Cars, Culture, and the Modern World

Sophia Relph is a mechanical engineer who researches fluid mechanics by day, and writes about cars by night. This blog intends to not only explore the physical and mechanical nature of automobiles, but to investigate their cultural significance and the meaning they impart as texts and works of art.

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More Charger thoughts

Word count: 815 (~5 minutes), Last modified: Tue, 26 Feb 2019 17:07:34 GMT

I realized after finishing my review of the 2019 Dodge Charger that there were a few ideas that I hadn't fully completed when writing that review. I think the Charger is a car that really relies on how it is perceived, not by car enthusiasts or experts, but by literally anybody. The significance of cars in American popular and material culture focuses itself towards the biggest car you can possibly get for your money. It took basically every American car manufacturer years to accept that Americans want large cars that give the illusion of being a citadel from which you can watch the world pass by. This explains the popularity of crossovers and SUVs.

SUVs aren't competitive for handling, acceleration, efficiency, visibility, or even offroad capabilities. A normal car will do nearly all of these things better. What really sells SUVs more than anything else, is control. SUVs sell control. They sell control over the circumstances around you, and an SUV driver is made to feel that their car, by virute of its size, weight, engine power, and indulgent excess, exerts subconscious power over everyone else on the road. SUVs make people feel safe, because when you're insulated from the world by two tons of steel, a beefy engine, and a suspension that completely isolates you from the road, how could you not feel safe?

So Americans love cars that tell us that we're in control, and that everything will be fine, and that if a problem comes your way, you just run it over, or scare it into crawling back into the Yaris it came from. (no slight against the Yaris is intended.) The Charger, in many ways, is similar to an SUV. It compromises on mileage for incredible comfort, massive power and acceleration, easy driving, and an inescapable feeling of weight and importance. The Charger is one of not very many cars that anybody will say is a Good Car.

So perhaps more than anything else about it, the Charger ends up being a muscle car more on a cultural basis than on a physical or mechanical one. The Charger is a performance car that works for people who don't really like driving, but also for people who don't know much about cars. The word "vee-eight" still carries weight in 2019. Tell your dad your Charger has a V8. There's a 90% chance he'll say "that's a good car." The Charger has become a cultural icon: you see about as many of them as you see STis or BRZ/FR-S/86s. People love the Charger. By personality alone, it has achieved muscle car status, because it's become more than just a car.

I don't want to say that Americans specifically are bad at driving, but we might not be too great at it. But with a Charger, anyone can be that baller with 300 horses under his hood. Anyone can be that guy with a loud exhaust and a low car with big wheels who everyone outwardly hates, but secretly envies just slightly, because when was the last time you put your foot all the way to the floor in your Blazer? The Charger, with its easy driving and its deep, confident exhaust note, makes whoever drives it into not just a guy with a Charger, but into a guy with a muscle car. With the muscle car. You don't have to like driving, or even be too good at it, to get clout at car meets and approving looks from 370Z drivers. You can hang with the big guys, in a car that's no harder to drive than a minivan. And that's not a bad thing! Car culture should be accessible-we shouldn't laugh at the person who pulls up to a meet in a beater Elantra, just as we shouldn't laugh at the person who pulls up in a car that makes them feel good and does everything they want it to do. Not everything has to be modded, and not everything has to have a manual gearbox.

The Charger, with its standard V6 and optional V8, is a car whose design is straight out of pre-emissions, pre-oil crisis Detroit. Not because it is primitive, but rather, the Charger is built around exactly the same design philosophy that made "classic" American cars of the late 1960s. Make it comfortable, make it easy to drive, make it practical enough to justify to the husband, and give it the meatiest motor you can. Give the designers of the 1968 Dodge Dart modern technology and they'd make the 2019 Charger.

Is the Charger a good car? That ultimately depends on whether you respect the narrative it sells. The narrative of the Charger is one of classically American confidence, blind optimism, and extravagance. Our cars become monuments, citadels, and weapons, because that's what they mean to us.

I hope this was coherent. Thanks for reading.