2008 Dodge Charger SXT: Musclecar icon is a solid family flyer
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Cerberus, the new corporate owner of Chrysler has indicated that it is considering cutting costs by re-branding some of its badges. If that comes to pass, loyal Dodge owners might have to reconcile driving Chrysler musclecars with the winged medallion replacing the stalwart Ram insignia.
A Chrysler Viper or Chrysler Charger might be seen on the streets in years to come, but for now, Dodge is still home to some of the most iconic and exciting vehicles on the road.
Since Charger hit the boulevard and dragstrips as a Coronet-based street-machine for the 1966 model year to compete with Barracuda and Mustang, it has been a thing of powerful beauty. The Charger 273 actually hit the market in 1965, as a Dart GT kit, and the Charger concept, based on the Polara, made it into the public’s consciousness in 1964, where the marque lasted until 1978, when it was replaced by the Magnum.
The sixth generation of Charger began life in 2006, and the 2008 incarnation is a mix of muscle, architecture and convenience. Muscle comes from a 3.5-liter high-output 24-valve V-6 MPI engine mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission. The set-up puts out 250hp and 250 lbs.-ft. of torque. By comparison, the original Charger was powered by a robust 318c.i. (about 5.1 liters) V-8 combined with a 3-speed manual tranny to thunder out 230hp gross and 170hp net.
Back in the day, a musclecar was a heavy, two-ton vehicle that needed a herd of horses to blaze down the track or streets. The ’08 Charger SXT is certainly heavy, as the 200.1-inch long, 74.5-inch wide and 58.2-inch high sedan has a curb weight of 4170 lbs. But I found that the horses just didn’t provide the muscle I was expecting, seeing as the 2008 Charger is the Official Passenger Car of NASCAR.
My best track test time was zero to 60mph in 8 seconds flat, on my way to a 16.1-second quarter-mile. A muscle option, the 6.1-liter V-8-engined SRT8 is a 425hp monster ride that is a Charger for the ages, but my test version was more of a family flyer, with fuel economy on its mind (by comparison with the V-8) and was EPA rated at 15mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. My week behind the wheel yielded a 19.6mpg average.
On the autocross, the Charger SXT delivered a stiff ride with a bit of waver, as the rear wants to let go during tight, quick turns. Even the cool spoiler didn’t hold it down on the track, though it did make an impression on those who saw it. The rear air deflector was not a match to the big wings of the 1969 Charger Daytona, but it is sexy and sporty nonetheless. Driving it hard I found good low-range acceleration, but I experienced some hesitation at high speed when attempting to mash the pedal to pass other cars. Road noise in the cabin was higher than expected and I would have rather heard engine purr, which I did not.
During my week of testing, I took the Charger to the land of its ancestors, on a road trip from Central Pennsylvania, to Detroit, Michigan. OK, this model was assembled Brampton, Ontario, Canada, and the transmission was built in Germany, but the Charger is still an All-American icon, with its roots in Detroit, and its Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills.
In motion and at rest, the Charger drew accepting looks while I drove it on interstates and through towns, and it garnered appreciative comments while it was parked at sports venues – Joe Louis Arena for a Red Wings NHL game, and The Palace of Auburn Hills during a Pistons NBA game.
My test vehicle had TorRed exterior paint, coordinated with a Dark and Light Slate Gray interior that was really a bit Spartan for my tastes. Roomy inside with seating for five, it came with heated, leather-trimmed bucket seats, dual-zone air conditioning, 8-way power driver seat, 276-watt amp, six Boston Acoustics speakers, a navigational system touch-screen, and Sirius Satellite radio.
The all-wheel-drive vehicle included such safety equipment as advanced multi-stage front air bags, child seat upper leather anchorages, height-adjustable front shoulder belts, electronic stability system with brake assist, all-speed traction control system and four-wheel ABS disk brakes. Additional passive and active safety features include rear-sill reinforcement and structure, energy-absorbing steering column, low-risk deployment air bags, side-curtain and supplemental seat-mounted side air bags. Highly regarded for safety, the Charger received a five-star frontal crash rating for driver and front-passenger safety from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The standard Charger also gets power rack-and-pinion steering, 730-amp maintenance-free battery, rear window defroster, variable intermittent windshield wipers, power adjustable pedals and a tire pressure monitor.
The ’08 Charger SXT AWD is base priced at $28,035, but with $8,455 in options – sound, convenience, safety, entertainment and sunroof upgrades, my test ride stickered out at $36,490.
From ‘60s musclecar to ‘2008 family flyer, the Charger is a car that turns heads and makes Dodge proud … it would be a shame to lose that Ram logo.
Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a car guy since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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