Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Dodge Charger SRT8 will blast you into the past

The 2014 Dodge Charger SRT8 carries a 470-horsepower Hemi V-8 engine. (Dodge/MCT)
The 2014 Dodge Charger SRT8 carries a 470-horsepower Hemi V-8 engine. (Dodge/MCT)
The 2014 Dodge Charger SRT8 carries a 470-horsepower Hemi V-8 engine. (Dodge/MCT) Gallery: Dodge Charger SRT8 will blast you into the past

Maybe the guy in the blue floral dress at the sushi bar last weekend kind of spun you around – the one out for dinner with his dazzling wife.

He baffled me big-time, too. But, hey, at least his blue-hoop earrings matched his spiky heels, and his spaghetti-strap dress didn't clash much with his wife's miniskirt.

Is this a really interesting time or what?

Just call me when the party's finally, mercifully, over. I won't need a text, tweet or 'gram – not to mention a downtown loft, a selfie, a Lana Del Ray download or a Zipcar.

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  • In fact, I just might have the perfect time machine for a quick day trip back to when greasy hamburgers and dark tans seemed pretty darn healthy.

    (While we're there, could I go with Launa Anderson again to that fiery Jimi Hendrix concert at Moody Coliseum?)

    Probably not. But the 2014 Dodge Charger SRT8 will make you think – and act – like a hyped-up, tire-smoking, power-shifting teenager, back before they all became couch-bound digital zombies.

    Consider this: Blasts from the past explode daily from its four-inch diameter exhaust pipes.

    Actually, the Charger keeps at least two tires planted pretty firmly in the bizarre, bewildering 2000s.

    Once a big, kind of awkward two-door hardtop, the Charger looks more proportional in the 21st century version and now offers the convenience of four big doors.

    It rides on a modern independent rear suspension and features in-dash telematics that keep you connected or plugged in to some doohickey in the sky.

    Far more important, the SRT8 wears a dark, foreboding snarl up front like the really mean Mopars of the distant past.

    A big blacked-out Dodge "crosshair" grille pushed up against glaring headlamps on the bright red Charger I had recently.

    The sinister sedan appeared ready to swallow a Smart car whole.

    Though a bit square-cut, the sides of the car carried a great '60s Charger scallop stamped deeply in the doors.

    Moreover, the Charger's big body got help from a sleekly raked windshield and a top that looked like it had been chopped an inch or two by one of the Barris brothers.

    The car also had stance, crouching tightly on 245/45 tires wrapped around 20-inch alloy wheels.

    Likewise, tail lamps that ran the width of the rear evoked Chargers of the past but were fitted with modern LED lights.

    If I were going to sweeten this mix of old and new any, I would dump the silly boy-racer spoiler on the trunk, which looks more dated than some of my hot-rod T-shirts.

    But I found a quick way to forget it was even back there: Push the start button, summoning the SRT8's 470-horsepower Hemi V-8 – a gruff, muscled-up motor exclusive to vehicles built by SRT, Chrysler's performance division.

    When the engine was cold, it shuddered with a cammy, old-school idle that quickly settled into something more socially acceptable as it warmed.

    With 470 pound-feet of torque – much of it down low – you can almost steer the 4,300-pound Charger with its right pedal.

    Stand on the SRT8 hard, and the Hemi's muted mid-range thunder dropped a rough octave or two.

    Although the fire-breathing engine occasionally fell into little holes from gaps in the car's ancient five-speed automatic, it didn't stay down there long.

    A flat-out, tire-spinning blast to 60 takes only 4.2 seconds, according to Car and Driver.

    On a more modern front, the engine is seamlessly reduced to four cylinders at cruising speeds, helping the Charger scratch out 14 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway.

    Granted, that's nothing to email the cousins in Minny-sota about, but it seemed pretty reasonable for a raucous bruiser of a sedan. According to the computer, I somehow managed to average 16.1 mpg.

    Thanks to 21st-century tires and suspension tuning, the big wide Charger drove relatively small at speed.

    Under 40 mph, the steering felt too heavy to me, acting as if there was no assist at all in some parking maneuvers.

    But above 40, the car's flat-bottom steering wheel came alive, turning into corners aggressively and holding fairly tight lines in fast curves.

    The road feel was not great, but it was good enough to know more or less what the front tires were doing.

    As you might expect, the ride in a muscle-car door-slammer like the SRT8 was as stiff as Mitt Romney at a Rolling Stones concert.

    But I quickly learned to live with it. The car felt mostly tight and solid over rough roads, rarely delivering any really harsh bounces.

    Besides, no one will ever mistake the Charger for a luxury car, despite its stratospheric $52,065 price.

    Perhaps Dodge sees the SRT8 as a competitor of sorts to German performance sedans, though I seriously doubt that many buyers of those haughty haulers cross-shop the SRT8.

    They certainly won't be persuaded by the black interior in mine.

    Not that it was unattractive. But the door panels and big, curvy dashboard just had too many hard plastic surfaces for a car over 50 large.

    INTERIOR

    Leg- and head-room in back were pretty good and the front seats – leather with supportive bolsters stitched in white and perforated suede centers – felt terrific.

    The door panels also got a little help from suede centers trimmed with lines of vertical white stitching.

    In addition, large black-faced gauges with red needles proved easy to see at a quick glance, and a large center stack with an 8.4-inch touch screen functioned fine.

    But overall, the SRT8's easy blend of old and new didn't seem quite as smooth inside as outside.

    Maybe that's just the price you pay for a big, bawdy American sedan with sizzling straight-line performance and good handling.

    Or is it? Next week, we'll go for a drive in the 2014 Chevrolet SS, the first rear-wheel-drive performance sedan from Chevy since the mid-'90s, and a true competitor to the Charger.

    Since I got to drive both, I figure I'm already the winner in any comparison – and it's about time.

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    2014 DODGE CHARGER SRT8

    Type of vehicle: Four-door, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan

    Price as tested: $52,065

    Fuel economy: 14 miles per gallon city, 23 highway

    Weight: 4,371 pounds

    Engine: 6.4-liter V-8 with 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque

    Transmission: Five-speed automatic

    Performance: 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds

    SOURCES: Dodge division of the Chrysler Group; Car and Driver

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    ABOUT THE WRITER

    Terry Box writes for the Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at tbox@dallasnews.com.

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    Terry Box The Dallas Morning News (MCT)