The End Of The Road…For Now

 

When Scott and I were asked to develop an enthusiast-based tour featuring the 2011 Dodge Charger R/T and Dodge Challenger SRT8 392, we had no doubt it would be an amazing experience. Piloting two of the last true rear-wheel-drive, HEMI V8-powered American muscle cars across 8, 000 miles of the good ol’ US of A, taking them to Dodge’s most devout fan-base was sure to be one helluva time. My trusty stead for the trip was the 2011 Dodge Charger R/T Max, loaded to the gills with every option. Not a bad way to get around.
 

I’d seen the new Charger once prior to the HEMI Highway Tour at a Dodge Brand Immersion Day at Chrysler Headquarters last August. I was absolutely awestruck with the car’s new look. In the months before I had seen the spy shots of the 2011 Charger circulating on the internet. You know, the ones with the cover peeled back and that new nose prominently poking out?

 

 

Based on the photo, I was apprehensive about the new design; after all, I loved the current Charger. I fondly remember working at the Chicago Auto Show back in 2005 shortly after we unveiled the 2006 Dodge Charger – it was polarizing, to say the least. Ten days of consumer feedback left their mark, and the next five years of consumer feedback at auto shows played out much the same as those 10 days in February of 2005.

 

 

There were plenty of folks who absolutely LOVED this new Charger. It was unlike anything else out there. An aggressive-looking rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered performance…sedan.

But, the newest incarnation of the historic Charger nameplate also had its detractors. The classic Mopar guys? They were undoubtedly miffed. “Four doors on a Charger?!?! An automatic tranny?!?! What happened to the 1999 Charger Concept Car?” All valid points. (Although, for the record, the 1999 Dodge Charger Concept was a four door, many people didn’t realize that.)

 

 

I was a fan of the new Charger, for both the fond memories I had of its launch when I was new to the whole auto show world, and also for what it represented. You mean, I can own a modern HEMI-powered piece of American muscle car history, and fit my family in it?!?! I know all the classic Mopar guys out there are trying to keep their blood pressure in check at this moment. I know what they’re thinking, or yelling at their computer screens right now for that matter. “Who is this girl?” “She wouldn’t know a HEMI from a hole in the ground — how DARE she!?!?” And I get it; the original Dodge Charger was a thing of beauty – legend even – especially the coveted 1968-1970 model years. With their plethora of engine/carb/tranny options, the available 426 HEMI powerplant and memorable roles in classic muscle car era films and television shows like The Dukes of Hazzard and Bullitt, the classic Chargers were the stuff muscle car aficionados dream about.

 

 

I understand that my age prevents me from ever appreciating the original Charger the way someone who grew up in the muscle car heyday does – the days when you could afford a new Charger while still in your teens if you worked hard enough, when two doors outsold four, when fuel economy and the smog index weren’t even a concern, pesky safety devices like airbags didn’t exist and seatbelts were optional. But, as a girl who grew up and has spent her whole life in the suburbs of Detroit, where you needn’t look farther than down your own street to see examples of some of the finest automobiles the Motor City ever made, a girl who took Auto Lab in high school and a girl who has spent the last seven years representing Chrysler’s products on the auto show/specialty event circuit, I’ve developed a true appreciation for American muscle cars, both new and old. I mean no disrespect to the original Charger by the things I say in regard to the new Dodge Charger, I just think it’s okay to like both, even if for different reasons.

 

 

On that day in August, Scott and I stepped into Ralph’s Design Dome and got our first glimpse at the 2011 Dodge Charger. We were blown away. The spy shots had done this car no justice. In person, it was menacing and elegant at the same time. What, in the most famous spy photo seemed to be an exaggerated “nose-forward” front-end, appeared, without a doubt intimidating, but in the most refined way possible. The new muscled hood with its throwback scallops looked slick and aggressive.

 

 

 

Prior to that day, the front was really all we had seen. There in person, the profile was striking, all sleek lines and the return of that “Coke-bottle” design was a thing to rejoice! Those door scallops, reminiscent of the ’68-’70 Charger looked magnificent! And the rear, those taillights – STUNNING!!! A total of 164 individually illuminated LEDs set the entire rear-end ablaze, and as evidenced later on the HEMI Highway Tour, were visible from blocks away. These elements came together so beautifully, giving the 2011 Charger what will prove to be one of the most recognizable designs of the era, both coming and going.

 

 

 

What would the interior look like though? That was a biggie. I’d spent the last six years hearing complaints about the previous Charger interior with its hard “plasticky” dashboard and lack of sophistication. This new interior was so entirely different, it was almost unbelievable. Every panel was sculptured and soft, with the use of aluminum and LED lighting; the look was sporty, but more luxurious that ever before. The new steering wheel and logo looked great! Features like Adaptive Cruise Control, power tilt and telescoping steering never before seen on a Dodge Charger were now available. To say I was blown away would be an understatement – knowing that I’d be piloting one across the country in a few months made my first look at the new Charger that much more satisfying.

