First drive: 2015 Dodge Charger [Review]

Dodge has made a better Charger for 2015.

Plot a Venn diagram of family sedans and muscle cars and you'll find that precious few occupy the union between between set A and set B. The herd gets even thinner if you weed out high-dollar hot rods like the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG.

But luckily for budget-conscious moms and dads with a thirst for performance, there are a few affordable options that check both boxes, including the new 2015 Dodge Charger. And after spending a day with Dodge's new Charger, we can't figure out why there aren't more four-door muscle cars on the market.

A Charger for every purse and purposeWithout question, the standout of the 2015 Charger lineup is the 707 horsepower SRT Hellcat. But that doesn't mean every Charger is a tire roasting monster reserved for the hardcore enthusiast.

On the contrary, the Charger ships in base SE and SXT forms with a peppy but not over-the-top 292 horsepower 3.6L V6 that's linked to a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic. And the Charger V6 returns very decent fuel economy — 19mpg in the city and 31mpg on the highway, besting its front-wheel drive competition from Chevrolet and Ford. The Charger V6 models can also be equipped with all-wheel drive to help battle slippery winter conditions.

For those interested in a little more gusto, the Charger R/T sits one rung up and boasts Dodge's excellent 5.7L HEMI V8. The V8 comes with familiar ratings of 370 horsepower and 395 lb-ft of torque, but the bent-eight now shifts via an eight-speed TorqueFlite automatic. Despite adding three gears compared to last year's model, the Charger R/T sees only a modest bump in fuel to 16mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway, but the eight-speed makes for an overall better driving experience.

The all-wheel drive Charger R/T has been discontinued for the 2015 model year.

New for 2015 is a Charger R/T Scat Pack model that bridges the gap between the 5.7L R/T and the high-performance SRT models. Like its Challenger sibling, the R/T Scat Pack uses an SRT-tuned 6.4L HEMI V8 that cranks out 485 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque. Although aimed at those that love to drive, the Scat Pack is offered exclusively with an eight-speed auto. Dodge says it has no current plans to offer the Challenger's six-speed manual in this generation of Charger.

But nonetheless, the Scat Pack shouldn't leave anyone wanting for driving excitement. We weren't able to sample one (the R/T Scat Pack won't enter production unit next year) but Dodge says the Charger Scat Pack will hit 0-60 in the mid 4-second range and cover the quarter mile in the mid-12s. Those kind of figures used to be reserved for all-out supercars, but they'll soon be available to you (with seating for five) for just under $40,000.

The Charger SRT 392 uses the same drivetrain as the R/T Scat Pack, but ups the performance quotient with an adaptive suspension, launch control, 20-inch aluminum wheels and 15.4-inch front brakes with six-piston Brembo calipers. The SRT 392 also comes with a long list of standard equipment that includes leather seats with Alcantara inserts, heated and ventilated front seats and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.

There isn't much of an economy penalty associated with stepping up to the 6.4L V8 in the R/T Scat Pack or SRT 392. Both models return 15mpg in the city and 25mpg on the highway.

Sitting atop the 2015 Charger range is the 707-horsepower, 650 lb-ft of torque SRT Hellcat. Capable of covering the quarter mile in 11-seconds flat and hitting a top speed of 204mph, the Charger SRT Hellcat is the undisputed triple crown champion, taking top honors for being the quickest, fastest and most powerful sedan available today.

And thanks to Dodge's eight-speed auto, the SRT Hellcat isn't obscene when it comes to EPA ratings. If you manage to stay off the skinny pedal, the Charger SRT Hellcat with return 13/22mpg city/highway. For comparison, the first-generation Charger SRT8 — which had "only” 425 horsepower — was rated at 13mpg in the city and 18mpg on the highway.

Styling makeoverThough technically a mid-cycle refresh, the exterior styling of the 2015 Charger is about as close to a clean-sheet redesign as you can get. In fact, the only carryovers from last year's car are the roof and rear doors.

But while most of its sheet metal is all new, the 2015 Charger is still easily recognizable as a Charger. The rear of the Charger features an updated version of Dodge's "racetrack” light design, now with a smoother outline for its LED elements. All Chargers get a dual-exhaust setup, although the design varies from model to model.

The Charger hasn't fully jumped on the four-door coupe bandwagon — after all, rear-seat headroom is a necessity in a family vehicle — but the car's C-pillars have been pulled back for a more fastback-like roofline. Side scallops remain, but have been softened for the 2015 model year.

While we like the Charger's styling changes from the A-pillars back, the new face of the muscle car left us wanting for more. Gone are the Charger's shark nose and "angry eyes,” replaced with a more rounded and generic mug that looks a little too much like the Dart. For us, the Charger's front end is just too bland for a muscle car.

