In 1976 alone, Oldsmobile sold more than a million versions of the Oldsmobile Cutlass, in coupe, sedan, and wagon form. Oldsmobile may be long gone, but the competitive landscape is shifting back toward larger sedans that fill the gap between the Camry- and Accord-sized cars, and the more expensive cars from Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. The Dodge Charger SXT Plus fits right in that category and competes toe-to-toe against cars like the Toyota Avalon, the Hyundai Azera, and the all-new Kia Cadenza. How does it stack up?
First, the similarities: These are categorized as “large sedans” by the EPA, with a length over 197 inches, and combined passenger and cargo volume over 120 cubic feet. They’re also all powered by V-6 engines in this context, although the Dodge Charger and its Chrysler 300 stablemate are both available with V-8 engines in higher trims than the SXT. The Charger, Avalon, Azera, and Cadenza also seat up to five. Up until the current generation’s redesign, the Toyota Avalon was unique for offering a bench seat up front, with a third seating position, but ever-expanding safety regulations have made the middle seat a feature of a bygone era.
The four sedans are all priced similarly, too, starting with a $31,795 base price for the Charger SXT Plus AWD and up to $35,100 for the Kia Cadenza. Comparably equipped, the price ranges from around $37,500 to almost $42,000. With all the options in place, our Charger stickers out at $41,290, including the $995 destination charge.
Now the differences: The Charger is the only rear-drive car in this comparison, and one of the few rear-drive sedans on the market today. For generations, we drove rear-drive sedans, but in the last 20 years, we’ve become convinced that you simply can’t move between November and April unless you spend another $2,000 for all-wheel-drive, which is why the Charger offers it. Truthfully, with a set of good snow tires and the Charger’s standard traction and stability control, you’d have a hard time getting stuck.
The Charger is also the only vehicle in this competitive group with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The Avalon, Cadenza, and Azera all feature a six-speed automatic. The additional two speeds are ostensibly there to give the Charger better fuel economy, but the all-wheel-drive system and the Charger’s added curb weight (more than 4,100 pounds) conspire to deliver the lowest highway fuel economy (27 mpg EPA) of these four cars.
The Charger features a 3.6-liter V-6 that delivers more horsepower and torque than any of the rest of the vehicles in this competitive group, at 300hp and 264-lb.ft. of torque. Paired with all-wheel-drive in normal driving conditions, it offers plenty of acceleration.
There’s also something to be said for the Charger’s styling. Allow me a personal note: I drive a lot of cars; and I pick up my daughter at school in a different vehicle all the time. Neither the Cadenza nor the Azera elicited any kind of reaction. The Charger—painted in bright TorRed clearcoat—did. When we ran into her friend’s mom downtown a few days later, she asked, “Are you still driving that sports car?” There’s an undeniable uniqueness to the Charger, aided by that wide panel of 164 individual LED bulbs that make up the taillamps. You’d hate to see the bill to replace those, but they add an aesthetic flair that none of the other cars in this class offers.
The Charger also offers the most efficient radio and HVAC interface of any car in this class. Yes, there’s a screen with a whole host of functions you have to take your eyes off the road to operate. However, the Charger provides large, intuitive knobs and buttons to control the features you use all the time. Want to turn the fan up or down? Turn the giant knob in the middle. Want a little more volume? Turn the giant knob on the left. Even better, you can use the small buttons on the back of the steering wheel to change the volume and the radio station. That’s a feature many Chrysler products had back in the 1990s that the rest of the industry is just now starting to incorporate.
Uconnect is also one of the least annoying attempts at integrating your phone and/or Wi-Fi-enabled music device into the car. Uconnect seems to work flawlessly, every time, quickly pairing a new device and making it easy to navigate through phone and music functions.
If you’re the kind of person who buys a car the way you buy any other household appliance, it’s a little harder to justify the Charger over the Azera, Avalon, and Cadenza. But if your aim is to stand out a bit, and you enjoy the benefits of good ergonomics and excellent phone integration, plus all-wheel-drive thrown in for good measure, the Charger is a compelling alternative.Craig Fitzgerald is a freelance writer in Holliston, Massachusetts. His blog is at www.clunkernation.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @vespafitz.