disastrously reassembled the molecules of a car, a truck, and a small crossover in one, horrible mutant of glass, steel, and plastic. The Ram-tough grille treatment looks just as out of place on a frugal compact as it did when the Caliber first appeared, and the panel seams where the sides of the car meet the roof are still covered with cheap, gray (“pre-faded black”?) plastic strips that look just as contrived as the over-sized comic-book-looking head- and taillight elements.

Happily, things improve inside, as Fiat’s stop-gap money appears very well spent. Borrowing most – if not every – premium interior cliché from the last ten years, Chrysler engineers have thankfully imbued the cabin with niceties such as chrome-ringed gauges, a decent steering wheel, and better upholstery throughout. Soft-enough-touch materials abound, and the new console houses a touch-screen entertainment center with decent ergonomics and features that are at least class-competitive. (My favorite: one touch rippage of all songs from a CD onto the internal 30-gig hard drive.) There’s also a (parked-mode only) DVD player. All this audio-hippery would be cooler if audio phasing was better, but overall, the system doesn’t sound bad.

The “not bad” theme continues as you contemplate the interior’s functionality. Given the comparative popularity of small sedans in the compact market today, it’s a fair bet that most hatchback buyers are looking for enhanced utility. Here the Caliber really delivers, with a fold-down (and reclining) rear seat that reaches near-flat status, a plastic-backed flip-forward front passenger’s seat, and headroom that’s every bit as ample as Jessica Simpson’s [insert favorite body part here]. Far and away, though, the Caliber’s most noticeable bit of interior redemption is it’s rear cargo area. Flash-covered plastic panels that looked like shipping-duty refugees have given way to much better looking, thicker equivalents, and the flimsy floor panel covering the temporary spare has been ditched in favor of a substanital mouse-fir-covered, multi-piece unit that, according to the manufacturer, can hold up to 250 pounds.

But don’t put 250 pounds back there (or much more than that, anyway), because an already-taxed 158-horsepower 2.0-liter four banger will only seem less impressive as you urge it forward. Even though throttle response is pretty good, you’ll quickly realize that there’s just not much there, other than maybe a disturbing resemblance to early Saturn fours in the (lack-of) smoothness department. If not for a very capable CVT that dutifly keeps this thrashy sewing machine within easy driving distance of its torque peak, the engine’s NVH alone would be a good reason not to buy this car. At one point, I lifted the hood while the engine was running. Closing my eyes, I was instantly transported to a 1970’s office building where I was surrounded by a typing pool filled with fast-fingered secretaries pounding away at their IBM Selectrics. Somewhere (probably at a race track) there are louder fuel injectors, but I’ve haven’t heard them.

What I have heard are comments from lots of regular Caliber rental customers involving driving dynamics that don’t do diddly to dissuade derrogatory discourse. And I see why. Ever serve on a team or work group that couldn’t agree on anything? Just pretend that Congress was responsible for the Caliber’s chassis setup and you’ll fully comprehend the way the car rides and drives.

Let’s start with the least-offensive part: The steering – though a little light – seemed decently responsive but had a real “artificial” feel that I would associate with some of the lesser-quality electric power steering systems I’ve encountered. Except that the Caliber’s system is hydraulic. Oh well, at least the ratio seemed well-chosen.

But the really horrible part of the Caliber’s driving dynamics involves the complete disharmony between the springs/dampers (extraordinarily mushy) and the 17-inch tires (bone-jarringly stiff). The rock-ribbed construction and hard, brittle compound of the ill-chosen rubber neither gripped nor glided, yet I was able to count no less than three Town Car-worthy up-and-down motions after a hitting a medium-sized pothole at 45 MPH thanks (or no thanks) to the big-car-from-the-Sixties suspension tune.

At this point, I turned on the radio (to drown out the road noise produced by the awful tires). But even the shrill tones of Lady Gaga were no match for the sound I made when I nearly rear-ended a Bimmer in traffic after expecting that the Caliber’s brakes might actually perform like those fitted to other modern automobiles. The vague ineffectiveness of this car’s binders is simply inexcusable. Ever driven a vehicle equipped with high-performance, high-heat range brake pads early in the morning when they’re cold and require excessive pedal effort and increased stopping distance? If so, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from this mass-market, garden-variety little Dodge hatchback on a daily basis. In other words,the Caliber’s brakes are bad…almost scary bad.

But is the whole car bad?

I remember Dan Rather once saying, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, that he didn’t believe Bill Clinton was a liar, because, “I think you can be an honest person and lie about any number of things.”

Debate that statement all you want, but I can’t help but apply similar logic to the Caliber: I believe a car can have a number of serious flaws but still be a decent car. Sure, the cons outweigh the pros by a ton here, and yes, the Caliber is a dying model from a seemingly dying brand built by a company with a still-uncertain future. But for the right customer – one who only has $17,320 (as my moon-roofed tester stickered for after three grand worth of incentives)…and who needs a dependable, new hatchback – I think the Caliber might be…certainly not the best choice…but at least a decent one.

One thing’s certain, though: Chrysler derived the maximum bang for their meager upgrade buck by investing in a nicer interior for this wayward little hatchback. If gradual product improvements as effective as this one become consistent year after year throughout the company’s entire product line, maybe Chrysler’s future won’t look so bleak after all.

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