Most American cars used to be like the Dodge Charger still is.
They were big, and they had rear-wheel drive, and they offered big V-8 engines.
Now almost no cars are like that — which probably explains why the Charger is still so popular with American car buyers.
What It Is
The Dodge Charger is one of the few large rear-wheel-drive sedans you can still buy new and the only large, rear-wheel-drive sedan you can buy for under $30K to start.
The base price is $29,995 for the SXT trim with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive. You can opt for all-wheel drive (another rarity in the segment) for $33,595.
The 5.7-liter V-8-equipped R/T stickers for $36,495 to start.
The $40,495 Scat Pack Charger comes with an even bigger (6.4-liter) V-8. It's also rear-wheel drive only.
And if you like the idea of bigger fenders — and tires to go under them — there's the Wide Body Scat Pack ($46,495).
If you want bigger horsepower, Dodge has you covered there, too. The Charger Hellcat comes with a slightly smaller 6.2-liter V-8 engine, but with a supercharger to inflate its horsepower to 707.
The sticker for that is $69,995.
In addition to the Wide Body option for the Scat Pack, a 50th-anniversary Daytona package is also available for the Hellcat (which comes standard with the Wide Body upgrades). The Daytona gets you another horsepower upgrade — to 717 — plus special leather seats, badging and a sure-to-be-collectible production run of just 501 copies.
It comes standard with a V-6 engine, with an available V-8.
It has a huge trunk and passenger-friendly back seats.
It has a big attitude.
What's Not So Good.
All-wheel drive is not offered with V-8s.
There's no pistol-grip shifter.
It has a small, basic warranty — just three years/36,000 miles.
Under the Hood
Unlike every car in its price range, all of which come standard with four-cylinder engines and offer no more than V-6 engines, the Charger comes standard with a 3.6-liter V-6.
It makes 292 horsepower — with the option to upgrade to a 5.7-liter V-8 that makes 370 horsepower and the option to upgrade again to a 6.4-liter V-8 that makes 485 horsepower.
And there are two more upgrades to go.
The Hellcat's 6.2-liter V-8 makes 707 horsepower — 717 if you opt for the Daytona package.
All of the Charger's available engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission; V-6-equipped Chargers come standard with rear-wheel drive, but you can opt for all-wheel drive.
The V-8 versions are all rear-wheel drive.
On the Road
The Charger is a time machine.
It takes you back to the '60s and '70s — when almost every American car was rear-wheel-drive and large — without the '60s and '70s downsides of single-digit fuel economy and double-digit zero-to-60 acceleration. Or the pop-on hubcaps popping off if you took corners at the speed limit.
Even though the cars of the good old days did have big engines, most of them didn't have big horsepower. The majority of them weren't any quicker than today's smaller-engined smaller cars.
They just used a lot more gas.
They did have that intangible but hugely appealing V-8 throb, though. You could flip the air cleaner lid and hear the four-barrel moan. You could hold the brake and let the rear tires rip.
And they had that road trip-heaven, big-car ride.
The Charger has that, too, only more so. Better body integrity, much better sound deadening and sealing quiet it down without slowing it down.
Plus, the hubcaps don't pop off in the curves at 20 mph over the speed limit.
And then there is the speed. Armed with the V-8, the Charger is one of the quickest cars with four doors on the road — then or now.
And the sound can't be beat.
At the Curb
In Widebody configuration — with massive pontoon fenders and lowered ride height — the Charger is an intimidator.
All that's missing is a three-foot wing on the trunk — like the '70 Charger Daytona had.
But the brash appearance hides a family-friendly large sedan that makes a strong argument for itself because it is big and so has lots of room — something the smaller-fry sedans haven't got, in addition to not having anything big to offer under their hoods.
There is almost as much space in the back seat of the Charger (40.1 inches of legroom) as up front (41.8 inches), and the trunk (16.5 cubic feet) is as big as the trunk of a '70s land yacht.
These attributes make it a great choice for a family car that's a lot more fun to drive than a typical family car.
The only thing weak about this car is its standard three-year/36,000-mile warranty coverage — which isn't much better than what American cars offered back in the '70s. But the Charger's physical toughness and the relative simplicity of its V-6 and V-8 engines — as opposed to the heavily turbocharged small fours common in the segment — are safe bets of a different sort.
The Bottom Line
Living large is still possible — and affordable!
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.