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Charge toward your upgrade: 2020 Dodge Charger base model review! Via rental


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While I’ve posted about Dodge Chargers quite a bit, I’ve never reviewed one.  I once reviewed a Chrysler 300 because I rented one for a day for an abnormally low price.

I’ve had Chargers as rentals.  The last rented Charger featured the current roofline, but had the last bulbous Ram-like grille.  Just recently, I had drove a 2020 Charger for 6 days via an upgrade.  I was supposed to get a Hyundai Elantra (or similar).  They didn’t have intermediates, so I was directed to the full-size aisle.  The Dodge Charger is often one step up from full-sizes in rental fleets.  So I asked the Cuban gentleman working on the lot if I could have the one Charger in the full-size row and he told me to help myself! With the bags already in the trunk, an approaching elderly couple was eyeing it.  Get out of here ... take one of the Altimas or Camrys.

The car was white with a black leather interior.  I was not looking forward to leather seats in a hot climate, but the A/C was very effective in quickly cooling down the interior.  It had the base 3.6 L Pentastar V6 making 292 horses, an 8 speed Torqueflite automatic transmission, and rear wheel drive.  It also had a more compact shift lever I’ve not seen before.

I’ve come to like the Dodge Charger more and more.  At first, I didn’t like the new, more horizontal grille because it was shared with less expensive Dodge products.  Now, I think it works well, especially with the adjacent headlamps.  Similarly, I like this last thinner and curved rear light assembly that seems to show some “camber.” 

As you drive off, the initial feel at low speeds may seem floaty and overassisted.  I’m comparing this to my car, in that GM W-bodies with hydraulic power steering require more effort in parking lots and at slow speeds.  However, the Charger’s apparent speed sensitive electric power steering is actually convenient and it’s great at highway speeds, where maneuvers are agile yet still communicative. Tire thum and wind noise are also minimal, as is engine noise under normal throttle and particularly when on the interstate.  The Pentastar V6 moves this 4,000 pound car well in all speed ranges.  The 8 speed automatic transmission changes gears smoothly and quietly.  Beyond the 1-2 and 2-3 shifts, the subsequent ones are almost imperceptible.

As for the Charger interior, the cabin features a nice cabin environment.  I really liked the articulation of the bucket seats, meaning they’re nice to look at.  The bolsters are comfortably shaped, the lumbar area feels right, and the front headrests sort of slot in as opposed to popping up way above.  The same goes for the rear seats.  The headrests are integral.  With the rake of the C-pillar and the integral headrests, visibility is good and a combination of turning one’s head and using the mirrors makes lane changes easy.  (The last-gen Impala, albeit with a similar roofline, had marginal rear visibility because of its thicker pillar and more obtrusive rear headrests.)  The Charger also has a wide stance and feels very stable.  In my car, I can reach and open the passenger door manually.  In the Charger, I could not.

The dashboard is nicely shaped, with an integral infotainment center that is housed under the cowl.  This looks more appealing than the “laptop left open” look now often seen in domestic and import vehicles.  The controls for the audio and climate control systems are logically laid out and easy to use.  The steering wheel control buttons are sensibly sized, with information functions to the left and cruise control settings to the right.  Once a person gets used to them, they are easy to toggle through and show a lot of useful information.  The main instrument panel dials have orange accents but are principally white.  (That’s a good thing because I never cared for Pontiac’s orange illumination phase.) The compact shifter, instead of a gate, is nice to the touch and the shifter itself lights up with which gear it’s in.  The are two cup holders, a big bin In the console, and air vents and USB ports at the rear of the console for rear seat passengers.  The air conditioning vents up front are nicely positioned and distribute conditioned air effectively.

