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2011 Dodge Charger Pursuit

We normally put 1,500 miles on our test vehicles—plenty of seat time. And we typically use that car, SUV or truck to write a ticket book of citations—plenty of patrol use. However, with the 2011 Dodge Charger Pursuit, we didn’t really need to do that. Everything you need to know about the NextGen Charger is immediately obvious.

The First 10 Seconds

The first 10 seconds in the car and you notice the huge improvement in outward visibility. For 2011, the overall visibility out of the Dodge Charger has improved by more than 15 percent. The windshield glass goes much farther back at the top—traffic lights are now visible. The A-pillar is narrower and the outside rear view mirrors have been lowered. The side glass is both taller and lower. The sheetmetal near the C-pillar is more open and the back glass is larger. The number one complaint about the Charger has been completely fixed. The visibility—360 degrees—is now excellent.

Then 10 seconds later you notice the greatly improved gear shift selector arc. The column-shifted police Charger comes out of Park and into Drive with an easy, smooth and ergonomic pull. And it goes from Drive back to Park just as naturally. After the first hour of traffic enforcement—and many Park-Drive-Park cycles—we totally forgot about how awkward the first generation Chargers were to shift. The number two complaint with the older police Charger has been completely fixed. The gear selection is a natural.

The First Mile

Within the first mile, you feel the better throttle response from the new 3.6L Pentastar V6 compared to the old 3.5L V6. The Pentastar V6 has more peak torque, but more importantly it has more total torque at all engine speeds, i.e., a flatter torque curve. The transmission is the same as the old Charger, the rugged NAG-1 5-speed. So the improved throttle response is not due to a change in the number of transmission gears (like moving from a 4-speed to a 6-speed). Instead, the improved performance is all due to the new engine.

“I really noticed the difference after 70 mph,” said Deputy Don Munson, with the Benton County, Ind. Sheriff’s Office, who is issued a 2009 Charger V6. “After 70 mph, the old V6 went flat. The new V6 continues to pull hard way past 120 mph.”

The First Turn

Then the first time you make a turn, you can feel the improved steering response. The new Chargers have an Electro-Hydraulic Power Steering (EHPS). The benefit of the electronically controlled steering pump is no hydraulic pump and hoses—less leaking hose and pump maintenance—and almost zero power drain on the engine—better fuel economy. EHPS is smooth and even at all speeds.

The change from hydraulic assist to electric assist is totally transparent to the driver. Of the five different officers who were a part of this test and evaluation, none took note of any changes in the steering, even when prompted to think about it. All noticed the improved steering response—the more nimble handling—but none noticed a change in the steering feel. EHPS does not have any quirks—no surges or uneven steering boost changes. The steering was just as well-tuned for driving at 120 mph as it was at 60 mph and as it was for parking lots.

Back to that first time you make a sharp turn, and noticing the much more responsive handling. This quicker steering response doesn’t come from EHPS. Instead, it comes from a subtle change in suspension alignment. The Charger now comes with just a bit of negative camber, one of the oldest road racing and oval track racing tricks. The front end feels lighter. The Charger is more nimble and is much more responsive to steering inputs. The improved turn-in response is remarkable.

The First Hour

Finally, an hour or so into the shift, when it is time to transport prisoners, you notice yet another huge change. Both the front and rear doors open much, much wider on the NextGen Chargers. The rear seat is still the same size, but the rear doors now swing open almost 90 degrees. That makes prisoners much easier to get into the back seat. “This is big,” Munson said. “The wider opening rear door is one of the best things about the new Charger.”

By the way, when “kicking the tires” at the end of the shift with all the other officers jealous of the cool ride, you will notice that high performance but availability-unfriendly Continental tires have been replaced by either the Goodyear Eagle RS-A or the Firestone Firehawk GT Pursuit.

New 3.6L Pentastar V6

New for the 2011 model, the Charger Pursuit got a new V6 engine. The 3.6L Pentastar V6 has replaced the 3.5L V6. That engine was the real purpose behind this extended test and evaluation. We wanted to experience the V6, on patrol, firsthand. Driving the NextGen Charger on a road racing course is one thing. And obediently cruising on a city street Ride & Drive is another.

However, hours of traffic enforcement and calls-for-service are quite another. We wanted to get a solid feel of the performance under actual patrol conditions, and we wanted to get realistic fuel economy values—apples to apples with the older Charger V6.

The 3.6L V6 is a double-overhead cam (DOHC) engine with independent cam phasing on all four cams. Both the intake and exhaust cam have Variable Valve Timing (VVT). These cams are automatically “advanced” or “retarded” for max torque at the bottom end and max horsepower at the top end. Thanks to VVT, the engine torque is at least 90 percent of the peak torque between 1,600 rpm and 6,400 rpm. Torque is what gives throttle response. Horsepower is nice, but torque wins drag races.