 

 

So, the fateful day when I got my first look at our HEMI Highway Charger came on November 7, 2010. I had just returned from SEMA, where the rest of the world got a look at Mopar Underground’s Redline Charger and the public’s anticipation of the production version was nearing fever pitch. I had even met a few enthusiasts there whom we ended up seeing on the actual HEMI Highway Tour a few weeks later.

 

 

Seeing the new Charger back in August was one thing, cruising down Woodward Avenue in it added an entirely new element to my opinion of the car. Watching people do double-takes and the thumbs up I received from a guy in a Mercedes S550 really proved how striking this car was.

 

Scott got to drive it for the first time a few days before I did, and he recounted the story of watching two drivers on I-75 jockey to capture photos on their cell phones – more evidence of the car’s magnetism.

 

I really love the new Uconnect® Touch system, and I found that getting acquainted with it was a breeze. Although I am not technologically stunted, I am far from what anyone would call a “techie” and I breezed right through the functions and features, feeling comfortable with the system within the first hour and proficient within the first day. I love the fact that every one of the vehicle’s functions are controllable through the Uconnect® Touch unit.

 

Shortly after hitting the HEMI Highway, I realized that there were several other convenience features that I was exceptionally fond of. In an effort to avoid sounding like a paid endorsement, I’ll narrow down the top two.

 

The passive entry system proved to be unbelievably convenient. I loved being able to walk up to the Charger, key in my pocket, backpack or clipped to my belt, and simply place my hand on the trunk or door release for instant access. The passive entry system, combined with the push-button start feature, meant that as long as I had the key on me, I had full operational control. Never did I have to dig at the bottom of my purse or search my backpack for the key.

 

I never want to live without Adaptive Cruise Control. This was immensely convenient when traveling long distances like we did on the HEMI Highway Tour. I could set the cruise control speed and distance I wished to maintain from the vehicle in front of me and the car was able to adjust its speed accordingly when I approached a slower vehicle. Once I passed, the Charger smoothly returned to my intended speed. It was fantastic!

 

I love the idea of the new lifestyle packages. Several people we met on the road appreciated the fact that Charger buyers are finally able to get options in the SE V6 models formerly reserved for the R/T HEMI V8 models or never before offered.

 

Speaking of that 5.7L HEMI V8, where else do you find that these days? This is what I really love about the Dodge Charger – it’s in a class by itself. Sure, it has some major competitors, but they don’t offer V8 power paired with rear-wheel-drive and performance-tuned suspension and steering for around $30K? If they do, they’re missing two doors and a generous backseat, which makes them a different class of vehicle all together. And let’s get something straight, a twin turbo V6 doesn’t sound or feel like a 370 horsepower HEMI V8, folks.

When you think performance and the thrill of driving, a front-wheel-drive biased platform isn’t what comes to mind. If a V6 is what you’re looking for, we’ve got a sweet 292 horsepower DOHC Pentastar V6 in our Charger SE. Fancy all-wheel-drive? We’ve got that too, complete with an active transfer case, front-axle disconnect and paired with a naturally aspirated HEMI, thank you very much.

 

As far as the use of Continuously Variable Transaxles/Transmissions is concerned, we know there’s a place for them, and it isn’t in performance cars. Shift shock? Give me a break. Because I really hate feeling my tranny shift gears, but could you give me paddle shifters with my CVT that allow me to simulate the feeling of shifting gears, because I miss it sometimes. I mean really? I’ll take some more vanilla ice-cream with my vanilla ice-cream, thanks.

 

But, I digress. Day by day I fell more and more in love with the new Charger. Its combination of styling, performance, comfort and convenience stole my heart. I loved showing and telling people all of Charger’s new features and watching current owners be blown away by this newest incarnation while people new to the Dodge brand had their misconceptions washed away.

 

The HEMI Highway Tour proved to be a smashing success. Scott and I loved taking these cars on the road to Dodge’s most devout enthusiasts before they ever hit showrooms. We also made sure to leave a little something to remember us by whenever possible.

 

 

Prior to HEMI Highway, I represented Chrysler Group exclusively for seven years on the auto show and specialty event circuit. I knew this tour would be unlike anything I had done before, because we would be taking Dodge’s two most historic nameplates out to Dodge’s biggest fans. As different as I thought this tour would be, I couldn’t have predicted the outpouring of support we received at each and every one of our stops on the HEMI Highway Tour. What I knew would be an awesome experience, proved to be the best 40 days of my life. Even taking into consideration the long hours detailing the Charger, longer drives on little sleep and six weeks of “road food, ” we met some of the best people in the world. We had a blast getting to know these wonderful fans, seeing their passion for Chrysler Group products and learning their stories. The people we visited are enthusiasts, yes, but now, we’re happy to be able to call them friends!

 

 

The amount of love, commitment and appreciation demonstrated by Dodge fans nationwide left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. There is no more satisfying job than one you’re passionate about and that allows you to share your passion with like-minded people. I feel so lucky to have had the good fortune to share my passion and pride for Dodge products with all of the wonderful enthusiasts out there.

 

People often tell us that we have the best job in the world…and they’re right!

 


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