While it all sounds good, there are a few demerits.  Compared to the version prior to this last refresh, the cluster between the two main IP gauges is less user friendly in some ways.  The transmission gear display is stacked right atop the fuel gauge, almost running into each other.  It used to be that round analog gauges were inset at the bottom of the larger speedo and tach and that freed up that central square info area.  On the plus side, right below the D indicator is the number of the gear you are in.  Now that’s cool!  Another oversight is that, unless I missed something in the settings, the clock is not displayed unless the infotainment system is on.  However, the outside temperature is always displayed in the main instrument cluster and, when turned on, in the infotainment screen as well.  Additionally, the digital clock display is smallish.  Even an old fashioned chronometer would be nice, as long as the time is continuously displayed somewhere.  The biggest negative is the lack of a remote fuel door release latch.  If the base Hyundai Accent has an interior fuel release door, so should a Dodge Charger ... no “ifs, ors, ands, or buts” about it.  Previous Chargers had the release in the driver’s door, near the map pocket slots.  Initially, I thought I had missed it.  As I walked outside the car, I casually pushed on the fuel door and it opened.  Surprise.

There are a few more things to mention about the driving experience.  While the base 3.6 L V6 moves the car well, if one is already at highway speeds and wants to pass, flooring the gas pedal causes to RPMs to spool highly and quickly and, then, with a slight lag,  the car moves quickly to the task.  One past review over the years somewhere complained the car is too quiet.  I think that’s a plus, especially in the more conventional and/or luxury oriented base models.

While the transmission works well, between 55 mph and 65 mph, I noticed that the gear indicator between the main IP dials showed that it hunted for a gear at times.  One would prefer to be in gear 8 at those speeds but, sometimes, it stayed in 7 until it either sensed more speed or that that speed would be held.  Part of it is that an electronic chip is doing the thinking. 

With the talk of highway speeds and gears comes a discussion of gas mileage.  The car gets commendable gas mileage, more so for mixed highway-urban than city driving.  On a pure highway jaunt, the mileage is excellent.  In the 8th gear and at about 65 mph, the V6 spins at a very low 1,400 rpm.  In one point to point - pancake flat - cruise control - light traffic - gas station to gas station jaunt of over 100 miles, I got about 35 mpg.  If old Impalas with 3400 V6s and 4 speed automatics could pull in 33 or 34 mpg on the highway, this is credible.  Clearly, the conditions had to have been optimal.

Many are wondering what the next Charger will bring.  The current one has so many good features and aspects, and is well liked.  I suspect the next one will be marginally smaller, lighter, and more nimble.  I hope they fix some of the readouts that are fussy, cramped, and/or not shown.  And that, irrespective of the tight capless fuel system, an interior fuel door release returns.  And, true to its muscular and imposing Charger stance, please keep the infotainment system under the cowl rather than the “laptop left open” style that looks fragile and is not appealing.

The best thing about the 2020 Dodge Charger is its mixing of the best of old school greatness we miss and the currents norms in automotive technology.  Not only that, rear wheel drive makes the car feel more balanced and planted.  The driving experience is commanding, comfortable, and inspires confidence.  I wanted to take the car home with me.

Edited by trinacriabob
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PHOTOS - Exterior and mechanical

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Here's a sleek looking Dodge Charger with the Tampa Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the background, taken from Fort De Soto

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An angled rear three quarter view of the Dodge Charger

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Great lines ... and the latest rear light bar is the best design to come along

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The latest grille looks clean, sort of merges with the headlamps, and works well blacked out

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An "aerial view" of the Dodge Charger

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Engine bay:  3.5 Pentastar V6 - 292 hp - in RWD set up ... big air intake, small battery area (unless they've stashed it elsewhere), strut towers (with black grommets at the top) ... more or less symmetrically laid out, with room to reach things

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Driver's side view of the engine bay - oil fill cap, coolant recovery bottle, brake fluid (and master cylinder?) under the black rubber lid (at the right) ... but I couldn't find the transmission fluid dipstick (not sure if this is a sealed unit)

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Passenger's side view of the engine bay ... looks like 3 direct injection ports on this side of the engine bank, battery hookups here, up front (but the battery may be elsewhere since it looks shallow, just like they did with the last-gen Pontiac Bonneville) ... what was surprising was that the engine sat higher and more forward than in old school RWD cars ... maybe that is because of the rack and pinion system (not sure)

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Touche'.  Just in case you don't know the brand and model of car whose hood you were raising up ...

