For a moment it’s like a remake of one of those scenes from “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” where Christie Brinkley’s Ferrari pulls alongside Chevy Chase’s family wagon, she flirts beautifully but wordlessly with him and then accelerates away. The difference here is that the pretty girl in the fully rollcaged sports car in the next lane is admiring “my” SRT Charger Super Bee, rather than its driver. Hmmm. That seems as good a reason as any to play it somewhat cooler than Chase’s character, Clark Griswold, and thus resist the urge to drag-race her. But, it’s good to smugly know that, had I gone for it, I’d have won the race, if not the girl. Having 470 horsepower at your disposal, paradoxically, leaves you without the need to prove it all the time.
A couple days later, at a gas station, there’s a guy who can’t tear his eyes away from the Super Bee. The black spoiler and trunk stripe, and the matte black panels on the hood do add an extra something to the Charger’s already distinctive and aggressive lines. Eventually he strolls over to talk engines and I feel obliged to pop the hood and show him the 392 cu. in. Hemi underneath. He’s suitably impressed. Later, I mentally run through a list of current production cars under $100,000 that might have elicited a similar response from any bystander, and I can’t get beyond five and two of those are other SRT models with the same engine!
What these two incidents highlight is that the Super Bee is for car people. Were RACER a full-time street car magazine with a vast array of new automobiles from which to choose each evening, I’m willing to bet that this Charger would never be left in the parking lot overnight. It’s a vehicle you wish to drive as far and as often as possible, knowing you can have fun as the roads open up, but knowing it’ll be comfortable, docile and stress-free once you hit traffic.
The Super Bee follows the same policy as the Core models of the Challenger and Chrysler 300, removing some of the extras from the SRT Charger premium model, such as sat-nav, leather seats and adjustable dampers in order to offer the same extreme pace at an even better value price. The result is a five-seater that has a 0-60mph time of well under five seconds and a top speed of 175mph in theory, yet is blessed with an MSRP under $45k
Bare figures don’t, however, convey the extreme ease with which the Super Bee achieves this level of performance. Sure, its peak power output is achieved at 6,000rpm, but the Hemi sounds rhapsodic and unburstable at these revs. OK, so I’m a glutton for this kind of kidney-punching power delivery, but every time I drop to second gear just to feel and hear the 392 cu. in. unit at full force, any passenger with me makes comments along the lines of, “Damn, that sounds good: do it again!” Don’t get that in a Prius, do ya?
But I’d still say it’s the aforementioned dual personality that makes this car such good value for money. It may look and move like a hardcore sports sedan, but it gives up little in the way of comfort. Deleting the adjustable suspension hasn’t hurt the SRT Charger in day-to-day use, since that’s more about having a rock-hard setting for using the car on track days or on roads that are as smooth as a pool table neither of which are going to form a large percentage of a Charger’s mileage. What’s left is a car that rides well, and if it can’t isolate the cabin occupants from scrappy pavement to quite the same degree as the 300 SRT, it compensates with sportier handling than its more opulent brother, and definitely feels lighter on its wheels.In fact, the Super Bee kicks its heels like a spring lamb, begging you to have fun with it in turns, its rear end ready to move around when you’re hard on the gas on corner exits. Certainly the traction control feels like it’s working quite hard when you’re in the wet. Switch off TC in the wet or dry, though, and get ready for some old-school muscle-car hooliganism and, reassuringly, the car’s behavior remains consistent whether the driver is alone, or transporting three substantial passengers plus luggage. Trust me, not every car with the same interior space as the Charger can claim to be so unaffected by full utilization of its capacity.
Interestingly and I believe this true of Challenger SRTs, too it seems like these Core models have a little more steering feel dialed into their rack-and-pinion systems than their more luxurious counterparts, which is befitting of a harder core variation. Same applies to bucket seats that are cloth rather than leather. In the Super Bee, these are adorned with appropriate logos that echo the badging on the outside, and a little goggle-wearing bombus even flits across the dashboard dials on startup. Is this endearing or overly cutesy? Hmm, I’ll get back to you on that one.
It does, however, emphasize again that Hemi-powered Chargers are supposed to be fun, which is an increasingly difficult quality to find in big cars these days. This year in Indianapolis, Hertz randomly upgraded me to a car from a high-quality marque and I was astounded at how unimpressive it was. I won’t name and shame because there’s always “the rental factor” to consider. But with only 3,000 miles on the odometer, it surely wasn’t several months with uncaring drivers that gave this wretched vehicle its lifeless and light steering, its noisy engine and its tardy throttle response which only added to the gearbox’s confusion over which ratio it should be in. Driving a modern car like the SRT Charger Super Bee is reassuring, a reminder that there are still enthusiasts making enthusiasts’ cars that can be used every day and at a reasonable price.
A couple of days before I return the Super Bee to its rightful custodians, I find myself in a large crowd of classic cars making their way toward some cruise-in nearby, and I pull up at a set of stoplights next to a ’73 Plymouth Duster. Aside from being in the middle of a cosmetic restoration, and thus with primer on its front fender, it looks very complete and as if its owner has every intention of keeping it original. I roll down my window and holler across, “Great car!” and the 60-something driver turns, smiles and murmurs his thanks. I ask him how long he’s had it and he says, “Since new.” Then he notices the Charger and adds, “You’ve got a great car there. Look after it.”
(Sophisticated banter, I know.) But as the lights change and these Mopar classics, separated by 40 years, rumble off on their separate ways, I realize something that the Plymouth driver has known for four decades. Automotive charisma is something that can be bought, and it can be bought brand-new, at a reasonable price and without necessitating compromises from the car’s owner.
This will be much on my mind when it’s time to put my own money down for a new car.
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