2011 Dodge Charger SE first drive review: Bo and Luke didn’t have six–but you can

2011 Dodge Charger SE

2011 Dodge Charger SE

It’s not quite the General Lee but you can bet Bo and Luke would know it for what it is. The 2011 Dodge Charger is all new even from last year’s Charger and now looks more like the–dare we say iconic– second generation Dodge Charger that the Duke brothers drove, slide and jumped into American homes for seven years.

The new 2011 Dodge Charger does a soft imitation of the Dukes’ 1969 Charger–the body style actually ran from 1968 through 1974–with a subtle return to the classic Coke bottle shape. The new Charger is enhanced by a nose lowered for aerodynamics and a mild curvature to the shoulder line, rising slightly over the rear wheels. Air flow also dictated a slight flare to the aft end of the rocker panels to push air away from the rear tires. Dodge designers coupled that to a similar curve to the front end of the rocker.

Compared to last year’s Charger , more aero detail changes include a more steeply raked windshield, faster rear window (flanked by tiny ridges that suggest the very un-aerodynamic tunnel back rear window of the 1968-1974 models), tighter wheel openings (by 8mm) and extensive underbody shielding.  Altogether it comes to a coefficient of drag of an impressive 0.29.

Compared to the earlier Charger, it’s not much of a Coke bottle. But then most Coca-Cola isn’t poured from that world famous shape either.

2011 Dodge Charger SE interior

The 2011 Dodge Charger has a wide instrument panel that incorporates part of the centerstack.

The 2011 Dodge Charger makes several more concessions to a new generation. One is the crosshairs grille used on most other Dodge vehicles. The Charger’s is a black cross trimmed with chrome. The “ram” badge on the nose is gone, emphasizing the Chrysler Group’s separation of Dodge cars and Ram pickups. The “angry eyes” headlight clusters have dual halogen reflector headlamps standard in the base Charger SE model while the R/T and uplevel-trimmed Charger SE have dual HID lights. The taillights, inspired by the 1970 Charger’s rear lamps, have a new “racetrack” ring of 164 LED lights that at night will make the Charger identifiable for blocks away.

Like last year’s Dodge Charger, the 2011 model continues the 5.7-liter Hemi unchanged for the R/T trim level. Rear drive is standard but all-wheel drive is option on the R/T. All-wheel drive models have been improved with a lower ride height that along with the tighter wheel openings eliminates the Charger-on-a-roller-skate look of previous AWD Chargers. The all-wheel drive system also has a front-axle disconnect system that disengages the front drive-train for reduced frictional drag and an increase of fuel economy by five percent.

The SE trim level of previous generation Charger had two V-6 engine options. Choice is gone with the 2011 Dodge Charger SE but for the better, replaced by the sole offering of the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 engine.  It’s an all-new engine and Dodge points out technical features, including “dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) with dual-independent cam phasers (DCIP), integrated exhaust manifolds, polymer-coated piston skirts, forged connecting rods and a high-pressure die-cast aluminum cylinder block in a 60-degree configuration.” Set your phaser to stun, Scotty. What the non-technically inclined need to know is that it’s rated at 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.