The Dodge Charger has lived a fairytale of success and failure since its introduction in 1966. It went from a rather modest first generation family cruiser, to a stylish and meaty second generation (1968-1970) coupe that would become one of the most highly sought after, recognized, and legendary muscle cars of all time (Dukes of Hazard, Bullitt, etc).
After Dodge’s initial success with its second and third generation Charger’s, the years that followed were a steady decline of burly, boring, and unimaginative designs, including a 1983 1.6 liter (63 hp) three door hatchback, which would have made the Duke boys hang their heads in shame. Add on the difficulties of the oil crisis, various government safety/emissions regulations, and the Charger was quickly drained of whatever dignity it had left. It was finally laid to rest in 1988 and was forgotten not long after.
As every fairytale gravitates towards its happy ending, the Charger eventually made its comeback in 2006, 19 years after its disappearance. To many peoples pleasant surprise, it was actually a lot like its old self and consumers began to take notice again. Now, not everybody likes the new four-door styling, but those who do, have the choice of several flavors ranging from a base 2.7-liter (178 hp) SE, on up to the upper echelon SRT-8 (6.1-liter, 425 horsepower). The most humble, practical, and fun to drive of these options, however, is arguably the Charger R/T.
I use the word humble, as the R/T offers all the punch and performance, but doesn’t necessarily package itself as such. There are no false scoops, decals, noisy paint jobs, excessive badging, or giant wings. Okay, so the Daytona package may have some of that, but were talking about the bone dry R/T with none of the frills, plenty of thrills, and a base price that won’t send you running for the hills ($32,000).
The basic Charger profile has obviously been designed to be a wolf (sedan) dressed in sheep’s (coupe) clothing. Its secret lies within the way the rear roofline slopes back. If you look at the charger from certain angles you would almost swear it was a two-door coupe. The downside, is rear seat passengers don’t have the available headroom they could, but this is a small price to pay for a taste of the good old days.
The 2009 Charger is all grown up now, but even so, it hasn’t forgotten that sometimes it is nice to pretend it is still cruising the boulevard as a carefree coupe looking for trouble. While its looks might deceive some, its raw horsepower (368 hp) might win a few races, there is still one aspect of the Charger that will always be decidedly unlike a coupe… its massive weight. We’re not just talking about a few pounds overweight, but rather a full 4,000+ pounds pushed to the curb.
While the handling is solid, smooth, and composed, its sluggish nature during spirited maneuvers is a constant reminder of its sheer size. The Charger isn’t exactly unresponsive, but you learn fairly quickly that the joy factor of the standard R/T does not go much beyond its impressive 0-60 launch in under 6-seconds in a straight line. While my test vehicle was not equipped, I have heard the available suspension upgrades can really wake things up in this arena.
Having experienced all of the Charger’s in Dodge’s 2009 lineup, and understanding what it means to be on a budget and have a partner from which you must consult with when making the decision to buy a vehicle. I can honestly say that the R/T represents the best in compromise and practicality. The base SE 2.7 liter is functional, but anyone looking at the 2009 Charger is probably looking for a bit more than just function. The 3.5-liter, 250 horsepower option offers plenty of get up and go, but it’s missing one very important aspect of owning a Charger…. the V-8 Hemi! The SRT-8 is a beast, but not enough to account for its extra hike in price ($39,000).
The difference between the 3.5-liter V-6 and the 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi can be summed up in one word, “Wohoo!” Or perhaps rather, “Yipee!” There is no comparison between the 368 horsepower R/T and the 250 horsepower SXT. The engine note alone is worth the $5,000 upswing in price. For those who have been pining the loss of the old muscle car, the Charger R/T will be a sight and sound for sore eyes. It is about as close as you can get to reliving the golden age of muscle in a four-door sedan under $40,000, except for perhaps the Pontiac G8.
While many treehuggers might bulk at the statement I am about to make, the 5.7-liter V8 is actually the more practical and cost-effective engine in terms of its horsepower versus mpg ratio. Compared to the much smaller and weaker 2.7-liter V-6 (18 city/28 highway mpg), the R/T is capable of achieving a comparable 16/25 mpg thanks to its cylinder shutdown technology (allows four cylinders to maintain cruising speeds). This is why I subtitled this review, Because you only live once. In my opinion, most enthusiasts will enjoy the fun factor of the R/T enough to foot the extra cost in ownership, which includes both the initial price and any extra cost in gas
The changes for the 2009 Charger R/T were overall very slight, including a modest boost in horsepower (340 to 368), slightly modified taillights, an improved interior, and a few bits of satin chrome here and there. Other than that, the R/T is the same overall offering as last year, which I quite frankly couldn’t be happier about. While the 2009 Pontiac G8 may be quicker and more agile in just about every way, the Charger is distinctive, stylish, and most importantly… still in production!