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End of exterior and mechanical photos 

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54 minutes ago, trinacriabob said:

Updated

PHOTOS - Interior

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Here's an overall view of the wide stance and sensible appeal of the Dodge Charger dashboard, taken from the rear seat.  Note the keyless ignition switch

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Most of the main things are here - a nice leather wrapped steering wheel, reasonably sized steering wheel controls, the IP cluster with readout screen in between the main dials, and the infotainment system with rear camera.  You can program it for a digital speed readout (the toggles for that are on the left side of the steering wheel)

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The main climate control and audio system controls are easy to get used to and use.  The compact shift lever is interesting ... note that, in addition to the dashboard, the gear is also displayed and illuminated on the shift lever itself.  (There are a few specks of sand.)

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Very comfortable seats (I prefer cloth ones to leather, which can be had on the base model), with two cup holders (under the sliding console cover) and a large storage area under the armrest.  Also, the console height relative to the driver is ideal at a time many automakers are on the trend of raising the console height too much and making the car feel confining.

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This is all intuitive and standard and the trunk release button is easy to use (but, unlike a few model years back, there is no remote fuel door release, which used to be on the driver's side door panel)

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The commanding looking hood, and its sculpting, are a great retro effect

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The orange serves as an accent, and looks great at night ... fortunately, the illumination is mostly white ...I think that the gear indicator and fuel gauge could benefit from more visual separation.  Note that it even shows the gear number under D.  It's at 1, but goes all the way to 8 when at highway cruise.

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With the infotainment system off, temperature is displayed but the time is not (unless I did not set something up correctly)

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With the infotainment system on, the time is displayed (top center).  The temperature is displayed again.

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Is this riding low because it could be a police cruiser or, when it becomes older and more affordable, it could be popular with kids, young adults, and adults who think they are young who will modify it to look cool (in their minds?)  Actually, one doesn't sit low.  The rear seating position is comfortable ... it's to allow for the effect of the sporty tapered roof line

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Never mind the foreigners.  I wonder which American car was the first to pioneer climate control ducts to the rear seat in a sedan ... or coupe (as opposed to a minivan).  This makes this car even more comfortable.

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This is an angled view of the trunk sill, which has a user friendly height over the rear bumper

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The trunk is tall and deep, and there are split folding 60-40-ish seats for added room.  

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Imposing, nicely shaped, and comfortable ... what's not to like?

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End of interior photos

Updated

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Never mind the foreigners.  I wonder which American car was the first to pioneer climate control ducts to the rear seat.

American cars, which pioneered automotive A/C, actually started with the ducts in the rear, as the units were trunk-mounted. I believe it was Pontiac in ‘58 that debuted the underhood A/C and then; dash ductwork. 
I realize that’s not what you meant.
I believe the Cadillac Series 75 had ceiling-mounted HVA/C ducts by ‘66... but again- not a conventional family sedan.

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1 hour ago, balthazar said:


I believe the Cadillac Series 75 had ceiling-mounted HVA/C ducts by ‘66... but again- not a conventional family sedan.

Suburbans had those in the 80s also....a buddy had an '89 w/ them.   I do wonder what the first modern car was with them, though.   IIRC, '80s S-Class Mercedes had them in the back of the center console, as many vehicles today do (my '14 Jeep has them, but my '00 didn't).  ..but as for a domestic car, no idea.    I can't recall if my sister's '00 DTS had them...it had a huge rear seat area, loads of legroom. 

Edited by Robert Hall
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It's a head scratcher because, when you look at them and now even see them in so many cars at lower price points, you wonder, "Why didn't they think of this sooner?"  I'm going to guess that something along the lines of a Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham or a Lincoln Town Car type vehicle would have been the first (?)

