By on June 7, 2005

Dodge Magnum and 300C: sisters under the skinOnce upon a time, enthusiasts bought a car's underpinnings from an automaker and then commissioned a coach builder to drop a body on top. The result: non-identical twins. And so it is with today's Dodge Charger R/T and Chrysler 300C. The two cars share chassis, engines, gearboxes, suspensions, wiring systems, the lot. It's not so much platform sharing as automotive cross-dressing. Of course, I don't mean that in a feminine way. The Dodge Boys have given the gangsta C a comprehensive muscle car makeover. But is it enough to lure NASCAR Dads into the showroom?

"Real" muscle car aficionados hate the new Charger on principle. How DARE Chrysler name a four-door sedan after a legendary two-door muscle car? I reckon that's a bit like being anti-Pammie because Ms. Anderson breasts are one cup size too large, but I feel their pain. There's nothing like driving a pavement-scorching two-door Yank tank to make you feel young, sexy and single– especially if you drive with your elbow on the window sill. Yes, well, sorry guys; those days are gone. The first time you strap your tantrumming rug rat into the back of your Charger and slam the rear door, you'll secretly thank The Dodge Boys for sacrificing authenticity for utility.

Motown in motion.  This sure ain't one of them ferrin' cars. As far as I can tell, "authentic" muscle car style is based on grafting not-so-subtle performance design cues– scoops, spoilers, decals, raised letter tires, etc.– onto big-engined family cars. By that standard, the R/T lacks sufficient trash talk to compete with muscle cars of yore– or the Charger SRT-8. Once you see THAT bad boy's hood scoop, 18" tires and spoiler, the R/T seems more like a donor car than a Hemified hot rod. Even the graphic-laden Daytona makes the R/T look like a 98-pound weakling.

That said, viewed in fraternal isolation, the R/T's basic shape projects more than enough American aggression to distance itself from the Accords, Infinitis and BMW's of the world. The Charger's hooded headlights, hunkered stance and fastback C-pillar are pure Motown. The sheer size of the beast is another sure sign that the R/T was Born in the USA (via Germany, but that's another story). The pipes are a bit weedy and the wheels are more bling than bad-ass, but props to The Dodge Boys for taking the Mustang's muscle car minimalism to the next level.

Plain and simple, simple and plain.The Charger R/T's cabin continues the theme. While pundits have sniped at the Dodge's plain Jane interior for lacking the Chrysler's charisma, die-hard enthusiasts will prefer the Charger's more concise dash and smaller, less pretentious dials. Soft touch black plastic is the dominant material, but its quality saves the Charger from rental car Hell. And there sure is a lot of head and leg room in there… in there… in there. If only the helm didn't look like a decapitated turtle and the test car's AC could chill like a Buddhist monk…

Students of muscle car Zen will be happy to learn that the Charger's 5.7-liter Hemi offers everything they could ever want in a big bore V8: power, power and more power. Three hundred and ninety foot-pounds of torque assure effortlessly brisk progress at a moment's notice. Three hundred and forty horses provides enough sheer grunt to keep your pink slip safe. (The Charger R/T stampedes to sixty in six seconds dead.) Although pistonheads craving aural satisfaction will prefer the deep-throated Daytona and SRT-8 iterations, the R/T's powerplant sings a siren song sampled straight from the 60's.

Not as bad as purists had feared, not as fearsome as what comes next.Unfortunately, the muscle car nostalgia extends to the Charger R/T's flat seats, floaty-drifty suspension and squishy all-season tires. There's only one thing for it: fire the handling nanny, hang on and steer with your right foot. Drifting highly strung rice burners is a fine thing, but nothing beats two finger tail slides in a 4031lbs. American-style sedan. You don't HAVE to do it, but those who do not repeat muscle car history are condemned to a Camry.

Anyway, it's clear that Dodge wants it both ways with this sucker: a value-priced, civilized machine for volume sales and a gen-u-ine muscle car to satisfy the cognoscenti (and cast a warm glow over lesser-engined models). The Dodge Charger R/T sits somewhere in the middle. If the idea of a muscle car with manners appeals, the R/T is all that. But if you're looking for the real deal, save-up for the Charger SRT-8. Having thrashed the 300C SRT-8, I can assure you that the Dodge version will make you forget all about door counts.

Meanwhile, Mustang GT excepted, the Dodge Charger R/T is as good as this post-modern muscle car thing gets. Any NASCAR dad that doesn't high tail it down to his Dodge dealer for a test drive has only himself to blame when someone else's Hemi invades his dreams.

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