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Base Price (MSRP):$21,675.00 / As Tested (MSRP): $28,720.00
2008 Dodge Charger
View The 2008 Dodge Charger Specifications
Review by: New Car Test Drive
Pony car performance in a full-size package. 

Model Lineup
The base Dodge Charger SE has a 178-hp 2.7-liter V6 and a four-speed automatic transmission. SXT comes with a 250-hp 3.5-liter V6 and a five-speed automatic transmission with Dodge's AutoStick manual shift gate. R/T models have a 340-hp 5.7-liter V8 and the five-speed AutoStick automatic. The R/T can be upgraded to 350 horsepower by ordering the Road/Track or Daytona packages. SRT8 models have a 425-hp 6.1-liter V8 and the AutoStick.

The SE ($21,675) comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescope steering wheel, driver and passenger lumbar adjustment, remote keyless entry, and AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack. Steel wheels with bolt-on covers wear all-season P215/65R17 tires, and all Chargers have a Touring suspension. Available options include an engine block heater ($40), a Smoker's Group ($30) that adds a lighter and ashtray, and the SE Convenience Group 1 that adds an eight-way power driver's seat and adjustable pedals ($505).

The SXT ($25,685) upgrades with an eight-way adjustable power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 60/40 split folding rear seat with fold-down center armrest, Boston Acoustics stereo with six speakers and 276-watt amplifier, interior air filter, power-adjustable pedals, Sirius satellite radio with one year subscription, fog lamps and cast aluminum wheels. The SXT is available with all-wheel drive ($28,035). Options include leather-trimmed seats ($640), sunroof 2008 Dodge Charger ($950), and Dodge's UConnect hands-free cell phone link now with iPod interface. Also available are 18-inch aluminum wheels with P225/60R all-season tires coupled with a rear spoiler. In addition to the Protection Group and Smokers Group, there's a Comfort Seating Group with heated front seats, leather-trimmed bucket seats, power adjustable pedals and an eight-way power front passenger seat ($1395).

The R/T ($31,780) is a V8-powered, high-performance model also available with all-wheel drive ($33,880). The R/T adds to the SXT with folding heated mirrors, 160-mph speedometer, upgraded brakes, polished aluminum 18-inch wheels, larger fuel tank, dual exhaust, automatic headlamps, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, and power eight-way front passenger seat. Among the options are a seven-speaker Boston Acoustic stereo with a 368-watt amplifier and subwoofer ($535) and remote starting. The Electronics Convenience Group ($630) adds a security alarm, programmable universal garage door opener, trip computer, selectable vehicle information display, compass and steering wheel-mounted audio controls.

The Road/Track Performance Group ($3,350) for the R/T features unique aluminum wheels with black accents, sportier steering, self-leveling shocks, sport seats, performance suspension, a tweaked V8 making 350 horsepower, front and rear spoilers, and 20-inch wheels. The Daytona R/T package adds to the Road/Track Performance Group assorted aero add-ons, flat black graphics front and rear, and interior trim that includes a numbered plate on the instrument panel.

The SRT8 ($36,155) comes with a 6.1-liter V8 generating 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, a performance-tuned suspension, a reprogrammed electronic stability control, Brembo brakes, Goodyear Supercar F1 tires on 20-inch forged aluminum wheels, and a 180-mph speedometer.

The Super Bee package for the SRT8 comes in Surf Blue for 2008 with black graphics on the hood, trunk and flanks, along with the V8/bumblebee logo.

For 2008, two new entertainment options are available for all but SE models: Sirius Backseat TV and Chrysler's MyGig entertainment system. The rear-seat DVD entertainment system is now offered with Sirius Backseat TV with three channels. MyGig is available in two versions. The MyGig Entertainment System has 6.5-inch touchscreen and a 20-gigabyte hard drive to hold music and pictures. The MyGig Multimedia Infotainment System adds a navigation system with voice control and real-time traffic, and part of the hard drive space is taken up by navigation map information.

Safety features that come standard on all Charger models include two-stage front airbags, tire-pressure monitor, and rear-seat LATCH child safety seat anchors. Antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control, head-protecting side curtain airbags for both seating rows, and torso-protecting front side airbags are standard on all but SE, where they are optional. All-wheel drive is available for SXT and R/T models.


