Dodge Charger can rekindle your youth

The 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona 392

Is the Dodge Charger a contemporary family sedan or a retrofitted '60s muscle car? Is it a roomy modern transit or an evocation of a time when those driving in San Francisco were sure to wear some flowers in their grille?

The answer is, it can be either, depending on which one you have a yen for, and how many yen you have in your wallet. The base Charger SE starts at $27,995. For that, you get a handsome, quiet, comfortable large sedan with a perfectly adequate 292-horsepower V-6 that boasts EPA mileage ratings of 19 city and 31 highway.

But if you want sporty appearance and performance, if you want a Charger fitted with one of those big, old, wild-eyed Hemi V-8s, then the price of admission rises.

A case in point is the 2017 Charger Daytona. Reappearing after a four-year absence, this fourth iteration of the car traces its roots back to the original Daytona, the automobile with the outrageous rear spoiler that Dodge built for NASCAR racing.

The Daytona comes in two flavors: the 5.7-liter model I drove, and the even more powerful — and expensive — 6.4-liter version. The test car consisted of the rear-drive R/T model (base price $34,790) plus the $5,100 Daytona package for a total of $39,890, which I consider the base price of the vehicle.

The Daytona gear includes a black grille, special fascias and rocker-panel cladding, a functional air scoop, Daytona decals on the hood, roof, and trunk (including a Hemi logo hood graphic), bright pedals, Daytona suede/leather seats, a performance suspension, 20-inch black alloy wheels, all-season performance tires, rear parking assist, and a black spoiler.

The tester was certainly not just a sporty face. Its 5.7-liter V-8’s 370 horsepower and 395 pounds/feet of torque spirited it from 0 to 60 in a follicle over five seconds. That’s a rather spicy meatball. (The car’s EPAs, 16 city and 25 highway, aren’t quite as spicy.)

The heavily decal-decorated Daytona is, of course, a young man’s car. It does not strike me as seemly transit for someone with my geezerosity quotient. But, like a lot of older men, I still have a bit of the unredeemed teenage car freak to deal with, and a recurring propensity to pull an automotive Peter Pan while behind the wheel. And the Daytona does encourage you not to grow up. Nailing the gas and letting that other-generational beast under the hood paste you back in your seat is great fun. So is that big throb of an exhaust note, which Dodge did little to muzzle.

Happily, this muscle car isn’t just muscle, as its ancestors were. Its performance suspension means it can go fast in the corners, not just in a straight line. It handles crisply for a large sedan, staying flat and composed in ambitious corners. It gets good grip from those wide, performance tires and affords you strong brakes and accurate, responsive steering.

Enhanced by the Charger’s long, 120-inch wheelbase, the ride is unexpectedly supple given the suspension’s performance bias. The car is also well soundproofed, and thus pretty quiet except for the deliberate exhaust note.

The seating in this sedan affords good head, leg, and shoulder room. I liked the sport buckets up front. They were supportive, and attractive. The interior design was clean, although I could have done without the somewhat down-market pebble-grain plastic dash material.

Trunk space, at 16.5 cubic feet, was very average for a large sedan, although the fold-down rear seats expand that.

The Daytona enjoys a top, five-star government safety rating.

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