Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Dodge Charger Daytona 392.
The 2018 Dodge Charger Daytona 392, By the Numbers
- Base Price (Price as Tested): $44,995 ($52,865)
- Powertrain: 6.4-liter naturally aspirated V8 engine; 485 horsepower, 475 pound-feet of torque; eight-speed automatic transmission; rear-wheel drive
- EPA Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
- 0-60 mph: 4.4 seconds
- Cargo Space: 16.1 cubic feet
- Quick Take: Brash, ballsy, and barely holding on, the Charger Daytona 392 is everything we'll miss about internal combustion.
The Future Awaits
Rising out of the dusty slopes of the Tehachapi Pass, California's Alta Wind Energy Center is one of the largest wind farms in the world. It's a sprawling vision cast over 3,200 acres of scrubby desert and low hills; running at max capacity, its 600 massive turbines can produce enough electricity to power well over 200,000 homes. It is the future of energy—and, arguably, the definition of human progress.
I found myself in its shadow with a 2018 Dodge Charger Daytona 392 after a day at Willow Springs Raceway, the iconic track which happens to be a few miles south of there. Bumping along the granular pavement and enjoying the sound of a 6.4-liter V8, I almost didn't notice the forest of gleaming white spires sprouting around me. And when I finally pulled up to one in my CO2-spewing ride to take some pictures, I felt more than a little like an ape before the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Really, short of a Hellcat, I don't think I could've brought a more anachronistic vehicle with which to catch a glimpse of the future. There are so many things about it that aren't in keeping with the times. Its platform is old enough to drive itself in certain agricultural states, its array of V8 engine options are a giant middle finger to the Environmental Protection Agency, and its three-box shape is tougher than ever to sell these days. But that's why the Charger Daytona 392 is a thing of beauty. There's something about its louche approach to aging that dovetails with the nostalgic power chord it was built to strike.
By now, the Charger hardly needs an introduction. Not a whole lot has changed in the eight years since the second generation of Dodge's full-size sedan launched, apart from the occasional supercharged V8 or different trim levels—like the company re-introducing the legendary Charger Daytona name as an homage to the famous 1969 aero-bodied car. The present Charger Daytona, for better or worse, is nothing like that homologation special; instead, it's a rollicking four-door Carnaval that doesn't care if the 21st Century has little use for sedans or V8s anymore. It's loud and brash, putting your senses in a headlock and challenging you not to like it—but most of all, it shows they do indeed still make them like they used to.
2018 Dodge Charger Daytona 392: The Pros
- You can get the Daytona with either a 5.7-liter V8 or the stonking 6.4-liter Hemi—the 392 cubic inches in "Daytona 392," if you will—and there's no question the bigger engine is worth the $5,000 upcharge. Casual drivers would say that's a lot of cash for a little extra passing power, but in a loud car like this, there's no sense in half measures. Spring for it and you'll be rewarded with the 392's loping rumble, prodigious torque, and addictive ferocity. 485 horsepower is plenty to have all the extracurricular fun you want, without being a chore to manage in normal situations. It's a hilarious time.
- The Charger Daytona 392 handles better than you'd expect for an overpowered rear-wheel-drive car without adaptive suspension. The R/T model on which the Daytona is based comes with Bilstein performance shocks that do a solid job holding the 4,200-pound bruiser through technical turns, even if you can barely feel anything through the wheel. (Just don't turn off traction control.) Your sole transmission option is the ZF eight-speed automatic seen across the Fiat-Chrysler universe, which doesn't quite snap off shifts as fast as you'd want it to but generally does a good job making all that power accessible and usable.
- I'll admit that the exterior design has some weak points—the snake-like front end and forgettable tail chief among them—but I'll always stand up for a car with a recognizable three-box sedan shape. It's a solid, unfussy profile that will age better than most car-blobs today. And the Destroyer Grey paint job on my tester pulls double duty, both looking great and turning down the visual volume on the Daytona decals package.
- To these smudgy fingers, Uconnect remains one of the best infotainment systems out there. It's simple, easy to navigate, and eminently customizable. Response time is brisk, voice commands to adjust the temperature worked every time without a glitch (though there are also old-school buttons aplenty in the Charger), and the in-depth Performance Pages that track all sorts of nerdy data are always fun to peruse. The giant power button that shuts the whole thing down is also a nice touch, because let's face it: You've got all the aural entertainment you need on the other side of the firewall.
