Likely even casual movies fans can tell you that the car Steve McQueen drove in the famous car chase scene in the movie Bullitt was a Ford Mustang Fastback.
The car was as big a star in that scene as McQueen himself.
Less than four years on the market when the movie was released in 1968, it has become an automotive icon, seemingly as popular now as when it was introduced as a 1964 1/2 model.
But it takes two to make a chase. The other vehicle in what is still regarded as the gold standard of movie car chase scenes was a Dodge Charger.
The Charger (driven in the movie by stuntman Bill Hickman with actor Paul Henge as the gunman) was just going into its second generation in 1968, which is when it became the Muscle Car that Mopar aficionados know and love.
Its first couple of years, the Charger had been little more than a rebadged Coronet sedan with a two doors and a fastback roof.
But for 1968, Dodge gave the Charger an aggressive stance, a wide-nosed front end that looked like it is getting ready to swallow up anything that dared get in its way, and a sleek, distinctive profile that gave the impression it was slicing through the air, not bullying its way through it.
With the changes, the Charger was a big hit, and that success carried over to the 1970s when it even got its own starring role as General Lee in the television show The Dukes of Hazzard.
The Charger and Catherine Bach’s denim cutoff shorts carried the show for seven seasons before it ended in 1985. It’s probably just coincidence, but two years after the TV show ended so, too, did the Chargers’ run.
After a 19-year production hiatus, Dodge revived the Charger nameplate in 2006, though as a four-door sedan, not the traditional two-door coupe. But it still had the same rear-wheel drive and aggressive, bold styling that keyed its success in the late 1960s and ’70s.
The 2006 Charger was offered in three trim levels, including two with the kind of V8 power that made the Charger a NASCAR champion three times in the 1970s, twice with Richard Petty behind the wheel.
For 2012, the number of trim levels has gone up to five. Two, the SE ($25,495) and the SXT ($28,495), are equipped with a V6 engine rated at 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, which is enough pop to satisfy most drivers.
They also are the most fuel efficient of the bunch, especially the SXT. With an eight-speed automatic transmission as standard, the SXT is rated at 19 mph city, 31 highway compared to the 16/25 with the five-speed SE.
Three models with V8s are available, including the SRT8 with a 6.4-liter HEMI under the hood. The Superbee ($41,495) is essentially the same as the SRT8 ($45,795) but without some of the standard features of the latter, such as adaptive suspension, xenon headlights, steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, etc.
The HEMI pumps out 470 hp and 470 lb.-ft of torque, which will move you from zero-to-60 mph in under five seconds. Both come with a five-speed automatic transmission and mileage figures of 14/23).
In between the HEMI and the V6 is the R/T ($29,995). It has has a 5.7 liter V8 rated at 370 hp and 395 lb.-ft. of torque and is mated with a five-speed automatic. Mileage figures are 16 mpg city, 25 highway.
By going with a sedan configuration when the company brought it back, the Charger has become more suitable for a family car with more space inside for passengers and a trunk capacity of 15.5 cubic feet.
Designers did make one concession to the Charger’s coupe heritage by slanting the roofline, which makes the profile a bit sleeker but does take away from some of the backseat headroom. Legroom, however, is not compromised.
One major improvement is in the upgraded interior. You won’t be mistaking it for the leather-encased cabins of ultra-luxury imports from Europe, but the Charger’s interior ambiance measures up very well. The key will be how it holds up over the years. Interiors of some of the non-luxury domestic models simply have not managed that well in the past.
All the necessary controls for audio, climate, and optional navigation are intuitive to operate and within easy reach of the driver, but there is one annoyance. To get the transmission from Park or Neutral into Reverse, Drive, or Sport mode, the driver must not only depress the brake pedal but also push a button on the top of the gear shift lever before it will move. Not sure what safety benefit is gained there and it becomes a pain after a while.
The Charger has been updated with technology such as satellite radio and Garmin-based navigation, but doesn’t overwhelm you when it comes to the operation of such gee-whiz features. The navigation screen, which also serves as a monitor to perform other functions such as the radio and climate control, is a nice and big 8.4 inches, making it easy to read at a glance.
With its bold, aggressive styling, the Charger may not appeal to the usual family sedan buyer. But someone in the market for a sedan that offers a bit more in the driving experience, the Charger could be a good fit. Even with a V6, it’s a solid performer in the Muscle Car mode.