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by David Zatz in
The 392-powered 2017 Dodge Charger Daytona is a cartoon of a muscle car — brash, larger than life, and fun to watch. It’s huge, a full size, four door car given much more brute force than any reasonable person needs. It has a roar that comes into the cabin with full strength; open it up, and the engine roars and slams you back in your seat — with 485 horsepower on tap and a lightning-fast eight-speed automatic, are you surprised?
It’s easy to love the Charger Daytona 392 (there’s also a 5.7 version). Despite its start-up roar and acceleration growl, it’s quiet at idle and tame as a kitten in heavy traffic, and the gradual throttle tip-in means you can drive confidently in bad weather. There’s plenty of room inside for four adults and their luggage. The stereo is superb, the controls are sensible, the visibility is mostly fine, and the interior is well fitted. The endless and instant-on power is easy to love.
The brakes are superb, with slotted front rotors to dissipate heat; the suspension is stiff and the tires are grippy, resulting in a choppy ride where you feel bumps and pavement gaps quite clearly. Still, wheel travel is well damped, and roughly textured surfaces are quieted and smoothed. It’s not a bone-jarring ride like some performance cars; nor is it a Chrysler 300. You get jiggled around, but you don’t feel every groove in the concrete.
To get an idea of how the Daytona would work out on a long trip, I took an hour-long trip up north; the car was docile when needed and ready to leap like a tiger on a moment’s notice. Instant speed gains of 20 mph or more are easy and fast. Highway ramps are a joke: you can be stopped on a ramp as someone passes at 60 mph, and moments later, still on the ramp, be passing them. What’s more, slamming on the gas didn’t take away from control: on dry surfaces, the wheels stuck and the car went where it was pointed. (With these optional tires, though, rain requires a gentle touch.)
On normal, unprepared blacktop roads, the best 0-60 time I could get was 4.6 seconds, while the glossies reported 4.3 seconds. That seems about right; my main issue wasn’t power but traction. Using the Launch Control at higher engine speeds would probably make matters worse; even on dry roads, full throttle could break the tires loose at some speeds. Still, even doing a rolling start and slow throttle application, you can do 0-60 in just over five seconds. Our test car had the optional Pirelli P-Zeros.
The exhaust noise (there’s a lot of it) wasn’t wearisome, partly because it’s rather varied, rather than just a dull drone; thank the active exhaust system for that. It roars when you accelerate; it quiets when you idle or coast. If you’ve just been roaring down the street and you let off, you get a variety of interesting engine sounds and exhaust notes. If you’re foolish enough to do slow traffic in Sport mode, with the eight-speed transmission keeping the engine at higher revs, there is a loud drone that gets annoying after a while. One push of the button and you’re back to civility — until you accelerate again.
The induction roar from the cold air intake is a fine addition, as is whatever under the hood sometimes noisily spins down. It all comes together to bolster the image of a true muscle car — which is obvious when you’re going at highway speed, stomp on the pedal, and get jerked back in your seat.
The fine sound system and protection from wind noise helped on long trips and in traffic, too. The stereo was excellent — clear, with fine stereo separation and detail — not what I would normally expect from Beats.
Buyers can customize the default and sport modes in this car — altering the engine/transmission tuning, traction control, and steering separately — so you can have your handling without the higher revs. The paddle shifters have an almost instant effect.
Steering has three settings, comfortable (a bit tighter than a 300C), normal, and sport; the latter requires considerable effort, but may be more satisfying to many people (and I confess I set that to be the default). The traction control customization essentially reduces traction control; full stability control is applied regardless. With the Sport transmission mode, you get both a different shift table and much faster shifts — though the standard tuning is still quite fast. In competition, the extra edge would be important.
The Charger Daytona is a big, heavy car, and the weight shows; it’s not a little Dart or a Viper. Still, sticky rubber and a well tuned suspension have worked wonders and the Charger can pull serious gs on the skidpad, and go round bends in the road with amazing speed. If you get out of control at any time, lift your foot off the gas and the car will usually stabilize almost instantly.
Part of that car’s balance and handling is due to the Super Track Pack, standard on the Charger Daytona; it includes Bilstein shocks and struts, a half-inch drop in ride height, and brakes from the 707 horsepower Hellcat cars, with similar Pirelli tires. For extra power, there’s a standard cold air intake and active 2.75” exhaust system.
This isn’t a car for everyone. It’s a great big, shaking, roaring monster of a car, and while it has luxury goodies inside from leather-and-suede seats (the suede grips you and holds you in place) to ventilated seats and a superb stereo, its basic character is that of a modded and race-tuned muscle machine — like, dare we say it, a 1968 Dodge Charger with a 440 Six-Pack, though far, far more controllable. You won’t pass through town without the local police noticing, you will catch the attention of people on the highway and in the parking lot; kids will stop and point (or is that just because of the Green Go paint and huge black graphics?).
The wheel-mounted manual shifters are easy to use, the best setup I’ve used for manually shifting an automatic; you can shut them off if you want to.
You also get the Dodge Performance Pages to time it all. They take an awfully long time to load (there are simple timers in the gauge cluster which are faster, for quarter and eighth mile, 0-60, 0-100, and 60-0 braking), but once there, you have a lot of options. The new UConnect system lets you put the Performance Pages onto the menubar, so you don’t have to search for it; oddly, there’s a physical button for the Super Track Pack preferences. (There is also one, which you will probably use, to shut off the lane-retention feature. This remembers its setting from start to start.)
