When DaimlerChrysler announced that a "new" Hemi Charger would be available in the showrooms in mid-2005, the '06 Charger faced mixed reviews. From the beginning, the old-school enthusiasts staunchly opposed having a four-door vehicle wear the name of Dodge's most famed musclecar. On the other side of the debate are the believers that feel the aggressive front end, long hood, and short rear-deck are true signatures of the musclecar era. They feel the all-new Charger is sporty, sexy, bold, and powerful.

According to Dodge's Trevor Creed, "The new Dodge Charger is all about celebrating the American musclecar and going places in something special." Darryl Jackson, vice-president of Dodge Marketing, adds, "The Charger name is powerful and draws from the Dodge brand's proud performance heritage. We have a tremendous amount of equity and name recognition for both of these entities [Charger and Hemi]. Combined, today's all-new Dodge Charger and Hemi engine effectively mark the return of modern American muscle."

DaimlerChrysler feels the heritage gamble will be a valuable asset. It seems the Chrysler Group received 25,000 orders and identified more than 85,000 potential buyers for the '06 Dodge Charger sedan in only the first few days. Not even the Chrysler 300 sedan--the automaker's biggest hit in years--posted such strong early numbers.

But what makes the new Charger such a hit with consumers? Is it the modern, 340hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that provides 390 lb-ft of torque? When full V-8 power is not needed, the multi-displacement system on board the engine seamlessly deactivates four cylinders in just 40 milliseconds. That's quicker than the blink of an eye, improving fuel economy by as much as 20 percent. Maybe it's the fact the Hemi engine is mated to a fully automatic five-speed transmission with what DC calls an AutoStick shifter. According to DC, the AutoStick basically puts the shifting controls in the hands of the driver. Maybe it's because the all-new '06 Charger features rear-wheel-drive performance and handling, a near 50/50 weight distribution, and a unique suspension that provides just the right level of driving characteristics for all Charger customers. Whatever the reason, the Dodge Charger is here to stay.

We recently had a chance to find out for ourselves what the hubbub was all about. We took a new Charger and gave it a good ol' enthusiast's version of a testdrive. This means it saw time at the dragstrip, made a couple trips around a road course, and even took the family to the grocery store. Our assessments may surprise some; others may even think we're nuts. testing an automobile is a dirty job, but somebody's gotta do it.

Going Fast--With Turns
When we were offered the opportunity to take the Charger around the 3.27-mile road course at Virginia International Raceway, we jumped at the chance. To get to the track, we drove through the scenic countryside to get a feel for how well the Charger handled the somewhat twisty roads--a precursor to the road course. Once at the track, we were given a briefing about the do's and don'ts of the facility. Do's: have fun, be careful. Don'ts: hit the wall and crash. That was simple enough. After strapping into the car, our first couple trips around the facility were at a somewhat leisurely pace so we could see where the corners were; we didn't want to hit one slightly faster than we should have. After we felt comfortable with the car and track, we started to edge up on the throttle pedal.

The Hemi is definitely at home when above 2,700 rpm. The response is more than adequate for a four-door sedan. Below that, we would like to see an improvement. The AutoStick was a welcomed option, especially when it came time to downshift into the corners. When cruising the long straightaway, the triple-digit speeds felt more than stable--in like it didn't even feel like triple digits. Even at a hefty 4,000 pounds, the car handled the sharp corners quite well.

The standard suspension on the Charger R/T model includes 18-inch touring tires and wheels, and specially tuned dampers for a very stable ride. The optional Road/Track Performance Group, which our Charger had, is tuned specifically for firm steering and handling, and provides a glued-to-the-road feeling. This optional package is available on the Hemi-equipped Charger R/T model, and offers 18-inch Michelin MXM4 all-season performance tires, improved performance steering, and Nivomat self-leveling shock absorbers. Although not part of the suspension, a specially tuned performance-exhaust-and-induction system is included with the Road/Track Performance Group.