Walkaround
The Charger recalls the 1966 Dodge Coronet. Despite its fastback, two-door hardtop styling, the old Charger was somewhat blocky, with a squared-off front end, superficially sculpted slab sides and an equally vertical backside. There was the barest hint of a so-called Coke bottle look, with the body sides slightly pinched in about where there would have been a B-pillar. Not until the 1968 model year was any attention paid to moving the car rapidly through the air with minimal disturbance. The 2008 Charger starts at much the same place on the automotive styling evolutionary curve.

The same design team that parented the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum birthed the Charger. The Charger is built on the same platform as those two, but is three inches longer overall.

With this 2008 Dodge Charger legacy, the upright silhouette comes as no surprise. The front end tilts forward as if it's leaning into the wind, specifically to recall the brutish, pre-aero-age styling of its muscle car era namesake.

Dominating the front of the car are the trademark Dodge crosshairs, chromed on the SXT and R/T, body-color in the SE and SRT8, and flat black on the Daytona. Compound halogen headlights peer out under hooded, almost scowling brows. A thin, trifurcated air intake slices across the lower portion of the front bumper. The Daytona and SRT8 wear a flat-black chin spoiler. Fog lamps on the SXT and higher models fill small, sculpted insets at the lower corners.

From the side, the demi-fastback roofline and glasshouse look more grafted onto the somewhat fulsome body than a natural extension of the overall styling theme, as if the designer were trying to make a sedan look like a coupe. The beltline arcs softly back from the headlights, where it droops slightly, to about the midpoint of the rear side window, then kicks up over the rear quarter panel, visually bulking up the car's already hefty haunches.

The rear perspective shows a tall, almost vertical backside, with large taillights draped over the upper corners. A modest, Kamm-like lip stretches across the trailing edge of an expansive trunk lid, atop which sits a lift-suppressing spoiler on the Daytona and SRT8. A recess in the bumper holds the license plate. On the SE and SXT a single exhaust tip exits beneath the right-hand side, while the V8-powered models sport chrome-tipped, muscle car-idiom, dual exhausts.


Interior Features
Inside, the Dodge Charger has much in common with the Magnum, which is essentially the wagon version of this car.

The instrument cluster arrangement, which is slightly redesigned for 2008, is pleasantly informative. The big round speedometer and tachometer share the top half of the steering wheel opening, with fuel and coolant temperature gauges down in the left and right corners. The climate controls are conveniently positioned beneath the radio and are easy to operate.

The cruise control stalk has been moved from the 10 o'clock to the 4 o'clock position for 2008, making it more intuitive to use and eliminating the annoying tendency to hit the cruise stalk when signaling a turn.

The standard fabric-covered seats are comfortable, with adequate thigh support and side bolstering. Stepping up to the performance seats in the option packages gets more pronounced bolsters, which is good for those rare times when a twisty two-lane beckons, but not as good for climbing in and out of the car every day. And, of course, the top grade, suede-trimmed and embroidered seats in the Daytona nicely complement the boy-racer graphics of the exterior. Thanks to the sedan-spec wheelbase, there's plenty of rear seat room, too, even with the front seats at their rearmost positions. No head restraint for the rear center seat is provided, however, making this car better for 2008 Dodge Charger four adults than five.

Visibility from the driver's seat is a bit compromised by safety measures and styling dictates. The thick front pillars are designed to meet roll-over standards, which makes checking for pedestrians and crossing traffic difficult at times. The view through the inside rearview mirror quickly puts to rest any lingering illusions about the Charger being a coupe; the rear window is a long way back. The rear pillars are also fat, and require careful checking during lane changes; they also provide great hiding places for pacing patrol cars. In addition, the front of the roof juts out far in front of the seating position, so it can block your view of stoplights if you get too close.

The rear entertainment system installation takes a novel, but extremely well-integrated approach. The screen hides beneath a cover on the front center console when not in use, then pivots up between the front seats for viewing. The interface, for DVD and input and output jacks, is incorporated into the rear of the console beneath the screen and above the rear seat ventilation registers. Without the entertainment system, the center console functions as a traditional storage bin. For 2008, the system adds available Sirius Backseat TV with three child-oriented channels, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Two headsets are provided, so children in the back can watch the screen, while front occupants can listen to the radio.

Also available for 2008 is Dodge's MyGig radio in two iterations: the MyGig Entertainment System and the MyGig Multimedia Infotainment System. Both have 20 gigabytes of hard drive space, but the Multimedia option includes a navigation system with real-time traffic and voice activation.