The 3.6L Pentastar V6 replaces seven different current V6 engines ranging in displacement from 2.7L to 4.0L. Compared to the older 3.5L V6, the new 3.6L Pentastar V6 produces 33 percent more horsepower, 11 percent more torque, 11 percent better fuel economy, and 33 percent longer scheduled maintenance. With the 3.6L Pentastar, Dodge joins Chevy and Ford in producing a near-300 hp V6 for police. The 3.6L Pentastar V6 has been recognized by Ward’s AutoWorld as one of the “10 Best Engines” for 2011.

Minimal Maintenance

The 3.6L Pentastar V6 runs on 87-octane, regular unleaded gasoline. The 3.6L V6 is also E85-compatible, FlexFuel rated. It will automatically handle any combination, any mix of fuel, from pure gasoline to E10 gasohol to full E85 ethanol. The spark plugs are good for 100K miles, and the HOAT engine coolant is also rated for 100K miles. The 3.6L V6 and 5.7L V8 powertrains are all covered by a five-year / 100K-mile powertrain warranty—and that even includes seals and gaskets. The new engine uses standard petroleum motor oil. Synthetic oil is not required. The oil change interval for normal retail driving is now 8,000 miles. The police oil change interval is 6,000 miles. On the topic of oil, the Pentastar V6 comes standard with an auxiliary engine oil cooler. However, it is impossible to see the cooler since it is located in the valley between the two banks of cylinders.

Also new for 2011, spreader springs have been added to the disc brake calipers. Rather than rely on just rotor movement to push the brake pads back into the caliper, the spreader springs move the pads back away from contact with the rotor after brake pressure is released. This reduces one of the causes for brake judder, and also slightly increases fuel economy from less pad-to-rotor friction when the brakes are not applied.

New Lower Control Arms

Everything that was a problem on the 2006-2010 Charger has been aggressively fixed—and that includes the troublesome front lower control arms. For 2011, these arms have a new load carrying design, one developed for heavy-duty use. In addition, the bushing material itself is now more durable. Ball joints are now sealed for life. This, too, is intended to improve durability during police use.

The 2011 Charger uses new self-damping front suspension bushings. This new design improves the handling, improves the ride, and improves the durability. The overall suspension has higher rate bushings and isolators—again improvements in both ride and durability. The V6 and V8 engines now use hydro-mounts for improved durability. Finally, the Charger now uses 22mm lugs nuts, replacing the troublesome 21mm nuts.

Pentastar Performance

The 3.6L Pentastar V6 Charger hits 60 mph in 8.4 seconds and 100 mph in 20.8 seconds. This compares to 8.8 seconds and 23.6 seconds, respectively, for the outgoing Ford CVPI. The Charger V6 has a top speed of 131 mph. For 2012, the top speed of the 3.6L V6 Charger will be raised to 140 mph.

Acceleration and top speed don’t tell the whole performance story. At both the Michigan State Police tests at Grattan Raceway and the Los Angeles County Sheriff test at Fontana Raceway, the Charger V6 had the fastest lap times of any naturally aspirated, V6-powered vehicle, production or prototype. And on both tracks, it was far, far ahead of the V8-powered Ford CVPI.

Yes, the 5.7L HEMI Charger Pursuit is fast, but we had no trouble in traffic enforcement with the Pentastar V6 Charger Pursuit—and that includes extra driving to find a paved crossover before turning around and overtaking 30-Over speeders. (We promised not to cut through the grassy medians during this evaluation.)

Forget that the base Charger Pursuit has a mere V6. Instead, think that the base Charger Pursuit has a nearly 300hp engine, compared to 250hp for the benchmark Ford CVPI. And the Charger V6 is three seconds faster to 100 mph than the Ford CVPI—with the same top speed. Simply put, the new Dodge 3.6L V6 has better acceleration, braking and cornering than the Ford CVPI. And it is MUCH better than the old Dodge 3.5L V6 in every way.

Up to 4 mpg Better

The 3.6L V6 gets better mileage than the 3.5L V6 it replaces. Surprisingly, the new 3.6L V6 also gets better mileage than the much smaller 2.7L V6 that it also replaced. The new engine is EPA rated at 18 mpg City, 27 mpg Highway, and 21 mpg Combined.

We put 400 miles on the 3.6L V6 Charger in combinations of routine calls for service and dedicated traffic enforcement. Our mileage ranged from 20.1 mpg for traffic enforcement with idling to 22.3 for routine calls for service and no idling. In fact, in our week of policing with the car, we hit the EPA “combined” estimate of 21 mpg right on the head.

