First Glance: Reliving the 60s
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.
In the Driver's Seat: Super-size me!
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
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
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...