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from a report in "Business Week"

The American Muscle car's recent resurgence is due in no small part to the wistful chord that models such as Fords's Mustang and Chevy's upcoming Camaro strike in the hearts of aging baby boomers with a penchant for nostalgia and more importantly, with disposable income

But for those of us born long after Ralph Nader and OPEC dealt American muscle its final death blows, 1970s pop culture elicits anything but nostalgia. Worse yet, automakers, by way of neglect and complacency, let many once-legendary nameplates wither until they became anemic versions of their once muscular selves.

Some of these nameplates have since been resurrected, with varying degrees of success. Luckily, like the best of today's retro-inspired sedans, Dodge's HEMI-powered Charger offers enough vim, vigor, and utility to all but erase past faults, appealing on its merits to boomers and non-boomers alike.

Moreover, thanks to its size and handling, the Charger also has a domestic side—think of Vin Diesel in The Pacifier—so that it can do double duty as a family car without making Mom and Dad feel like they're complete dorks.

Dodge offers two V6 models and three V8s, with prices ranging from just above $20,000 to about $40,000. That's another strong hint that the Charger isn't intended to fill a narrow niche like some other muscle models.

A basic SE edition gets you a HEMI-deprived 190 horsepower, 2.7 liter V6 while, at the top of the line, the positively juiced, HEMI-endowed SRT8 version—which looks like a cross between a great white shark and a panzer tank—produces 425 horses from a 6.1 liter V8. I tested the conciliation R/T model, at $30,030, the natural middle ground of spousal compromise.

The range of models is proving a smart move for DaimlerChrysler (DCX). Introduced in May, 2005, the Charger is by far Dodge's best-selling car. For the first nine months of 2006 it sold 87,768 units, according to Automotive News. In fact, as of last month, the Charger is the company's only vehicle not to post declines in sales since the same time last year.

Dodge's loaner stickered at $36,450 with $675 destination charge. On top of the $30,030 base price, the car came with $440 supplemental air bags (side-curtain front and rear); $630 electronics convenience group, $535 Boston Acoustics 6-disc CD player, $950 power sunroof, and $1,495 DVD-based GPS nav. system.

The most significant option, both in terms of value for price, and performance, is the $1,695 Road/Track Performance package. That option adds tweaked steering and suspension as well as a set of performance tires wrapped around gorgeous 18-in. wheels which the Charger's solid frame just begs to brandish.

To sweeten the pot, Dodge also throws in heated power front seats, dual-zone climate controls, power pedals, and nifty suede-leather combo seats. I wouldn't consider buying the Charger without this package, which not only seems an eminently good deal for the money but makes the otherwise drab cabin a more comfortable place to spend time.

If ever a car looked the way Muddy Waters sounds, the Charger is it (think "mannn"). Even though the company has shipped nearly 90,000 models, the styling still causes rubbernecking on the street. The car looks stout, manly and even, and, well, a little mean.

But that's O.K. because ever since playing the bad guy in Bullitt, the Charger has had villain written all over it. Inwardly slanted head-lamps project aggressively across the big 'n bad cross-hair grille. The ram's head-bejeweled maw comes up high over the lower front bumper, ready to be offered sacrificial lambs or goats. The ripped haunches in the back, meanwhile, look wide enough to give birth to a last-generation Dodge Neon.

With the Charger as prime example, rough and tough also seems to be the banner motif at Dodge these days. The brand's model-naming convention exhibits such a surplus of machismo, with the Charger, Caliber, Magnum, Nitro, Challenger, and Ram, you'd think the marketing team at Dodge was headed by a mixed group of WWF wrestlers and ex-Marines.

Behind The Wheel Still, backing up the body and marketing bravado is a good deal of heft under the hood. The 5.7 liter HEMI V8 was named one of Ward's 10 Best Engines this year, and for good reason. The 350-horsepower modern incarnation of the classic engines, which featured hemispherical combustion chambers, is like the Charger itself—more of a throwback to the past than an outright emulation.

The Charger is a platform sibling to the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Magnum (see, 12/28/05, "2005 Dodge Magnum SXT"). All three vehicles share DNA with the last generation Mercedes-Benz E-Class, a first hint at the refined road manners and first-class handling lurking beneath the exterior's roughneck demeanor.

An exceptionally smooth, quiet ride is a virtue you wouldn't necessarily expect from so fierce-looking a car equipped with so robust a powertrain. But there it is, legitimizing the Charger as an everyday, family driver. Though the sedan is heavy, it handles well. Powering over hills, through turns, and into passing maneuvers was a cinch given all the power.

The copious options list does much to make the cabin an enjoyable place to be, but that doesn't help brighten up the Charger's rather dour interior. Even with a generous helping of low-quality plastics, other cars in the segment manage to liven up their interiors and avoid "Tupperware syndrome." The glow of the black-on-white dials is pleasant, but low-key. Overall, everything feels sturdy; nothing offends, but nothing much excites either.

The GPS navigation system works well, though other manufacturers offer easier-to-use touch-screen models for a similar price. The satellite-equipped radio does an excellent job. Wheel-mounted stereo controls and a secondary information display by the dials all feel well-thought-out for the price point. I was also surprised to find the excellent and sprightly Mercedes-Benz cruise-control arm, reproduced exactly as it is in cars costing twice as much.

Buy It or Bag It? In the end, while the Charger's muscle styling may attract boomer buyers, the car has to be judged on its merits as a mainstream sedan. Luckily, Dodge has managed to take the best of the muscle mystique—power, attitude, and style—and apply them to a comfortable, easy-to-drive sedan.

Despite the voluminous engine, the Charger still manages to get between 17 and 25 mpg. In mixed highway and city driving, I found my test mule tipping toward the higher end of that range. Crash test ratings are all impressive, as well, but only with the side-impact air bags, so expect to pay up the extra $440.

If you must have a true-blue pony car, I don't suggest buying the Charger. Look instead to the wonderful Ford Mustang or wait for the upcoming Dodge Challenger. If, however, you want a fast sedan that trades in brown-wrapper-politically-correct styling for a lot of power, look no further. Whether you remember the original days of muscle or not, you're unlikely to regret it.

To find out more about the Dodge Charger, click here for the slide show
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