Sacramento, California – Strangely, some car models inspire rancorous debate and political sniping.
Take the Dodge Charger, for example.
Some folks can’t get over the Chargers of old -- big and brawny and loaded with horsepower that challenged the stability of the suspension and the grip of the tires. Those were the REAL Chargers, old-schoolers say.
Well, OK, but I did carefully read the owner’s manual on my recent ride and checked the exterior badging. Sure enough, it was a Dodge Charger SE with rear-wheel drive. Or a Dodge Charger Rallye Plus if you opt for the automaker’s more-flashy language.
Let me say up front that this was the “Charger Lite” version, meaning that it had a 3.6-liter variable-valve timing Pentastar V-6 with “only” 292 horsepower. Keep in mind that you can get a Charger SRT8 with a 6.4-liter V-8 laying down a maximum 465 horsepower.
That SRT8 puts you in a different economic bracket, and you’d be wise to put speeding ticket estimates into that budget.
My tester had a most-reasonable base price of $25,170, but it was dressed up with a nearly obscene number of extras (power sunroof, rearview camera and humidity sensor to name a tiny few) to bring the bottom line to $34,955.
The luxury was nice, but the basics were sufficient to keep me happy. That included the V-6.
No, the V-6 Charger cannot shut down a Corvette off the line, but the nearly 300 horses served up in deep, throaty tones by the V-6 were satisfying and entirely competent in all driving situations.
The Charger sedan received a much-needed restyling for the 2011 model year, and that carries over nicely in 2012. It looks American muscular from bumper to bumper, and the interior dash is a vast improvement from past years. The latter is much more organized and easier to use.
Handling was rock solid. Steering was a perfect blend of light-but-firm. The noise reaching the interior cabin was surprisingly muffled.
Naturally, purists scoff at four doors on a storied American muscle nameplate. To which I say: So what?
You want two-door muscle for 2012, hunt down a Dodge Challenger. They’ve made plenty of them.
As for me, I enjoyed every minute of my week in the Charger, a combination of four-door convenience and nostalgia-laced styling.
Old is new again. And you’ll get no argument from me: The current Charger wears it muscle and its lineage admirably well.