When I think of an American muscle car, I always imagine a stripped down, bare bones, 1960s-style coupe with nothing but four wheels and a big ol’ engine.
This week, though, I’ve been driving the Dodge Charger, a muscle car that shatters those stereotypes. Not only does it have four doors — making it the last of the V8-powered, spacious American sedans that once packed our nation’s highways — but my test car came loaded with more luxury gadgets than an Apple Store.
Of course it includes the fancy Chrysler Uconnect system with a big digital screen on the dash, but it also has some surprises like adaptive cruise control, high beams that turn on and off automatically, and heated and cooled cup holders.
It’s the polar opposite of those stripped down muscle cars in my head.
Granted all those add-ons jacked the price of the test car up to $41,645, a huge premium over the $26,295 base model. They not only make it feel fancier but also much more refined than I expected from a Charger.
One of the most pleasant surprises is the suspension, which has a taut, tightly controlled feeling that’s unusual in a car this big. That well sorted driving feel is partially the result of Dodge’s $400 “Super Track Pak” option on the test vehicle, which adds Goodyear performance tires, a sport suspension, heavy-duty brakes and specially tuned steering.
The heart of any good muscle car, though, is the engine. You can get a V6 that’s rated for 31 mpg on the highway in the basic Charger, but you’d be missing out on what makes this car truly unique: the fact that you can still get a HEMI V8 under the hood.
That alone makes this Charger an anachronism, the kind of car that waves its middle finger at Obama-era fuel efficiency. It’s rated for 16 mpg in city driving, the natural result of utilizing a giant engine that makes 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque.
But, oh, it’s worth the fuel bill.
Putting a HEMI into a four-door family car may sound illogical, but whoever made that decision at the Chrysler Corp. deserves a free pass to car-guy heaven.
The roar of this V8 under full throttle is enough to justify eternal bliss for its inventor, so rich is its exhaust note and thrilling its acceleration.
It’s enough to make you forget the Charger has four doors and a roomy trunk. When you opt for the V8, that makes this car the only one I can think of that’s equally fitting for the school run and the quarter-mile run.
Derek Price is an independent automotive columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.