The Dodge SRT-4 was a wild and woolly beast: loud, hard-riding, and tough to drive well because of turbo throttle lag and so much power going through the front wheels. It was more at home on a smooth racetrack than on rough city pavement. The kids loved it, but they were about the only ones. Over-30 magazine testers found the SRT-4 unacceptably rude and crude, though great fun for about the first five minutes.
SRT added standard limited-slip differential for '04, as well as 15 bhp. The power boost wasn't very noticeable, probably because it had been underrated at 205 bhp in the first place. The farewell '05 edition offered an $1195 ACR package comprising an even firmer suspension -- "yeah, that's what it needs," moaned Car and Driver -- plus wider tires on 16-inch alloy wheels.
The ACR version took on four rival sport compacts in a C/D comparison test. It finished midpack despite having the best weight-to-power ratio, the most go (5.6 seconds 0-60, 14.3 seconds at 99 mph in the quarter-mile, 150 mph all-out), the best braking, and the quickest autocross time.
"This feisty little brute might have placed higher…were it not such a one-trick pony," C/D concluded. But winning isn't everything, and the SRT-4 did make an impression on Generation X-Box, even if the youngsters didn't buy many of them. Then, too, many single-purpose cars have become coveted collector's items, and that could well happen to the hyper-Neon some day.
Making an even bigger impression, at least on the public consciousness, were the replacements for the full-size Intrepid, the 2005 Magnum and '06 Charger. Reviving two such hallowed names gave some people pause, because the new Magnum was a station wagon, of all things, while the latest Charger was a sedan, not a slinky coupe like the one jumping around on TV's still-popular "Dukes of Hazzard." But Dodge correctly pointed out that wagons were starting to make a comeback of sorts and that coupe sales were generally "nowhere" in early twenty-first-century America.
There was no debating the new cars' worthiness, however, as both shared Chrysler Group's impressive new LX platform with the instant-hit '05 Chrysler 300 sedans. That meant a sophisticated chassis with rear-wheel drive -- the first "traditional" mainstream Dodge cars in 16 years -- plus all-independent suspension greatly influenced by new partner Mercedes' popular E-class. Equally laudable were four-wheel disc brakes and, save the base Magnum SE, standard antilock brake control and ESP antiskid/traction control. Still another surprise was the Magnum SXT with all-wheel drive, something no Detroit make had ever offered in the big-car class.
Big these new Dodges definitely were, both physically and visually. Wheelbase was a generous 120 inches, overall length around 200, width a brawny 74 or so. Styling emphasized this mass with low rooflines, high slab sides, and aggressive faces that could have fit a big Ram pickup. The designs polarized opinions, but Dodge had learned that trying to please the many usually ended up pleasing only the few. Moreover, the Charger/Magnum looked like no other cars around (300s excepted, of course). They were as bold a break with convention as cab forward was over a decade before.
Like sibling Chryslers, mainstream Chargers and Magnums relied on the corporate single-cam 250-bhp 3.5-liter V-6 allied to four-speed automatic transmission, with a 190-bhp 2.7 engine reserved for the base Magnum. But the real excitement was a brand-new Hemi V-8, a 5.7-liter/345-cid powerhouse making 340 horses and a burly 390 pound-feet of torque. Standard for both Charger and Magnum R/T, and linked to a five-speed automatic with sporty manual-shift gate, the Hemi gestured to fuel efficiency with its Multi Displacement System. Like GM's similar Active Fuel Management, MDS was designed to shut down four cylinders under light throttle loads to save a little gas. It didn't save much, especially since the Hemi encouraged a lot of foot-to-the-floor action, but it was better than nothing and was hard to detect doing its thing. As it turned out, the Hemi's EPA economy ratings were good enough to avoid triggering the Gas-Guzzler Tax, a potential liability for popularly priced vehicles.
Speaking of price, both lines showed up with base stickers in the $22,000-$31,000 range. Options were predictably ample. The Charger R/T pushed performance more than other models with two desired packages. A $1695 Road/Track Performance Group added 10 horses, uprated suspension with rear load leveling, firm-feel steering, and unique alloy wheels in stock 18-inch size, plus leather/suede upholstery and heated front seats. To this, the $2675 Daytona R/T package added a rear spoiler, 235/55 tires (replacing 225/60s), and broad swathes of matte-black finish on the hood and rear fenders, complete with reversed-out "Hemi" and "Charger" lettering, respectively. Daytona's colors also echoed the "Scat Pack" days, with the first 4000 finished in "Go ManGo," a coppery orange. The next 4000 were in "Top Banana" yellow. More colors were slated later, including the possible return of "Sub Lime" and "Plum Crazy."
For more on the all-American Dodge, see:
- Dodge New Car Reviews and Prices
- Dodge Used Car Reviews and Prices