The newly engineered 2011 Dodge Charger is far more changed than a restyled grille and new taillights. Everything above the rolling platform has been improved. The NextGen Charger keeps everything good from the 2006-2010 Charger. It holds fast to what has made it the most talked-about, and most desired, police sedan in decades. At the same time, the 2011 Charger is greatly improved in the areas suggested by the Charger’s customer base, and that includes the police. Better Visibility Everywhere
The “chopped and channeled” 2005 Dodge Magnum was certainly cool, and so was the 2006 Charger with the same basic style. Both were artistic copies of the multiple-award winning 2005 Chrysler 300. The problem, however, was restricted visibility from forward-upward, to see traffic lights; out the side glass and past the A pillar, to see pedestrians; and out the back glass and the left and rear blind spots, to see traffic. Every single one of these visibility issues has been completely solved on the new Charger.
The top of the windshield has been moved back 3-1/2 inches. Traffic lights are now easy to see. The A pillars and B pillars have been both narrowed and thinned. The outside rearview mirrors have been both lowered and moved forward. The top of the side glass has been raised and the bottom of the side glass has been lowered. The “chopped and channeled” look has been totally reversed, making it much easier to see both out the side and at an angle forward.
At the back, the rear glass is a bit larger. The C pillars have been thinned and narrowed and the black appliqué (paint) has been removed. The rear visibility has been improved and the blind spot visibility has been dramatically improved. These smaller A, B and C pillars are still four times stronger than federal standards require.
The top complaint, visibility, has been totally resolved. Visibility issues out, the 2011 Charger is now as good as any police sedan. The 2011 Charger may not look dramatically different on the outside. From the inside looking out, however, it is a totally different sedan.
The 5.7L HEMI® V8 is mostly a carryover for the 2011 Charger Pursuit. Interactive Deceleration Fuel Shut Off (iDFSO) is new, resulting in the fuel being shut off about 5% to 8% of the time the vehicle is in motion. We will have more on this in the next issue of Police Fleet Manager.
Brand New Pentastar V6
The big news is that fuel economy is also up with the standard V6. The old-tech 3.5L V6 resulted in less than expected fuel economy. This engine, dating back to the early-1990s Dodge Intrepid, has been replaced. For 2011, the police Charger comes standard with the new 3.6L Pentastar (formerly Phoenix) V6. This totally new, Variable Valve Timing engine was introduced in the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The new 3.6L V6 produces more horsepower and torque than the old 3.5L V6. The 3.6L V6 has 285 hp, which is 35 hp more than the 3.5L V6.
Solving the second major complaint, fuel economy, the new 3.6L engine gives true V6 levels of economy. In an era of climbing gas prices and “no idle” policies, it was a bit embarrassing when the 5.7L V8 got better mileage than the 3.5L V6. All that has changed. The 3.6L V6 gets 19 mpg in city driving, which is 3 mpg better (about 12% better); and 26 mpg in highway driving, which is 1 mpg better (about 8% better). It is also E85-capable (FlexFuel).
After better visibility and increased fuel economy, the third issue fixed with the NextGen Charger was seat comfort, both retail and police. In this area, Chrysler aimed high. Benchmarking the best sedans in the world, Chrysler focused on the seats in two vehicles: the Lexus LS460 and the Toyota Avalon. What makes these seats so comfortable?
As it turns out, most seats start out with a stamped steel seat bottom. To that, different layers, thicknesses and densities of foam are added. That means seat comfort comes only from the foam layers. The most comfortable seats, however, start out as a tube frame with a nylon web seat the bottom. And that is what the new Charger has.
In addition to the spring-suspension seat frame (versus the steel tub), the new Charger seats also have better combinations of foam layers. The spring-suspended mat (webbing) is first covered with firm foam, and then with memory foam.
From this world-class start, Dodge Fleet tweaked the seat for police use. They did the normal pressure point mapping to eliminate or reduce hot spots for occupants wearing police duty belts. The seat fabric has also been improved. A clear difference in comfort exists, both initial and end-of-the-day. In 2005, DaimlerChrysler promoted these seats as “Euro-firm,” which must have meant “small and hard.” And they got complaints. The 2011 Charger solves this. The seats are no wider, but are more comfortable.
Wider Doors, Easier Shifter
The interior space in the front seat and back seat is about the same on the 2011 Charger as the older sedans. The legroom is about the same but the thigh room is better. So, what is new? The door opening angles are much wider. Both the front and rear doors now open almost 90 degrees. It is much easier to get prisoners into the rear seat, even if the interior is about the same.
One huge change has taken place in the interior. The arc of the column shifter has been changed—finally. The arc is much more natural than the awkward, wrist-wrenching older design. This shift arc has been a complaint and a hassle from each officer’s first shift in an otherwise great car. Most officers found themselves in a brand new police car where they couldn’t figure out how to shift it into gear. Once they did, their wrists were sore for a month. Eventually they got used to the shift arc but they still hated it. All that has changed for 2011.
