While rear-wheel drive isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for automotive respect, it certainly doesn’t hurt. This could be the reason I get along so well with Chrysler’s LX platform cars. Comfortable, powerful, roomy and good value, they represent the finer points of what used to be the mainstream large American car. That is, without the drawbacks of dismal fuel economy, ponderous handling and dubious build quality. And sure, the Hellcat is fun – but the Charger R/T I drove recently might actually be the sweet spot of the lineup.
That lineup has grown to encompass no less than nine trim levels with five unique powertrain combinations and numerous performance, handling and styling packages. The R/T seen here – in 5.7-liter, rear-wheel drive form – lands neatly in the middle of the range in price and power. Alright, the 707-horsepower Hellcat definitely skews the average – but our tester’s 370 horsepower and 395 lb-ft of torque shouldn’t be scoffed at, especially when backed up by a standard – and excellent – ZF 8HP automatic.
All-wheel drive is available on Pentastar V6-equipped models, but if you want a V8 – and trust me, you do – then it’s rear-wheel drive only. In sunny Florida where I reside, this presents no problem at all. Many in northern climes may disagree, although it’s hard to see why – with all-season tires and a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension pilfered from the parts bin of Chrysler’s former Mercedes-Benz partnership, traction is rarely an issue even in inclement weather. Unless, of course, you want it to be.
The Hemi V8 may suggest sporting pretenses, and it’s certainly powerful enough, but unlike its big SRT brothers, the R/T just wants to cruise. A quiet, comfortable highway ride is a big contributing factor to the big Dodge’s laid-back demeanor, as is its roomy cabin. There’s stretch-out space in here for five, and a big trunk to boot, and the space no longer comes at the expense of good build quality. The Charger feels surprisingly solid, and our 10,000-mile tester exhibited absolutely no squeaks, rattles or signs of fatigue. Don’t scoff at that seemingly low mileage figure – that’s a press car lifespan that has seen many supposedly “premium” brands shake their interior plastics to bits.
Smooth and torquey as the 5.7-liter HEMI is…there exists an even more tempting option elsewhere within the Charger lineup in the form of the R/T Scat Pack. As in the Challenger coupe, one can configure an R/T with the “392” 6.4-liter Hemi and its hearty 485 horsepower without springing for the nearly-$52,000 SRT 392. Sure, the Scat Pack lacks that model’s meaty 6-piston Brembo brakes and adaptive dampers, but 4-piston calipers and Bilstein shocks are still on offer at the Scat Pack’s reasonable $41,000 starting point. That matches our well-optioned R/T tester without adding any other goodies, but trust me – based on my experience in the SRT 392 Challenger and Charger, the big motor makes a very strong, and very vocal, case for itself for the 7 grand premium the Scat Pack model commands.
As a family vehicle with four doors that bucks the current crossover trend, it’s hard to imagine a more well-rounded option for $40,000, well-equipped. Even without the Scat Pack’s more potent V8, the R/T is as likely to please die-hard enthusiasts as it is domestic-loving traditionalists, and that speaks to its breadth of talents. That it represents real value for money is icing on the cake.
2016 Dodge Charger R/T
Base price: $34,890
Price as tested: $41,070
Options on test car: Wheels and Tunes Group ($995), Plus Group ($2,495), Blacktop Appearance Group ($495), Navigation/Back-up Camera Group ($695), Black Painted Roof ($1,500)
Powertrain: 5.7-liter V8 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive – 370 horsepower, 395 lb-ft torque
S:S:L-observed fuel economy: 20 MPG