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2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T HEMI Test Drive

Driving the Top Banana

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


2006 Dodge Challenger R/T Daytona

2006 Dodge Challenger R/T Daytona

Photo © Daimler-Chrysler
Not getting enough attention? Try driving around in the bright yellow 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T "Top Banana" for a week. Be careful what you wish for -- I felt the eyes of every Highway Patrolman glued to the Top Banana every time I hit the gas. For a base price of $29,520, you get a 2006 Dodge Charger with a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty and EPA estimates of 17 mpg city/25 highway. Add $2,600 for the "Daytona R/T" package and toss in some other options, and the as-tested price is $34,920.

First Glance: Reliving the 60s

It's hard to get past the bright yellow paint and flat black graphics, but I'll try. According to the badge on the dash, my test car was Top Banana Daytona #0009 of 4000, so 3999 other brave souls have a chance to own one of these incredibly loud cars. As they did in the 1960s, Dodge has also produced '06 Chargers in Go ManGo (metallic orange) and TorRed. The appearance package includes big, bold black Daytona decals on each flank, a black HEMI decal that takes up nearly the whole hood, R/T badges front and back and HEMI badges on each side. A modest black wing dresses the trunk, a chin spoiler helps aerodynamics in front, and a blacked-out honeycomb grille directs air to the engine compartment. Special paint decorates the 18" x 7.5" aluminum wheels.

Underneath all that paint and tape, there's a really good-looking car. Charger is a retrofuturist design -- it hearkens back to the Charger of 1968-70 (you know, the "Dukes of Hazzard" Charger), bringing the feel of its design forward with a modern sensibility. It's not slavish imitation; after all the 1968 Charger was a coupe, and the 2006 is a sedan. It's about "feel" and memory. And Charger is a nice looking car on its own merits, retrofuturism notwithstanding.

Continued below...

In the Driver's Seat: Super-size me!

2006 Dodge Charger R/T Daytona interior

Charger's interior is color-coded to "Top Banana" paint

Photo © Jason Fogelson
Charger not only has the muscle-car stance right on the outside, it's got it on the inside as well. The driving position is just right for a tough-guy slouch, elbow out the window, wrist resting on the top of the steering wheel. Though head clearance is great in the driver's seat, I actually had to slouch to see traffic lights -- the big dash and roofline hang out so far in front.

The Charger's control layout is excellent, with easy-to-read black on big round white analog gauges -- it feels like you're driving a drag racer. My test vehicle had a very modern accessory, the big GPS navigation screen right in the middle of the center stack. I never tire of this option ($1,495), and recommend it for every new car.

Charger's seats are very comfortable, dressed in thick black leather with baseball-style contrasting yellow stitching and sueded inserts to keep you in place during hard cornering. Hey, tall guys -- Charger has more leg room than most other sedans. At 6'2", I didn't use up all of the seat track trying to get comfortable.

The back seat is an even bigger surprise -- it's positively cavernous. Even with the front seats all the way back, I was able to sit comfortably in back. This is one big cabin, deceptively so.

On the Road: The HEMI and its support hardware

Let's get to the HEMI -- Charger is after all just a big HEMI-delivery system. What is the HEMI? It's 5.7 liters, eight cylinders arranged in a "V," 350 hp, 390 lb-ft of torque -- gasp, gasp. (And yes, purists, like the HEMI of the 60s, it has hemispherical combustion chambers.) Dodge's Multi-Displacement System allows the HEMI to shut down 4 of the 8 cylinders in low-demand situations, like cruising down the highway, to save fuel. It's seamless. You'll never notice the difference, except at the pump.

All that power would be useless if you couldn't get it to the ground in a controlled fashion. In addition to traction control and electronic stability programs, Charger's suspension is firm yet smooth, eating up road imperfections and keeping the vehicle stable around turns. There's a manageable amount of body roll, nothing that will upset you, but you'll be glad that the seats have those suede inserts. Stopping is achieved via big four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, a good thing considering Charger's momentum-generating 4031 lb. curb weight.

Charger is fun to drive, with a rewarding exhaust note and cop-tempting acceleration. It will bring out the teenager in you, so be careful and remind your inner teenager who pays the tickets.

Journey's End: Charger's appeal is more than banana-peel deep

2006 Dodge Charger R/T Daytona engine

Just like the good old days: Big V8 with hemispherical combustion chambers -- the HEMI

Photo © Jason Fogelson
The 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T really captured my heart. I even started to like the Top Banana paint scheme after a while -- though I doubt that I would ever buy such an outlandishly colored Charger. The underlying retrofuturist design is attractive and modern and I think it will age well. When retrofuturism is well-executed, like on the current Ford Mustang and the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the design can look familiar and fresh at the same time. When it is poorly executed, like on the Chevy HHR and Chrysler 300, it feels clunky and forced.

Looks aside, Charger's mechanical and functional appeal is great. I can't say enough good things about that HEMI -- it's a shame that gas prices are probably going to kill the current muscle-car revival, just like they did in the 1970s.

We're going to look back at this crop of 300-plus horsepower cars with great nostalgia in a few years. A HEMI-powered Charger R/T might turn out to be a valuable collector's item in the year 2042, just like a 1970 Charger is today. Maybe that "0009 of 4000" badge on the dash isn't so silly after all. I guess I've got to start saving up to buy a 2006 Dodge Charger Daytona R/T "Top Banana" to put away in my garage. If I can only resist driving it until 2042...

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