The gear shift is now separate from the steering column. This now allows the 2011 Charger to come with both a tilting and a telescoping steering wheel. Because the shifter is now instrument panel-mounted, the shifter does not have to follow an awkward radius around the column. The shifter is in a vertical plane rather than a rotational arc.
The police Charger has a driver door key cylinder and a trunk lid key cylinder. A passenger door key cylinder is not currently available, but may be a running change on future Chargers. Dodge Fleet knows it is needed for officer safety reasons.
No Change to Trunk
The 2011 Charger has virtually the same trunk as the 2006-2010 Charger. Actually, the 2011 Charger trunk is just a bit smaller than the current Charger, 15.4 cf versus 16.2 cf, based on the mini-spare. The mini-spare sits below the load floor. The full-size spare sits at an angle, taking up valuable, usable trunk space. The full-size spare mounting bracket is the same as the slightly improved version that was a running change on the 2009 models.
Aftermarket companies have developed a single, pullout tray for the flat-mounted full-size spare. And they have developed a dual-level pullout tray, one for the tire and one for radio gear. All in all, nothing in the trunk has changed, but most agencies driving the Charger have already figured out how to deal with it.
The trunk is different in one aspect for the benefit of law enforcement. The trunk lid hinge has been redesigned with a gooseneck hinge to lift the trunk lid lip higher in the air. In addition, the trunk lid will now support a 25 pound load. That means long guns and a tire deflation devise can be mounted under the trunk lid and the trunk will still fully open and stay open.
Knowing how valuable every inch of trunk space is to police upfitters, Dodge Fleet has a very helpful suggestion. To improve on noise, vibration, harshness (NVH), and buzz, squeal, rattle (BSR), Dodge added about three inches of sound deadener on the bottom side of the rear window package tray. Their advice for the police to gain back some trunk space is to remove this sound deadening box. That won’t completely make up for the trunk space stolen by the gooseneck trunk hinges, but it helps with trunk trays.
Easier to Upfit Gear
Dodge has good news for upfitters with the 2011 Charger. On the older Chargers, the front fascia, the entire front clip (headlights and all) has to be removed to install grille lights, the siren speaker, etc. This has buffaloed a lot of upfitters. In reality, the front clip comes off in 7 to 10 minutes. But the first few times are a lengthy, frustrating learning experience.
The 2006 Charger had to use a front fascia totally compatible with the 2005 Chrysler 300 hood and fender sheet metal. For 2011, the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 are totally separate. For 2011, the Charger front fascia does not include the headlights. They remain with the body. Fasteners for the front clip are easily accessed from the access panel at the top and under the air dam at the bottom. As a side note, the new front fascia allows more airflow into the radiators, especially at idle. This new clip is also easier and less expensive to repair or replace.
Overall, the dimensions and volumes of the 2011 Charger are essentially the same as the 2006-2010 Charger. That means the vast majority of upfitted police equipment will transfer to the 2011 Charger. If needed, any slight bracket changes needed to adapt old to new are already available from the aftermarket companies. The new police Charger still has a full 10-inches between the front bucket seats. The push bumpers, prisoner partitions and center consoles from the older Chargers will fit the 2011 Charger.
And what about the side curtain airbag versus a full-width, rigid prisoner partition? The side airbag is horseshoe shaped. It deploys the full width in the front and rear seat but not at the B pillar. This should allow full-security partitions. The Upfitter Guide for the 2011 police Charger will be on the company’s Web site before the car hits the streets. The guide will cover airbag deployment zones, seat belt retractor locations and airbag tether routings.
At the corporate level, Dodge Fleet has beefed-up its staff in expectation of doubled or tripled sales of the police Charger. The number of fleet field reps has been doubled and a new position has been formed: Manager of Police & Special Service Vehicles. Most importantly, the responsibility for the dealer network development and the fleet operations have been consolidated under one person: Pete Grady, vice president, Dealer Network Development & Fleet Operations. Grady is a direct report to Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne.
Another corporate step on behalf of the police is the formation of a Police Vehicle Quality & Service Issue Resolution Council. Held weekly, this is attended by the government fleet sales manager, the Charger platform chief engineer, the Charger platform quality assurance manager and the fleet national service manager. Weekly, these big guns will address any and all quality and service issues. Get your concerns to your regional fleet service or fleet sales manager now and next week the resolution process will start.
Overall, the 2011 Charger has improved visibility ergonomics, fuel economy, seat comfort, door openings, brakes and gear selection arc. The 2011 police Charger might not handle quite like a BMW 531 and the seat might not be quite as comfortable as a Lexus LS 460, but Dodge moved a closer to these goals with its 2011 Charger. Production of the 2011 Dodge Charger will begin in January 2011.
For five years in a row, the Dodge Charger 5.7L has been the nation’s best performing police vehicle. During the annual Michigan State Police tests, the Charger has had the fastest acceleration, the highest top speed, the shortest braking distances and the quickest road course times.
The late-2011 police cars, however, will include the 6.0L small block V8 Caprice and the mid-2012 police cars will include the 3.5L twin turbo V6 Ford. It is going to be interesting.
Photos by Sara Tincher