CC’s Best of 2023: Rental Review & Musings: 2023 Dodge Charger SXT — End of the Line

I hadn’t actually intended to write up this particular rental car/travel adventure.  Rather, I just documented the car photographically as I do many rental cars; and I had a few pictures in mind to use in something I am slowly working on putting together about modern car ergonomics.  But then I was looking at the rest of the pictures I took during this trip and it occurred to me that I’d managed to capture what will probably be my last ride in a new Mopar car, in what may be its best natural environment.  That seems worth writing about.

It was nearly a year ago when I wrote a post about hoping that someday travel would get back to normal for me.  At the end of that, I mentioned that somewhere in the future might be a trip to what is very nearly the geographical center of the U.S.  Actually I meant about 200 miles up and to the left of there — Norfolk, NE.

Well, that happened, and I had a wonderful time meeting some truly great people/colleagues.  Plus there’s a car story to boot.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Since I am now a Norfolk booster (as will become abundantly clear throughout this article), I have to note that the proper pronunciation of “Norfolk” is not the same as the city in VA but rather “Nor-Fork”.  Because that’s what the founders — a group of German Lutherans who were fleeing the “over crowded” hinterlands of Wisconsin in 1866 — intended when they settled on the North Fork (get it?) of the Elkhorn River in Nebraska.  I have to guess that these particular Lutherans were not familiar with Virginia and so maybe were ultimately surprised to find that their new town shared the name of another place with a different pronunciation.

Actually, this happens all of time.  Or it did, back before the Internet. Back when you had to go find some giant book to see maps of another place and may never meet or hear someone who could pronounce the names of the places you mighta coulda found in that book.  It’s not as if you could just call those people up and ask them or listen to them on YouTube or TikTok or something. Telegraphs don’t do a particularly good job of demonstrating actual pronunciation.

Anyway, Norfolk’s founders blithely proceeded to believe that they’d named their town “Norfork” until contact with the outside world indicated that there was another place incorporated 160 years earlier that had the same name, pronounced differently.  Since then, they’ve benefited from the natural conversation starter (unless the individual Norfolker is too polite) of correcting people who call Norfork, Norfolk.

Hey, I’m totally in these people’s camp, being someone who is constantly being told by friends and associates that the popular songs from my youth do not actually contain the lyrics that only I hear.  (Yes, there’s nothing that a million men on Mars will ever do that can take me away from you…  Geeze, there’s a website for everything, no?)  Anyhow, back to our story…

At the airport in Omaha last week, I found myself behind the wheel of a brand new (6900 miles on the odometer) 2023 Dodge Charger SXT, rear wheel drive version.

This was a rental car after all, so it was the most basically optioned stripper version of the least expensive car.  It had the minimalist “Houndstooth Cloth” seats and the 8.4″ touch screen entertainment package.

Can I just say that “Entertainment Package” always seems a much more promising a term than what actually presents? I hear that phrase and I’m expecting something that vibrates or somehow incorporates clowns or exotic dancers…or at least mints.  None of which came with my SXT. In fact, the rental car/fleet package even managed to delete the sunroof.  So if one were able to find and purchase this particular SXT, they’d expect a sticker price of around $32,500 (the all wheel drive version is about $3,500 more). From the looks of things at this moment, you could probably argue-down the dealer for an even better deal. Dodge is currently advertising $1000 incentives.

This car came in what’s called “TorRed”.  When I selected “Charger” from the various choices presented in my Avis app and found the car in space A28 at OMA, I was initially a bit worried about the bright red color and thought for a moment about rejecting the selection.  I used to have a “thing” about speeding tickets, and a bright red car back in those days would have been exactly what I did not need to be driving on flat, straight, roads.  But then I remembered that I’m a geezer now and that’s not an issue.

So, onward.

Onward turns out not to be difficult in Nebraska.  Even in the rolling hills of east and north-central Nebraska, the roads are remarkably flat to a New Englander like me.  I am told that it gets considerably flatter in more western portions of the state. I can’t wait to see that.  Maybe next year.