I remember that, in minivans, the dual sliding doors was a big deal ... and I remember the ads for the rear seat passenger TVs in Oldsmobile Silhouette minivans.  Once they lost the long snouts, the GM minivans seemed like decent vehicles, even though they were probably reliable enough when released with the more unusual looks.

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One thing I miss is in our 76 Olds Station wagon, the crotch coolers. Front seat driver and passenger had them. It was great. Not found on any modern auto that I know of.

My 94 GMC Suburban has ceiling AC vents along with floor heaters in the back.

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First time I see them at GM in pics is in the '62 Pontiacs. Cadillac, Buick & Olds didn't have them that year.  I've always associated the 'crotch coolers' with Pontiac.

Edited by balthazar
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  • 1 month later...

Great review, as usual.  And, good to see ya yesterday!  Now, the Malibu write up!

The Charger lines look great in basic white.

People seriously need to know how greatly fuel efficient that Chrysler 3.6 can be.

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16 hours ago, regfootball said:

Great review, as usual.  And, good to see ya yesterday!  Now, the Malibu write up!

The Charger lines look great in basic white.

People seriously need to know how greatly fuel efficient that Chrysler 3.6 can be.

Thank you!  And also good for people to know how much $29,999 (or less) can buy them.  Let's hope the next rendition is just as good ... or better.

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On 10/12/2020 at 9:24 AM, trinacriabob said:

Thank you!  And also good for people to know how much $29,999 (or less) can buy them.  Let's hope the next rendition is just as good ... or better.

Sounds like the Charger, Challenger and 300 will be around in current form at least the next 3 model years..

https://www.autoblog.com/2020/10/23/dodge-challenger-charger-new-variants/

Edited by Robert Hall
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4 hours ago, Robert Hall said:

Sounds like the Charger, Challenger and 300 will be around in current form at least the next 3 model years..

https://www.autoblog.com/2020/10/23/dodge-challenger-charger-new-variants/

Woohoo!  Thank you for this link.  This means I have some safe options suitable for my boring and time tested shopping methodology for automobiles.

Edited by trinacriabob
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I realize I captioned a photo up above incorrectly.  The engine bay has a 3.6, and not a 3.5.

They will obviously have some money in the budget to fine tune these vehicles' styling and amenities for the next 3 years.  I hope they take them in the right direction.  Sometimes, there is some floundering and wavering with how they change things up.  Take the 300.  I liked the clean, horizontal grille of this mid-decade more so than the later and current blacked out eggcrate/honeycomb grille.

I think that these platforms are continuing on for a few reasons.  FCA may have some hesitation about the next moves with this platform and may be buying time.  With GM and Ford leaving this segment, they have it to themselves among domestic brands.  Police fleets and rental car companies, as well as die-hard fans of this platform, will buy them again.  In consumers sounding off, quite a few have stepped up from one Charger to another one, or one 300 to another one, over the last dozen or so years.

Edited by trinacriabob
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20 minutes ago, trinacriabob said:

I realize I captioned a photo up above incorrectly.  The engine bay has a 3.6, and not a 3.5.

 

My Jeep has the 3.6 Pentastar V6...w/ the 8spd auto it's very smooth, and surprisingly good on gas, even in an AWD 5000lb SUV... I really want a Charger or Challenger eventually, though w/ the Hemi. 

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11 hours ago, Robert Hall said:

My Jeep has the 3.6 Pentastar V6...w/ the 8spd auto it's very smooth, and surprisingly good on gas, even in an AWD 5000lb SUV... I really want a Charger or Challenger eventually, though w/ the Hemi. 

I chose the laugh icon because I'd be afraid to feed it.  The mpg I got between Tampa Bay and Orlando in that base Charger sold me on the 3.6.

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8 hours ago, trinacriabob said:

I chose the laugh icon because I'd be afraid to feed it.  The mpg I got between Tampa Bay and Orlando in that base Charger sold me on the 3.6.

I really want a Challenger w/ a V8 and a manual...  and it would be a 2nd car, so gas mileage isn't an issue.

Edited by Robert Hall
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