- There's a real time-warp feel to the Dodge Charger Daytona 392, and it's not just because it's stupid fast. As I turned onto a dirt road to get to the windmill, I kicked the rear end out in a nice, controlled slide before taking off in a cloud of dust. The 2018 car is obviously built for a different market, with different expectations than those of 1969—but dammit if the Charger didn't feel like a barnstorming good ol' boy as it bounced around. In that moment, it wasn't trying to be an ersatz track machine or a wannabe quarter-mile star. It just felt like a regular old car; one that wasn't designed primarily to fly across hard-packed dirt, sure, but one whose simple fundamentals make it (hilariously) capable in surprising situations.
2018 Dodge Charger Daytona 392: The Cons
- Unfortunately, this Dodge's retro charm is dinged somewhat by the acres of black pebble-textured plastic found inside. The dashboard has barely been touched since Obama's first term, and it shows in some pretty tragic ways. The blobby, curved rectangle motif is unfortunate, like some intermediary species found frozen in the fossil record. The seats are oddly hard and uncomfortable, considering how chunky they look. Some Daytona-only features do their best to bring it into the present: Alcantara inserts, a unique trim material called Carbonite, a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, and illuminated cupholders help a little. Still, it's a dated space.
- The non-adjustable Bilstein suspension on the Daytona 392 makes for a bumpy ride over bad pavement, which verges on sketchy at higher speeds. Mid-corner disturbances were especially noticeable; the back end feels loose for a split second before things settle down. It didn't herald a loss of control, or even close to that; it's more a reminder of the chaos happening underneath the cabin, something more-modern cars do a better job of cancelling out.
- I'm not going to complain about the fact that it gets an EPA-rated 15 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. I'm not even going to complain about how its real-world numbers around town aren't even close to that; you get what you sign up for with a 6.4-liter V8. But those 18.5 gallons are gone in a flash, and considering how the trunk isn’t that big compared to the full-sizers of yore, a slightly larger fuel tank option would be much appreciated.
- We mourn the decline of old-school sedans as buyers flock to crossovers and SUVs, but short of subjective taste, there's no real compelling reason for anyone to buy a Charger anymore. Compare it to the Dodge Durango, whose own SRT trim has been crowned the new family muscle car by the company's marketing department. If you don't absolutely love the three-box shape, why wouldn't you get more of everything in the Durango? The Charger Daytona 392 is always going to be something a vanity purchase, which doesn't bode well for its everyman roots going forward.
2018 Dodge Charger Daytona 392: Value
There are two ways to look at the value of the Dodge Charger Daytona 392. One is that it's a kind of a waste of money—there are a lot of cool things in the low-$40,000 range. It's kind of a sweet spot where you have some excellent upper-tier trims of cheaper cars like the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, or even a different kind of statement piece, like a Jeep Wrangler. That price point also collides with the lower rungs of premium brands like Audi and BMW, though that's a little apple-to-oranges. Point being, it's easy to argue you'd have to be a Mopar diehard to spring for one of these.
On the other hand, value itself is subjective. You can't buy any other four-door car with a 6.4-liter V8 at that price point. You can't buy any other vehicle that carries itself with the same confident lack of seriousness at that price point. And you can't find much else on four wheels period that celebrates the tradition of 20th Century American motoring like this car, warts and all. It's a surprisingly special ride in a workaday guise—and to me, that's the real value here.
The Bottom Line
The future might be wind power, or hydrogen, or maybe even cold fusion—but whatever it will be, chances are the Dodge Charger Daytona 392 isn't it. It remains to be seen what the next generation of the Charger/Challenger pair will look like—though rumor has it Fiat-Chrysler plans on another round of nips and tucks to the current platform, which would mean at least some similarities to the fire-breathing models we now enjoy. 50 years from now, that probably won't be the case. Those Chargers will be whooshing and whirring and beeping, and only the old-timers will remember the days when cars sounded like thunder.
Which is why the old Dodge Charger, the butt of many enthusiast jokes about dated platforms and doomed designs, deserves far more respect in its sunset years than it's currently receiving. It's not the fastest or the freshest, but it's a living link to the past...one that still happens to be a hell of a lot of fun in the present.