V8 sedans hold a certain power over us. In fact, I distinctly remember the moment it captured my father — a man borderline allergic to using the throttle. We were on a road trip through the New Mexico desert in a rented Ford Crown Victoria. Dad made a comment about the power under the hood, and my brother, being my brother, immediately asked what any child approaching the ripe old age of 10 might ask under the circumstances:
“Can it do 100?”
It took only a brief experiment to establish that it could.
I know; you came here expecting “****-you”-fast Dodge Chargers and you’re getting quaint anecdotes about gussied-up taxi cabs. Don’t worry. You’re in the right place. And in my defense, a Dodge Charger and a Crown Victoria have quite a bit in common — medallioned service not the least among them. Both also stuck around for quite a while by industry standards, but that’s a contest the Panther platform wins by a (smooth, pleasant) country mile.
But if Ford wins on longevity, certainly Stellantis (or FCA, Chrysler or Daimler-Chrysler; pick your iteration) takes the cake for sheer diversity of offerings. This is so core to Mopar’s brand identity in fact that the Charger and Challenger got not merely one send-off model, but an entire portfolio of them. But as verbose as some of these are, none will ever top my favorite. Say it out loud with me just one more time: “Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody Daytona 50th Anniversary Edition.” That’s it. Follow the bouncing ball if you must; it’s a mouthful.
In this case, however, Dodge has sent us a “mere” Charger Jailbreak — a mercifully concise designation in traditionally verbose company. Counterintuitively, though, it denotes the model with perhaps the most extensive option list. The name “Jailbreak” itself comes from the notion of unlocking an iPhone and bypassing its factory limitations … and not busting people out of Folsom.
That’s a decidedly contemporary namesake for such a terminally anachronistic machine, but the reality is less smartphone than smart money. In this case, you’re effectively unlocking the Charger’s cosmetic option sheet. The Jailbreak can be had in virtually any paint code and interior color available in the 2023 Charger catalog, along with any set of wheels that will clear the Widebody’s chunky, two-piece brake rotors.
For all of the images that conjures of a bespoke Charger, the result here is fairly mundane. Sure, it’s a Redeye-spec Hellcat Widebody in one of my favorite finishes ever, Plum Crazy, but its black and grey interior isn’t exactly setting the world aflame, even if the whole thing isgarnished with some Brass Monkey “Devil’s Rim” wheels. It’s just not an outlandish combination by Mopar standards. If anything, it’s a bit tame, but it’s not ugly.
One thing the Charger has done consistently (and well) for the better part of the past two decades is look cool. Even the base models had road presence back in the mid-aughts and the V8-powered R/T was downright sinister. Perhaps the only thing cooler on the road in 2005 was the Chrysler 300C. What a time for Chrysler design.
Charisma is powerful. Even 18 years later, the Charger still has it — and I mean that in every sense of “it.” This car makes more of a scene sitting in a driveway than some enthusiast staples would at full lock on the Tail of the Dragon.
When I moved to Detroit to start this job, I had a six-speed 2013 Challenger SRT8 finished in Plum Crazy with black stripes. It was big and loud and like any extroverted Mopar, it made friends everywhere it went. It was an amazing machine from which to sightsee in the American Midwest. The Auto mode of its rudimentary three-mode adaptive suspension was a lifesaver, and in Sport it was competent enough to carve up the occasional wide meanders that middle America calls corners. But as a so-called driver’s car, it left quite a bit to be desired.
This Charger is wider, longer, heavier and a Hell(cat) of a lot more powerful than my 392 was. It’s a lot nicer inside too, but my butt and shoulders can’t be fooled; those old seat frames still lurk under the fresh, smooth leather. But despite the upgrade over my rather drab interior, this cabin truly feels its age. In a recent podcast, I said it feels a bit like a dressed-up taxi. That may sound harsh as the average livery car isn’t specced like this one, but a look at the dash might make you think otherwise.
Some will tell you it’s because Dodge dealers will write financing for anybody whose FICO score comes back higher than their blood alcohol content, but I suspect that biting sarcasm is at least in part driven by accumulated bewilderment at just how much of the mainstream V8 market Mopar managed to carve out. This despite endless retreads of an aging platform that wasn’t particularly impressive to begin with. To enthusiasts, it makes no objective sense that the Chevy SS ended up a footnote in the Charger’s legacy any more than it made sense to see the Challenger lose so often on Sunday, so to speak, only to relentlessly outperform the Camaro on Monday.
Credit where it’s due: Dodge identified and cultivated its audience, from Jon Reep’s signature inquiry (back when Rams were still Dodges) to the Brotherhood of Muscle, its marketing team went after the customer who wanted the biggest, loudest, proudest, most ridiculously attention-grabbing machine their money could buy, and they signed up in droves. And then, critically, Dodge found ways to keep making its cars bigger.
The first step was SRT-8, which brought us the 6.1-liter Hemi. Admittedly, the first iteration of each of the three LX platform SRT-8s was lukewarm at best. Of them, the 300C was perhaps the most coherent and the Magnum the most desirable (at least with the benefit of hindsight), but even Dodge’s first go at the Challenger SRT-8 was pitiful. It was the only one offered with the six-speed and none of them had a limited-slip differential; the Challenger gained it later in its run; the others either died (RIP Magnum) or had to wait for the next big round of changes.
Those updates accompanied the introduction of the 6.4-liter Hemi, aka the 392. Again, bigger. Then came the Hellcat. Then Demon. Scat Pack. Redeye. Widebody. More, bigger, faster, meaner. Dodge ignored our calls for lighter, smaller platforms and lighter, smaller engines in favor of leaner, smarter budgets. The Hemi worked. Its iron block made it sturdy, ready for more power — ready to go bigger.
“Downsize,” we’d say.
“Make us,” we’d hear.
But with what leverage? Our eyes were on the lap times; theirs were on the sales numbers. And every time Dodge pumped a bit more air into its SRT models, money fell out. Hey, if you had a V8 that could do that, you’d keep it around as long as possible, too.
But even if your customers don’t care that your cars are dated, longevity has its costs. For starters, ubiquity and simplicity are two qualities coveted as much by thieves as by DIYers. God help you if you live someplace where street racing or takeovers are popular. In some parts of the country, parking an underinsured Mopar in your driveway could be worse for your finances than an unplanned weekend in Vegas. In fact, nobody will be more thrilled to see the Charger and its siblings die off than Stellantis Corporate Security.
And then there’s the political climate. Stellantis gambled bigly on a Trump victory in 2020 and lost, putting its V8s square in the sights of an EPA looking to make up for lost regulatory progress and putting Stellantis in the awkward position of having literally nothing in its product pipeline to replace the Charger and Challenger. That wouldn’t matter so much if Mopar’s big twins were only selling in Chevy SS or Camaro numbers, but that’s not the case. The two combined for 143,134 sales in 2022 — 72% of Dodge’s entire volume. Ahem. Welcome to Townplaceville Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram-Maserati-Remington. What can we do to put you in a Hornet today? Or however you ask that in Italian.
More than anything, what the Mopar V8 portfolio proved is that while magazine racers may be clamoring for American offerings that can stand proudly with the best of Europe, the people who actually buy cars aren’t. Did Dodge even once try to market the Charger as a Mercedes in a Lions jersey? Absolutely not. If anything, they were too busy trying to scrape the “Made in Canada” stickers off the underbody.
But even those of us who wanted Dodge to try harder had to acknowledge the pure charm of these ponderous, rip-snorting monstrosities — their magnetism powerful enough that time and again we were willing to overlook low-rent interiors and middling performance figures, especially in the face of competition that had a lot less power to work with.
The reimagined Charger’s first act will be a tough one to follow. Can a turbo-six and electrification fill the void left by the Hemi in all its ridiculous permutations? In some ways, it seems impossible. But remember: the original Charger was never a four-door, either. Different isn’t always worse. Still, these sounds? We’ll miss ‘em.