Let’s face it: While the first-generation Dodge Charger was a hoot at the drag strip and carried five comfortably, the interior needed improving and the handling left something to be de sired. Still, it had character, and people loved it. Fast-forward five years, and the second-generation 2010 car delivered many improvements. Not only was it fast, the Dodge Charger was refined. Comfortable soft-touch interiors, sophisticated electrical architecture, brilliant handling and wonderful VOs-inspired styling. … For the entire Chrysler Group, it marked the beginning of a product revolution. It was that good.

Yet time marches on. Here we are a bit more than three years later; Dodge has debuted the latest full-sized LX-platform Charger. Even with its radical styling changes, this car is no longer about fixing what’s broken. Instead, it’s making the good even better, with engineers flexing their muscles when it comes to manufacturing quality, performance tuning and interior refinement. They also added the SRT Hellcat, with an optional 707-hp supercharged Hemi V8. More on that later.

THE BASICS: The second-gen unibody was designed to last through this model’s production life, but improvements were possible. Program Manager Alison Rahm has been with Chrysler for nine years working in various program-management areas, with her last position the lead engineer for interior.

At this project’s start, she laid down the challenge to totally improve the car but still maintain weight targets.

One big change, and the most significant weight savings, came with the rear differential and drive axles. The old cast-iron diff was tossed for an all-aluminum design; it isn’t just 10 pounds lighter but also ties the two sides of the drive-shaft tunnel together with four mounting points. The axles are also now aluminum, and in an effort to improve driveline lash under hard acceleration, much-smoother CV joints replace the U-joints on each end. “Putting the four-point mounts and the CV joints in took out a lot of the lash and a lot of the clunks customers might notice. It’s a much more refined experience,” she said.

The whole Charger model range now has an eight-speed TorqueFlite transmission standard. There are four different iterations,- a standard eightspeed for the base V6, the slick transmission-plus-differential version for all-wheel-drive V6 models, the high-torque version for the Hemi and the hardened transmission designed to withstand the Hellcat. The new transmissions required retuning the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and Hemi V8s. The V6 maintains its output at 292 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, while achieving 31-mpg fuel economy. The 5.7 liter Hemi V8 delivers 370 hp and a stout 395 lb-ft of torque. Stepping up to the 6.4-liter HEMI gets a power bump from 470 hp to 485 hp just through a software improvement. “We have new calibrations to work with the new drivelines, but from an output perspective customers can expect the similar power, same performance but with better refinement and improved fuel economy,” said Rahm.

“We’re seeing a lot of volume go to the V6 with all-wheel-drive, and so [for] 2015 we’ve optimized that package with the eight-speed, and it’s a really good car,” said Rahm. (The V6 and AWD are now available on SE and SXT models.) “The transfer case is built into the transmission and it has a clutched disconnect so you’re not always in all-wheel-drive mode, but you get good fuel efficiency driving the rear wheels most of the time. The system—based on some very specific inputs like temperature, windshield-wiper settings or whether the electronic stability control is kicking in—can determine if the car needs to put itself into all-wheel drive and just does it on its own, and then will disconnect when it’s no longer needed.”

A switch from hydraulic steering to electronic power-assisted steering (EPAS) is another new item under the skin. Electronic steering has long been a controversial feature for many automakers, mostly because it has a reputation for killing steering feel, clearly something chassis engineers did not want. Thus the Charger uses Continental’s latest and greatest system, able to deliver the traditional steering feel drivers expect while helping improve fuel economy. “We were able to design it for lower torque input in parking-lot situations, versus highway speeds when you want a firmer feel,” said Rahm. “There are three modes, too— comfort, normal and sport—so you can set it up how you like it.”

So, adding EPAS let the chassis team play with steering feel and aggressiveness. SRT chassis development engineer Erich Heuschele said, “We’re very happy with this EPAS system; the supplier got a lot of inertia out of the system so we don’t have the same muddy feeling as older systems. You can actually feel the road, and I’m very happy with how it turned out. On the SRT 392, sport mode is probably where most of us would want to keep it. Street is great for highway cruising; you don’t have to fight road crown or cross wind. Track mode just feels completely over the top on the street, but as soon as you start kicking it around the track, it feels right.”

EPAS also means Charger can now offer advanced safety features the previous car didn’t have. When optioned properly your Charger can have forward collision warning-plus, adaptive cruise control-plus with full stop and lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist. The system is even smart enough to bring the car to a complete stop by itself in a case where the driver can’t.