In an apples-to-apples comparison, this is a full 4 mpg better than the average fuel economy we are getting from our older Charger V6 patrol cars, driven in the same way, under exactly the same conditions, doing the same patrol tasks. Again, that is a full 4 mpg improvement on the new V6 over the old V6. The improvement on the new V6 over the HEMI would obviously be much greater.

Highest Residuals

Chiefs, sheriffs and fleet managers typically concentrate on initial purchase price, of course, since this is such a visible, high-profile number. Often overlooked is the residual value, i.e., how much the vehicle sells for when taken out of service.

Using the ALG data, the Dodge Charger has had the highest residuals of any police sedan. The ALG method is based on disposing of the retail or rental vehicle in three years. The Charger has the incredible residual of 43 percent of its initial price. Spend $1,000 more on the initial purchase but get $3,000 more back when it is taken out of service. Think total cost, not initial cost.

Ed. Note: A very special thanks goes to Chief John Cox, Captain Eric Chin and Lieutenant John Moore of the Purdue University Police Department for the extended use of their 2011 Dodge Charger Pursuit.

Durability Testing on Pentastar V6 Engine

During the development phase, the new Pentastar V6 underwent virtual, dynamometer and in-vehicle tests for durability and reliability. Chrysler started the development by spending 48,000 hours of computer-aided design (computer-added engineering) to design the 3.6L Pentastar V6. Think in terms of 24 engineers working full time for a year before any metal is cast or machined.

Once the engine was built, a total of 160 different tests were conducted on engine dynamometers for a total dyno time of 57,000 hours. That is an equivalent of 12 million miles. Once installed in the vehicle, 74 different tests were conducted for engine durability and on-board diagnostics. That proving ground testing was equivalent to 3.8 million customer miles.

The term “customer-equivalent miles” is used to describe accelerated testing used to prove actual customer mileage to 150,000 miles. The durations for many of the durability tests are scheduled between 400–775 hours, but the actual cumulative damage that is induced in these short durations is equivalent to 10 years and/or 150,000 miles.

During the launch phase, every one of the first 10,000 production engines was run on the dyno for 60 minutes. The first 60-minute run is used to verify the engine was operational after assembly. This schedule consists of various engine speed and load points including peak power / torque, to validate the build and assembly of the engine. Then 23 different production vehicles were driven a total of 850,000 actual road miles.

Modified General Durability

– Designed as part of the core durability schedule to induce wear on rotating components, this schedule was developed to induce extreme usage conditions on an engine system. Highlights include wide-open acceleration / deceleration events at peak power and torque, torque converter stall speed, and idling events. The 625-hour duration testing was based on actual engine reviews at 150,000 customer miles. Tests also include extended time at peak power and torque to simulate high-speed driving conditions and wide-open accelerations.

High-Temperature General Durability Test

– The high-temperature modified general durability is part of the core durability schedule to induce wear on rotating components. An increase in coolant temperature is included to induce thermal loads on components. The 625-hour duration was developed based on actual engine reviews at 169,000 consumer miles. The tests include extended time at peak power and peak torque with elevated coolant temperatures to emulate high-speed driving conditions and wide-open throttle accelerations on steep road grades or with trailer towing applications.

Loaded European Community Endurance Test

– Designed to simulate high-speed driving conditions (Autobahn). Additional loading on components is induced by cycling the front end accessory drive machines. The 775-hour duration equates to 150,000 customer miles.

Chrysler 13-Point Test Drive

– This test is designed to induce loading on components at specific accessory drive and torsional modes and front-end accessory drive components resonant frequencies. This test was developed to validate the structural integrity of engine systems based on actual speed and load conditions. The 750-hour test equates to 150,000 customer miles.

Deep Thermal Shock Test

– Deep thermal shock is a core durability test for cylinder head gasket sealing and all other sealing applications (static and dynamic seals). The 1,000-cycle requirement was developed based on actual engine reviews at 150,000 customer miles and was developed to prove engine durability during cold start conditions. There are 334 engine starts after a deep chill of -20 deg F.

Cold Start Testing

– Cold start testing was conducted at -40 deg F to ensure engine operation in extreme environmental cold climates.

Corrosion Testing

– The engine system is subjected to corrosion testing equivalent to 10 years or 150,000 customer miles and consists of salt and humidity conditions as well as water exposure to the harshest road conditions. The 3.6L Pentastar V6 is one of the most carefully developed engines in Chrysler’s history. This V6 replaced all the other V6 engines in the corporation. A lot is riding on this engine—and Chrysler Powertrain treated it that way.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Sep/Oct 2011

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