A small, horizontal storage bin occupies the lower portion of the center stack, and there's a similar, longitudinal slot in the console to the right of the shift gate. A bin in the forward-most part of the front center console is large enough for coins and the like. Above it is a small, fold-down drawer where the Smokers Group ashtray would be, and next to that is a power point that would hold the lighter. Two cup holders sit in front of the console bin, and another pair can be found in the forward end of the rear seat center armrest. All four doors have good-sized map pockets, though the front seatbacks lack pouches for reading materials and headsets. The glove box is roomier than many.

The trunk is large. Loading items into the trunk is aided by a comfortably low lift-over height, at 30 inches. The trunk opening is shaped such that it swallows longer objects more readily than large parcels. All models except the base SE get 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks.


Driving Impressions
On the road, the 2.7-liter V6 is less than adequate for this full-size car, but it's the most frugal choice, with an EPA-estimated 18 mpg City, 26 Highway. The 3.5-liter V6 produces 250 horsepower and is EPA rated at 17/24 mpg City/Highway. When pushed, the V6 breathes a bit harder than the V8 and requires more room when passing on crowded two-lanes. The 5.7-liter V8 makes the Charger R/T a muscle car, with a 0-60 mph time in the neighborhood of 6.0 seconds. The SRT8's 6.1-liter Hemi cuts that time by almost a second and provides thrilling passing punch and throttle response. Rated at only 14/20 mpg, the SRT8 is saddled with a $2100 Gas Guzzler Tax.

The 5.7-liter V8 features Dodge's Multi-Displacement System that conserves fuel by shutting down four cylinders when they're not needed to maintain the car's momentum. The system is can't be felt, but it can be monitored. For 2008, Dodge has added a Fuel Saver Mode display that indicates when four cylinders have been shut down.

All of the Chargers are good cruisers, comfortable motoring along at 70-80 mph. The Charger is quiet at that speed, with little wind or 2008 Dodge Charger road noise. The 3.5-liter SXT model felt perfectly in its element on the bumpy highways between Detroit and Michigan International Raceway. Steering in the SE and SXT models we drove seemed a bit over-assisted at times, and could have used more on-center feel.

The recalibrated steering that comes with the Road/Track package offers better steering feel across the speed range. Some drivers may find the rumbling exhaust note of the Road/Track tiresome over long distances, though. The SRT8's lowered ride height calls for care when parking to avoid scraping the front fascia scrape; it can drag on sharp pavement transitions.

We drove a Charger along winding, two-lane back roads in southern Virginia then at Virginia International Raceway near Danville. The Charger is moderately nose-heavy and will understeer a bit when turning into corners before the electronic stability program steps in; the program's threshold seems set high enough to allow altering the line through a corner with deft throttle application.

The Performance Group comes with fatter, stickier tires (P235/55R18 Michelin MXM4s) and suspension tweaks that combine to reduce body lean in corners and quicken turn-in response. A price is paid, however, as the sportier suspension and tire combination resonates more over broken pavement, not harshly, but noticeably. The tires that come standard on the R/T and optional on the SXT are neither as wide nor as grippy, but they offer a quieter ride.

The AutoStick transmission works equally well in either Automatic or Manual mode. In Automatic mode, full throttle upshifts wait until redline and downshifts for passing are executed with minimal delay. In Manual mode, the transmission holds a gear to red line before shifting (unless you shift sooner, of course). Only by tromping the gas in manual mode can you force a downshift, and then only for as long as the pedal is held to the floor; ease up ever so slightly, and the higher gear takes back over, and somewhat abruptly.

The Charger's brake hardware is shared with Mercedes-Benz, but the software code for the stability program, brake assist and traction control is written by and for Dodge. Mercedes engineers could learn something from Dodge. Pedal feel is firm, braking is reassuringly linear, and there's no perceived interference from the electronic watchdogs, yielding smooth, controlled stops. We haven't always been able to say the same about the braking characteristics on some of the Mercedes models.


Final Word
The Dodge Charger delivers pony car excitement and style and recalls a bygone era, all while providing the roomy accommodations of a full-size car. The 2008 Dodge Charger availability of all-wheel drive is a bonus for customers in the north, and the range of engines and suspension setups allows buyers to choose between fast and comfortable models.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from North Carolina and southern Virginia; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Michigan, and correspondent Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago.