2015 Dodge Charger SE road test: No Hellcat, but no pussycat, either

2015 Dodge Charger SE

2015 Dodge Charger SE

To many of us of a certain age, the extensively reworked 2015 Dodge Charger takes us rushing down memory lane to the days when Detroit iron held sway all across America.

After all, there are precious few, relatively affordable full-size sedans in production that can send power to the road through the rear wheels. And, none but the Charger offers a variety of V-8 engines that generate power ranging from 370 horses to a whopping, asphalt-scorching 707.

Dodge Charger instrument panel

Dodge Charger instrument panel

It’s like the 60s all over again, only more brutally fast. But that’s not where we are headed today.

Instead, I’ll be discussing a Granite Crystal Metallic Charger with a black cloth interior that looks as if it could have been driven right off the rental-car lot or that it might be parked at a police station.

Officially, it’s the entry-level Dodge Charger SE. But don’t look down on “entry-level” with disdain because this a surprisingly satisfying car to drive, with more spunk than you might suspect.

Unchanged from last year, power is supplied by a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that generates 290 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque As before, it offers a thoroughly competent, nearly silent, exceptionally smooth driving experience. and, what’s more, this 3,934-pound cruiser can bound away from a stoplight with a surprising eagerness. Yes, we are talking about 0-60 mph in less than 7 seconds.

The engine is now teamed with an 8-speed automatic transmission that replaces the dated 5-speed shifter in 2014 models. The shifts are essentially seamless and the properly spaced gears offer a significant improvement in fuel efficiency.

The EPA rates fuel economy at 19 mpg of regular unleaded fuel in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. If you order the optional $3,000 all-wheel-drive system that is available only in 6-cylinder models —- and this winter that would seem the sensible choice for millions of Americans —- efficiency drops to an estimated 18/27 mpg.

In my winter-free week with the Charger, fuel mileage ranged from 21 to 31 mpg, with an overall average of 24 mpg.

Dodge Charger front seats

Dodge Charger front seats

The Charger has had a comprehensive body makeover for the 2015 model year, with only the roof and rear doors unchanged. The side sculpting is more subtle, and the overall appearance is more sleek. According to the folks at Dodge, styling cues come from the 1969 Charger, but if you are familiar with last year’s model you won’t have any trouble spotting this one. And, as before, it looks big.

The interior features new upscale surfaces and new instruments. Since the test car did not have the optional navigation system, the center console featured a relatively small Uconnect infotainment touch screen to access audio, climate control and related functions.

However, a 7-inch display between the speedometer and tachometer offers information about the car, including a trip computer gas-mileage monitor, messages and more.

For the passengers, the big Dodge impresses with its roominess and comfortable front bucket seats. The back seats will hold three adults but, because of the intrusion from the driveshaft tunnel, an adult relegated to the middle seat won’t be looking forward to a lengthy journey.

Those who do go on that lengthy journey will have a trunk with 16.5 cubic feet of space and rear seatbacks that fold forward to increase luggage capacity.

The 4-wheel independent suspension offers satisfying driving dynamics but the handling falls short of what a true sports sedan would require. Nevertheless, the Dodge offers a comfortable ride and, with 4-wheel disc brakes and reasonably responsive electric power steering, it is competent on the two-lane back roads.

Dodge Charger rear seats

Dodge Charger rear seats

Among the safety features are a full complement of airbags and side curtains, plus stability control, traction control and hill-start assist.

The Charger SE also had optional has rear sensors to warn when the sedan is getting close to something behind it, but the model I drove did not have a rearview camera. Because the view to the rear is severely restricted, a backup camera should be standard equipment.

Base price of the 2015 Dodge Charger SE is $27,995 and that includes 6-speaker sound system with USB and Ipod connectivity, integrated voice command with Bluetooth, cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, automatic on/off headlights, dual-zone climate control, 6-way power driver’s seat and a compass.

The $995 Sport Appearance Group adds 18-inch aluminum wheels, performance all-season tires and a rear spoiler. The Popular Equipment Group, at $595, includes one-year subscription to satellite radio, remote start and the rear park-assist sensors.

The Charger SE may not be the hottest Dodge on the road, but it has ample power, satisfactory drivability and room for five. It’s also the least expensive rear-wheel-drive full-size sedan on the market.

And, with its low key appearance, it’s a lot less likely to be pursued by another, more powerful Dodge Charger with red-light flashing and siren wailing.

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