You can use Launch Control to easily get consistent computer-controlled times; see power, torque, oil pressure, and the current gear (even in full automatic mode); show lateral and acceleration g-forces; view two sets of three gauges (voltage, intake air temp, transmission, oil, and coolant temp, and oil pressure; or get a variety of performance indicators. I wish every car had these gauges and timer.
I was amused by the fact that accelerating moderately and leveling out at 70 mph netted a 16-second quarter mile time. Times have changed!
Speaking of the timers — there is a non-obvious feature, which provides you with a countdown timer (showing the timer in the gauge cluster, press the center button). That lets you see your reaction time as well as elapsed times.
The trim has been matched to the car, with a finely done metallic trim, contrasting stitching to relieve the oceans of black, and the aforementioned, grippy suede seat inserts in leather. The doors are nicely detailed, front and back; there is lots of room; and you can see well in every direction except the rear corners, and for that, Dodge throws in its blind spot protection system (there’s also “rear cross path” so you don’t get hit by a passing motorist while backing up, blind.
The electronic goodies include dual USB inputs for the stereo, which recognizes even large drives quickly and remembers what’s on them after you cut the engine — a fine alternative to iPods or iPhones or whatever other music system you used before (and certainly better than even the standard satellite radio). No CD drives — it’s 2017! No turntable, either. There’s dual zone automatic climate control, filtered; fine HID headlights so you can see far ahead; LED tail-lights and daytime running lights; and all the other goodies you’d expect (or get in a loaded Chrysler 300C).
The trunk is huge, and there’s a pass-through for longer items. Don’t be fooled by the photographic perspective or shadow; that’s a big trunk.
With all this, there have to be some down-sides, aside from gas mileage that you might expect from a pickup truck towing a yacht, the busy ride, and such — and there are, but they are relatively minor.
Backing up. The backup camera has a fisheye lens setup, which is all very fine for making sure you don’t run anyone over, but doesn’t work at all well for backing into parking spaces — you have to use the mirrors. I know, whine, whine, you don’t get the point, nannies are bad — I get it. But in other Mopars, the backup camera helps me back in quickly and accurately; in this one, I have to pretend it’s not there and use the mirrors.
Stereo oddities. If you back up, the sound comes on full blast, because the backup camera activated, and when the center screen comes on, so does the sound. The center display stays dead unless you turn the radio (or media player) on. It’ll pause playback of a USB drive (saving your place) if you turn the volume to zero and you’re not showing the media screen (then you have to press pause).
Gravel. There seems to be very little insulation on the underside of the car, based on how often we heard the sound of gravel being thrown up against the underside. This may have been done to avoid weight or let more of the exhaust note into the car; or maybe it had nothing to do with insulation, but was caused by the extra-wide tires. Regardless, the paint wasn’t visibly damaged, and you get used to it.
Steering. With the steering on “sport,” effort was nice and tight, but there was an odd “wiggly” area — around an inch in each direction of steering wheel movement which was extremely light. Moving the steering to “medium” or “comfort” resolved that issue.
This is not a criticism, but a request: it sure would be nice to tune the transmission for the extra-fast shifts of Sport mode, without having it trying to keep the engine in medium-high revs.
Fuel economy. Gas mileage is terrible, though typical for this kind of car. If you’re buying a 392 cubic inch car with 485 horsepower and 475 pound-feet of torque, I don’t think you will care. The official estimates are 15 city, 25 highway, but this assumes you will barely touch the throttle; reality will probably be lower. If you are achieving 15/25, trade in your 392 for a 5.7-powered Charger Daytona...
Yes, these are mostly minor gripes about what is, overall, a stunning car. You get the advantages of a muscular Camaro or Mustang, but with comfort, four doors, livable rear seats, a massive trunk, and enough ground clearance to avoid scraping most of the time (not all the time; our driveway was apparently too steep for it).
The Dodge Charger R/T 392 starts at $39,995, and comes with a 3.09:1 axle ratio, Bilstein suspension, Brembo brakes, four-mode stability control, backup camera and alerts, rain brake alert (keeping the rotors dry), fast-reaction braking, remote start, alarm, and Performance Pages.
The Daytona package costs $5,000, but adds 20 x 9.5 wheels, 275/40ZR performance tires, black calipers, Hellcat-style front brakes, a cold air intake from the factory, Daytona and 392 decals and badging, special seats, “carbonite” interior accents, gloss black accents, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and steering wheel, power tilt/telescope steering column, and power heated mirrors.
The 552-watt Beats stereo added around a thousand dollars; the sunroof, $1,200; optional P Zero summer tires, $600 (these have good grip on dry surfaces, but wear out quickly); and navigation, $700. The navigation was lightning fast, compared with most other auto systems, finding destinations and routing to them very quickly; and, unlike handheld systems, the driver could choose to get turn by turn directions in the gauge cluster as well.
For safety, the Daytona package also adds HID headlamps, blind spot and cross path detection, adaptive cruise with collision warning (and optional stopping), rain-sensitive wipers, and such.
With options and a thousand dollars of destination charge, the list price is $51,615. Insurance rates are bound to be fairly high; and it takes premium fuel (lots of it).
We got thumbs up from other drivers, pedestrians, even bicyclists. Green Go is an attractive color, and the rumble and huge black decals made it quite clear that there was something under the hood.
The summary: this is a highly lovable car; what’s more, it’s a livable car. You can, if you choose, get a lot less car for a lot more money, and drive around in less comfort and safety, with lower performance. You can buy a luxury car that will perform as well, but be half as enjoyable.
Cartoons are fun.
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