Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Dodge Charger SRT

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

“Is that the Hellcat?!” the excited voices clamoured all week. “No, this is ‘just’ the regular 392 Hemi.” I expected to see disappointment, to hear it in their voices. It didn’t come.

Anyone who tells you that you “should have bought the Hellcat” will likely eat their words within 10 seconds of sitting down in your passenger seat.

“Wow, I love this colour, this looks awesome! Bet it still goes like hell too, yeah?”

Well, yeah. Frankly.

It looks the goods too, the recent refresh, especially the headlight treatment, elevated the Charger from outdated brute to shredded street fighter. The menacing hood scoop and aggressive front splitter are beautifully executed and the bulging hood sets off the purposeful silhouette. Even the rear brake vent ducts in the rear bumper are well done, mirroring the character line pressed into the doors. The 20-inch SRT rims fill the wheel wells and command respect with just a little more gap in the rear well giving the Charger a head-down, arse-up stance.

Everything about this car says “alpha dog”.

And yet you have to feel for the former top-flight Charger trim.

These days, nobody can ever speak about the SRT 392, or write a review of it, without speaking about its a bigger, badder brother. Its 485 hp and 475 lb-ft were once enough to make everyone else quiver in their boots but the stout 707 hp metered out by the Hellcat make those numbers seem so small.

Which is unfair, because there’s nothing small about 485 hp when you stand hard on that right-hand pedal.

When you do, especially if you’ve already delved into the SRT Track app in the massive display screen and selected “Track” mode – you will light the rears up in a glorious shower of hot rubber and glory.

Or, if you’re more judicious with the throttle and give the traction control an opportunity to assist you, the Charger will shunt forward with the sort of enthusiasm and thrust that makes your passengers scream, squeal, giggle or punch you, depending on who they are. My wife punched me. My daughter giggled. My wife punched me again.

The SRT also gets a launch control button, which I pressed… and then promptly un-pressed when I saw my wife curling her hand into a fist once again.

The point I’m trying to make is: If you chose to buy “just” the 392 Hemi you will not be disappointed. You will not feel like you need more power, and anyone who tells you that you “should have bought the Hellcat” will likely eat their words within 10 seconds of sitting down in your passenger seat.

This setup is actually more usable on the street too, a little easier to drive, a little lighter on the fuel load and a lot less likely to make you dead.

Less sensible choices: 2016 Challenger SRT Hellcat vs. 2016 Charger SRT Hellcat

It’s the more sensible choice. Kind of.

If you were to owe someone money, and they wanted you to know they need that money back, this is the first bloke they’d send ’round to explain that to you. Most of us would pay up lickety-split after that first visit.

The Hellcat is more likely the person who comes knocking the second time around. It’s the overkill.

Me, with my sledgehammer palate, I feel like the Hellcat is the better choice. But the Hellcat starts at $79,840 – this starts at $55,995. That’s around 15 sets of the 275/40R 20-inch tires worth of price difference, which means at least three-and-a-half minutes of doughnuts and skids (on your private, closed-course skidpad, of course).

Apart from the speedo, which reads to 340 km/h in the Hellcat and only 300 km/h (pfft – so lame) in the Charger, the interiors are virtually identical. The Hellcat gets cooler seats, but the 392 we tested was fitted with awesome red seatbelts. The Hellcat has some other minor trim additions on the interior and a standard sunroof plus 19-speaker audio system. The Harman/Kardon audio kit is available as a $1,500 option anyway, and the power sunroof is $1,395.

You could tick every box on the option list and still be $18,985 shy of the starting price for the Hellcat while only missing out on the red Hellcat logo, 222 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. Oh, and the prestige of owning a HELLCAT!

But $18,985 is a lot of money. You could buy yourself a second car for that. Or 60 track days. Or about 380 drag nights at your local public drag strip.

So for many people with larger brains and smaller egos than myself will rightly find this to be the Goldilocks Charger.

For the sake of fuel economy you get Dodge’s Fuel Saver Multi-Displacement System which deactivates four cylinders when you don’t need them. This means an official fuel rating of 15.7/9.5/12.9 L/100 km city/highway/combined – which is pretty stunning for a massive sedan with this sort of cockpit volume and performance. Even more amazing, I saw 12.8 L in the 3.6L V6 AWD Charger late last year. In this? 11.4. Eleven. Point. Four. That’s wild. Truly wild given how much fun I had.

Again, this edition of Charger is just so well-rounded.

The ride and comfort levels are excellent. The long wheelbase and sizeable 1,998 kg curb weight work in tandem to keep the harsher bumps out of the cockpit and, most importantly, out of your backside. The high-performance suspension is equipped with a noticeable adaptive damping system that feels communicative and poised in Track or Sport mode but pliable and Toronto-pothole-ready in Comfort mode.

The Charger in these upper echelon trims boasts an impressive list of driver comfort goodies. Including a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats all standard.

The optional technology group at $1,395 adds lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection as well as a very, very effective forward collision warning system with active braking. Adaptive cruise control with full stop and automatic headlights round out the key features while “nice to haves” like rain-sensing wipers, power heated memory mirrors and exterior mirror courtesy lamps are neat value-adds.

The 8.4-inch UConnect infotainment system is among our absolute favourites, and when equipped on SRT units comes bearing enough apps and features with rich graphics and nuances to make your most techy friend have an e-gasm.

Nestled between large, clear gauges in the dashboard cluster is seven inches of rich, highly customizable display all controlled via the steering wheel. Its cornucopia of screens would take days to read through and photograph – so please enjoy the photo gallery below. Every form of fuel economy measure and performance measure can be recorded and reviewed including a g-force meter and 0–100 km/h times. When I pointed this out to my wife she punched me, again.

If you want to exploit that g-force meter you’ll be surprised what you can extract from a car of this size and if we’re honest, this pedigree. This is a muscle car through-and-through don’t forget. Its mission is to dispatch all challengers with brute force applied in a particular direction – that is, straight ahead. If you don’t mind using the throttle to steer around the understeer though, you’ll find plenty of corner speed to keep you happy. The steering is well-weighted but the wide tires dull the messages from the front – you likely won’t notice how close to the limit you are until your ears tell you.

Again though, a bit of right wellington will get you out of most trouble the Charger is likely to get into. And unlike its more famous sibling, this is a more controlled aggression – so it’s not as likely to get you into any more trouble.

3 years/60,000 km; 3 years/60,000 km powertrain; 3 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/60,000 km roadside assistance

Ford Taurus SHO
Hyundai Genesis 5.0

Model Tested 2016 Dodge Charger SRT 392
Base Price $55,995
A/C Tax 100
Destination Fee 1,795
Price as Tested $61,355
Optional Equipment
Technology Package (power heated memory mirrors with blind spot monitor, lane keep assist, automatic high beam, forward collision warning with braking, adaptive cruise with full stop, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection) $1,395, harman/kardon audio group - $1,500, red seat belts - $125, Pirelli P-Zero performance tires - $445.