CHASING STEVE MCQUEEN
Dodge gives Charger a bit of a makeover
Even if you haven’t seen the movie, chances are you know about the car chase scene from Bullitt and maybe have even seen it via YouTube.
At one time, the entire sequence of nearly ten minutes was available on YouTube, but a recent Google search reveals that Warner Brothers has squashed those showings over copyright issues.
The movie was made in 1968 but the chase remains a timeless movie classic. It is the gold standard of all chase scenes.
Even if you aren’t a movie (or auto) trivia buff, you probably know that the car star Steve McQueen was driving in that chase was a Ford Mustang fastback.
But what about the car the bad guys were in?
That’s a bit more difficult, no?
Well, maybe not for you, a car buff, but for the average person, who likely remembers McQueen and Mustang but little else from the movie, it likely is.
Of course, it was a much different Charger that did the chasing around the streets of San Francisco from the one you’ll find in showrooms today.
Back then, the Charger was a sleek two-door with a fastback profile that not only had a prominent, if less well-known, role in Bullitt but also had the lead vehicle part as General Lee in the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard.
That line of Chargers ended in the late 1980s.
When Dodge revived the nameplate in 2006 after a 19-year production hiatus, the Charger had morphed into a four-door sedan with the rear-wheel drive configuration and its aggressive styling retained from the 1960s model.
It also has the original’s DNA under the hood. Still does.
For 2012, Dodge offers the Charger in five trim levels with three different engines.
The base SE ($25,495) and upgraded SXT ($28,495) get a 3.6-liter V6 that puts out 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.
They also are the most fuel efficient in the line with the SE, which is equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission, getting 16 miles per gallon city and 25 highway and the SXT rated at 19 mpg city, 31 highway thanks to its eight-speed automatic.
The R/T ($29,995) has a 5.7 liter V8 rated at 370 hp and 395 lb.-ft. of torque. Mated with a five-speed automatic it is rated at 16 mpg city, 25 highway in fuel efficiency.
For the highest performance, there are the Charger SRT8 ($45,795) and the SRT8 Superbee ($41,495), the latter essentially the same as the SRT8 without some of the SRT8’s upgraded features such adaptive suspension, xenon headlights, shift paddles, etc.
Both the SRT8 and the SRT8 Superbee come with a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 that makes 470 hp and 470 lb.-ft. of torque. With a five-speed automatic transmission, they deliver mileage figures of 14/23 and a zero-to-60 time of under five seconds.
That’s the kind of stuff you would expect from stars of car chases. (In fact, for Bullitt, the moviemaking people had to modify the Mustang somewhat so that it could keep up with the HEMI-powered Charger.)
That kind of punch is what really makes the new Charger more true to its Muscle Car heritage, though one needn’t be ashamed of opting for the V6 with its break in price and increase in fuel economy. It’s no laggard in itself.
By going with a sedan configuration when it was revived (the Challenger serves as a coupe option for Mopar addicts and is priced along similar lines), Dodge has made the Charger more spacious inside, and the trunk is a roomy 15.5 cubic feet. The slanting roofline does take away from some of the rear headroom, but not a lot, and the legroom makes for a comfortable fit in the backseat.
The big plus is that the Charger has benefited from Dodge’s new emphasis on upgraded interiors. At one time, Dodge’s interiors were like an introduction to the world of plastic and cheap plastic at that. Not so any more.
You won’t be mistaking it for the leather-encased cabins of ultra-luxury imports from Europe, but the Charger’s interior ambiance holds up very well, and all the necessary controls for audio, climate, and optional navigation are intuitive to operate and within easy reach of the driver.
The Charger has been updated with technology such as satellite radio and Garmin-based navigation but doesn’t overwhelm you when it comes to the operation of such gee-whiz features. Duplicate audio controls, as is the custom of the day, may be found on the steering wheel along with buttons for the cruise control.
Its bold, aggressive styling may suit you or it may not. But for those seeking a car suitable for a family as well has something out of the ordinary in the Muscle Car tradition, the Charger offers a viable option. And you have a choice of power and less mileage by going with the V8 or less power and better mileage with the V6. Either way works.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT THE CHARGER: The touchscreen was big (8.4 inches) and well-marked to operate such functions as the audio and navigation systems. The side and rear windows are bigger and offer improved visibility over previous models.