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Review: 2014 Dodge Charger SXT Plus (9th place)

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This review is part of a ten-car comparison of large sedans. The Charger is ranked ninth place of ten.

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9th Place: 2014 Dodge Charger SXT Plus
Summary review

In a class of cars typically associated with a “mature” audience, the Dodge Charger's attitude has long stood out from the full-size sedan norm. Brash looks, a rear-wheel-drive layout, and optional V8 engines offer the promise of a four-door muscle car.

Unfortunately, at least in the volume-leader V6 version, the Charger is all bluff. Every car in this class has a powerful V6; the Dodge's is just one in the crowd, and with an unnatural feel to its throttle at that. The sporty looks also don't match the car's cornering abilities, where the dominant impression is that the car is big and wide.

It's not even a sheep in wolf's clothing, that is to say, a pleasant and useful sedan disguised as something less utilitarian. Rather, the Charger is less pleasant and less useful than its competitors, with a bumpy ride, uncomfortable seats, constricted visibility, and middling interior quality.

The Charger is competitively priced – the cheapest in this comparison, in fact, at $31,612 out the door well-equipped. (See note on pricing.*) Ownership cost is also reduced by EPA ratings of 23 miles per gallon in mixed driving (including a 31-mpg highway rating that ties for best-in-class), which aren't bad at all for a big heavy V6-powered sedan. Chrysler also has an outstanding in-dash infotainment system that's attractive, responsive and intuitive.

But that's not enough of a reason to choose the Charger over its competitors, or over the mechanically identical Chrysler 300. The standards are much higher at this price point – and even at lower prices. If you'd be going for the V8, you'd get a combination of ferocious power with four-door practicality that's hard to come by at this price point. But otherwise, there's not enough going on here.

Needs work inside

In the Charger's 2011-model redesign, Chrysler greatly improved the interior quality and redesigned the windshields for improved visibility. But standards have continued to advance for the former, and the latter remained below par. The Charger's cabin now uses more soft-touch materials, but false carbon fiber and a grainy black rubbery substance aren't cutting it in the $30,000s. Panel gaps are sometimes wide or uneven, and there isn't a lot of decoration inside the car. The door handles are clunky to operate.

A bigger issue is the seats. Up front, they're small, lumpy and uncomfortable. In the back, tall adults will be bonking their heads against the rear windshield glass, and their heads will extend above the fixed head restraints. Rear leg room is merely adequate, and the car's rear-wheel-drive architecture leaves a large drivetrain hump that seriously compromises what would have been the fifth seating position. The trunk is at least decently roomy, at 16.5 cubic feet.

As noted earlier, the Chrysler “UConnect” infotainment system is a strong point – one of the industry's best, it adds to every car it's installed in. Complicated functions are accessed through thoughtfully designed on-screen menus, and – importantly – simple ones can be handled quickly with physical buttons and knobs.

Another piece of cabin technology, though, was a miserable idea: the electronic gear selector. Ostensibly as a space-saving measure, the gear lever between the front seats lacks physical positions for the different gears – you pull forward or push away and hold it in place as the options tick by. Various automakers have used some form of the electronic shifter in recent years; most are unnecessarily confounding, and Chrysler's is the worst.

What's more, this is a recent retrofit onto a center console designed to accommodate a conventional shifter. There was no space saved by the change, so the frustration was entirely needless.

Feels big

The Charger is a two-ton car that's wider than nearly every competitor, and nothing in the car's driving dynamics disguises that. The 300-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 doesn't blast off the way its numbers might suggest, though like every competitor, it offers good punch. An eight-speed automatic keeps the car in the right gear, yielding fuel economy that trails just one competitor – the much lighter Toyota Avalon.

But something is off somewhere in the Charger's propulsion system, anything from the transmission to the throttle's programming, yielding inconsistent throttle response rather than smooth, linear performance.

Handling isn't exactly poised, but the Charger does exhibit decent body control. A wide-diameter, fat-rimmed steering wheel and sluggish steering responses make it more of a chore than a joy to go around a curve, though. And while that's not unexpected from a large sedan, this Dodge makes performance promises that it doesn't keep.

That doesn't stop the car from exacting a ride-quality penalty. The Charger is bumpier and noisier than most competitors.

The Charger has standard rear-wheel-drive; all-wheel-drive is also available, though at a higher price and not without a gas mileage penalty.

Affordable, but still too expensive

Unlike all but one competitor, the Charger starts off with an affordable base version that's priced alongside mainstream midsize sedans (after you haggle way down from the sticker price). This value continues once you option up the car – a well-equipped SXT Plus model stickers at $36,470, which Truecar.com projects you can whittle down to a $31,612 purchase price. That includes heated leather seats (front and rear), a navigation system, a power-adjustable steering column and pedals, a sunroof (for the front seat but not a panorama), and a 10-speaker Beats audio system.

That's a lot of stuff on a big car. But the Charger doesn't give you the chief benefit of a big car – a roomy interior. Nor does it offer a sophisticated, comfortable, or sporty driving experience. Pass on the Charger.

Note that for a premium of just under $3,000, you can get a comparably equipped Chrysler 300, the mechanical twin to the Charger that boasts a smoother, quieter ride; nicer cabin trim; and a roomier, more comfortable interior. The 300 still isn't a class leader in any of those areas, but it's a key step up.

Overall grade: D+

- More photos of the 2014 Dodge Charger SXT Plus
- Report card: Rating the Charger -- how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
- Report card: Ranking the Charger -- how does it stack up for different types of buyers?

More from this comparison:
- Previous review: 2014 Ford Taurus Limited (10th place)
- Next review: 2014 Chrysler 300 C (8th place)
- Introduction
- Rating the ten large sedans
- Ranking the ten large sedans
- Quick summaries of the ten large sedans: Pros, cons, conclusions

See also:
Review: 2013 Dodge Avenger SXT
Review: 2011 Dodge Journey Lux
Review: 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel
Review: 2011 Chrysler Town & Country

Vehicle tested: 2013 Dodge Charger
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $26,295
Version tested: SXT Plus
Version base price (MSRP): $31,295
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $39,195
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP)*: $36,470
Estimated transaction price as comparable**: $31,612
Test vehicle provided by: Ourisman Dodge; Clarksville, Md.

Key specifications:
Length: 198.6 inches
Width: 75.0 inches
Height: 58.5 inches
Wheelbase: 120.2 inches
Weight: 3,996 pounds
Trunk volume: 16.5 cubic feet
Turning circle: 37.6 feet
Engine (as tested): 3.6-liter V6 with 300 horsepower
Transmission (as tested): 8-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 19 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 31 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 23 miles per gallon
Assembly location: Canada
For more information: Dodge website

* "Prices as comparable" reflect 2014 models with leather seats, a sunroof, a navigation system, a premium audio system, heated front seats, and certain other premium features.

** Transaction price estimates are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.

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