As a saving grace, R/T Scat Pack and SRT models are equipped with a hood scoop, which brings some attitude back to the Charger's front end.

The interior of the 2015 Charger is mostly familiar, but the sedan has received a new gauge cluster, center stack and shifter design. The 8.4-inch Uconnect system also offers Dodge's latest Performance Pages.

The action of the gear lever has also been updated for 2015. Rather than sitting in the same "home” position no matter what gear is selected, the shifter now stays wherever you left it. Though a minor tweak, it's one we're glad Dodge made.

Behind the wheelA steady rain prevented us from testing the outer performance limits of the new Charger lineup, but we're happy to report that the four-door is perfectly at home loafing around at normal speeds.

Most of our time was spent behind the wheel of the Charger R/T, which — in our estimation — is the sweet sport of the Charger lineup.

Though not a powerhouse like the SRT 392 or Hellcat, the R/T's 5.7L HEMI V8 provides plenty of oomph, whether from or a dead stop or during passing maneuvers. And, as we mentioned earlier, the Charger's new eight-speed auto is a perfect match for the torquey V8.

Ride quality isn't always a muscle car strength, but the Charger R/T provides a sporting ride that is remarkably comfortable. The Charger R/T's cabin also proved far quieter than we expected, with virtually all wind and road noise kept at bay.

Steering in the Charger is now electrically operated, which inherently takes away some feel. However, we found the Charger's steering to be well weighted and direct, with a good on-center feel.

Given the slick conditions we weren't able to put the Charger's handling prowess to the test, but the big sedan seemed to handle itself well. We didn't perceive much body roll and the car seems to drive a little smaller than its dimensions would suggest. In fact, thanks to its improved visibility and sloping nose, the Charger is actually easier to drive than its shorter Challenger platform mate.

Our test car was loaded to the gills with HID headlights, leather, heated and ventilated front seats, satellite navigation, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, collision warning and adaptive cruise control. In other words, the Charger can be spec'd up like a modern luxury car. Interior materials aren't quite up to those kind of levels, but almost every surface is soft touch and well up to segment standards.

Including destination, a loaded 2015 Charger R/T can be had for $43,965, or about eleven-grand less a comparably equipped Hyundai Genesis 5.0.

The Charger SRT 392 improves the driving experience with a punchier 6.4L V8 and adjustable steering and suspension settings. Though capable of the same comfortable ride as we found in the R/T, the SRT 392 is just a half step back in the cruising category. The SRT's larger wheels create more road noise and there can be a bit more droning from brawnier V8. Those are just minor quibbles, though, especially when you factor in the thrill of the SRT's more powerful V8.

The SRT Hellcat carries over the 392's adaptive suspension and steering, but cranks the engine room up to 11.

Every single numerical fact about the Hellcat's 6.2L supercharged V8 is nothing short of amazing. The most jaw-dropping figures are obviously the V8's power ratings — 700 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque — but dig deeper and the Hellcat continues to astound.

For example, the Hellcat's supercharger can suck all of the air from an 11-foot by 12-foot room in just 60 seconds. And you won't find it on any spec sheet, but the supercharger requires 80 horsepower, or basically the engine from a Chevrolet Spark, just to run. At wide-open-throttle, the Hellcat will empty its tank in just 13 minutes.

And, as you might expect, those kind of figures make the Charger Hellcat quite a handful on the roads of the real world. Even with cautious throttle control, the Hellcat's rear-end was all too eager to break loose on wet road surfaces. In the name of self preservation, we didn't dare push the Hellcat beyond a leisurely Sunday drive.

And that illustrates the Charger Hellcat's biggest downfall. As a sedan, most Charger Hellcats will probably be asked to perform daily driving duties. Inevitably, it's going to rain or sleet on one of those days, at which point the Hellcat will try to kill you. After all, it's called the Hellcat for a reason.

Don't get us wrong — we love the idea of a family sedan with 707 horsepower, but the Hellcat treatment just seems more appropriate for a vehicle like the two-door Challenger, which is more likely to be a second or third car reserved for sunny days.

Leftlane's bottom lineA muscle car masquerading as a family sedan, the 2015 Dodge Charger is a rare bird in today's automotive marketplace, and one we hope stays around for the long haul.

Upgraded for the new model year with more refinement, mostly improved styling and a wide selection of powertrains, the Charger is one of the most versatile sedans on the market place, capable of catering to growing families or performance junkies (or both). It's certainly worth a look if you're shopping the full-size segment, and the 2015 Charger would even make for an exciting alternative to the average offering in the mid-size category.

2015 Dodge Charger SE base price, $27,995.2015 Dodge Charger SXT base price, $29,995.2015 Dodge Charger R/T base price, $32,995.2015 Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack base price, $39,995.2015 Dodge Charger SRT 392 base price, $47,385.2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat base price, $63,995.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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