Dodge also reduced the size of the wheel openings, which dramatically improves the Charger's profile. The '06-10 model had huge tire caves that tended to look ridiculous if anything but 20-inch wheels were used. The 2011 looks good with smaller shoes, but even more bitchin with the 20s. Speaking of the wheels, aluminum alloys are standard on all Chargers. If you want steelies, you'll have to order them from an aftermarket vendor. There's also a lot more softness in the interior; gone are the hard gray angular plastics, and in their place are soft touch points and rounded surfaces. A single-piece dash panel with a bezel made from stamped aluminum is supposed to simplify assembly and reduce "misbuilds," but once again, we never had problems with the old one.

The Bad News ...
The weight. For some reason I haven't figured, but for which there are mountains of excuses by engineering types, new cars are always heavier than the old ones they replace. My '68 Chevelle weighs a beastly 3,666 pounds with me in it, and other car guys brow beat me for running it heavy. And that's a heavy car? The '11 Charger R/T tops the scale at 4,253 pounds, which is 222 pounds heavier than the Hemi-powered '10 Charger R/T, yet the horsepower rating of the '11 Hemi only goes up 2 hp (from 368 to 370). This extracts a painful toll in performance for acceleration, turning, and braking. Even if you can finesse another 5 percent more power from the engine (about 18.5 hp) to counteract the 5 percent increase in mass, you still gotta turn and stop the monster.

The extra weight is ostensibly to make it stiffer and safer. PR skulls from all car companies have this memorized. In fact, cars are now so stiff and so safe from the extra pork, they should-1) Bear more than a passing resemblance to a bank vault, and 2) Allow us to survive a head-on crash against anything short of a freight train. Every year, more weight is added, and the powertrain guys pull a rabbit out of the hat with more power without sacrificing economy. Here's what should be happening: Cars should stay the same weight or get lighter, and the increase in engine efficiency needs to go to the mpg ledger, not to the power ledger, with the result being faster, better-balanced cars with greater fuel economy. One can only dream. Some day it will happen, but that day is not today, and that car is not the Charger.

To be fair, the Charger R/T is not a track car, nor can it become one for any reasonable sum of money while keeping its family use mandate. Even with that being the case, the Charger is a remarkably agile sedan, but only in the context of the street. As a family truckster, the Charger has plenty of 'nads for taking on highway exit ramps, making passes on two-lane roads, or taking twisty mountain curves at eight-tenths. Most hardcore gearheads, however, are going to feel the extra weight in the seat of the pants in a straight line. The Charger R/T is no Camaro/Mustang beater, so just go into this with your eyes wide open. For what it's worth, the new Charger will be a spectacular blank canvas for the aftermarket. Blowers, cams, exhausts, cold-air packages, big brakes, springs, adjustable shocks, and sticky rubber will push the Charger over the goal line-but at a price that will be pretty steep.

On The Track
I give credit to Dodge for letting us journalists beat up their junk on world-class racetracks. Dodge is particularly good about this-in the past five years they've invited PHR five times to thrash different Hemi cars at triple-digit speeds. It's a little known fact, but it's a rare occurrence when some scribe doesn't stack up a preproduction hot rod by hitting an apex too early and drilling it into a wall. Automotive writers are screwballs who never got real jobs, and Dodge knows it, yet they still invite all of us to the party. I'm sure my day is coming, but so far, I'm knocking on wood.