In fact, I’ve had a non-work-related trip to Nebraska and the Badlands of South Dakota on tap for several years now.  The fact that I wound up in this general vicinity for work is coincidental. The non-work trip is to go with a couple of friends to visit the vast fossil beds in that part of the country.  Nebraska is an area rich in easily accessible fossils.  The majority of these are from the Oligocene (34 million to 23 million years ago), Miocene (23 million to 5.3 million years ago) and into the Pliocene (which ended about 2.6 million years ago).  About 2 million years ago, “something” drove about 70% of Nebraska’s mammal population into extinction.  Presumably just leaving the cows (which from what I can tell quickly filled in the gap).  Increasingly, science believes that this “something” was a massive dose of radiation from several close-to-Earth supernovae. They blew a huge hole in our ozone layer and the rest was (pre)history.

Something to think about.

Fabulous mural of Nebraska Savannah, Late Oligocene to Early Miocene (24.8 to 20.6 million years ago) by Jay Matternes, 1961 NMNH.


But before things got all radioactive, it looks like it was quite the party on the plains about 20 million years ago.  In fact, aside from a distinct lack of giant camels, horned gophers and hippos, I’d say that the landscape of Eastern Nebraska looks quite similar today as it did in the Miocene.

Which brings us back to the 2023 Charger and how at some point in the past this car would have probably blended into the crowd of other American four-door, rear wheel drive, sedans (aside from the TorRed coloring) like a camel/bear-dog/tapir on the plains…but now it’s the end of the line for this creature, and so it’s remarkable.

As several CC commenters had promised, I did indeed discover modern and functional Sinclair gas stations out there in the Heartland. Very cool.


Yes, one might say dinosaur (which is a whole different geologic age, but as this is not Geology Classic, we’re not going there).

Marking the end of 57 years and seven generations of Charger, Dodge has called 2023 the end-of-the-line for conventional ICE-powered Chargers.  In fact, Dodge has a special-edition “Last Call” range of Chargers available in 2023 to honor the last year of production.

Last Call edition cars come with these badges under the hood.  Oh, and Hemi V8s.  All of which would be much too exotic and entertaining for my pedestrian rental Charger which got along just fine with its 3.6 liter V6. Although I probably wouldn’t have complained loudly if Avis had decided to offer one of the Last Call cars.  That would be a whole other article I suppose.  Instead, what I got and you’re getting here is a discourse on the pleasure of driving what turned out to be a refreshingly retro American car with features that one might have taken for granted not very long ago, but which seem surprisingly rare now in a new car.

Take this instrument panel.  Analog gauges, regardless of the fact that the one on the right is a bit redundant. I never actually looked at it since the info it presented was also announced in big digits in the display between the gauges.  I suspect that if I’d bothered to look into the owner’s manual (it’s rare that I don’t read the manual in a rental car, but for the most part it wasn’t necessary to read up on how to operate this particular car), I could have figured out how to change the central information on that display.  I’d do this if it were mine.  As it was, it was fine.  The info on what gear you’re in is a bit squashed on the right and largely unnecessary, as I find all dashboard displays of gear selected to be.  It was nice to see the little indication of which of the 8 forward gears I was in.  Being used to only 6 in my own car, having 2 more seemed extra special.  I only wish it had gone up to 11.

One of the things that I very much liked about this base level Charger was that it did not have any of the lane-minding, flashing, beeping stuff that seems to be necessary on nearly every rental car I get nowadays.  Perhaps I’m a Luddite, but I have spent 45 years behind the wheel and have kind of gotten used to using the steering wheel, mirrors, and my albeit imperfect rotating head to watch blind spots.  Adding something that beeps at me and shakes the wheel until I figure out why it’s doing that and then how to turn it off is actually more distracting than helpful to me.  No disrespect if you like those features and I’m sure that all cars will have them soon enough, but it was nice to drive something brand new that didn’t even offer the option and therefore didn’t require me to figure out how to turn it off.

If one were purchasing their own 2023 Charger, you could get all of those things in a $1900 “Technology Group” option package.  I would expect that most Chargers on dealer lots probably have that package.  Just not the stripped rental version I had in Nebraska.

One piece of technology that I do enjoy in a rental car is smartphone – CarPlay in my case – integration.  The Charger implemented this in a surprisingly easy to use, non-obtrusive way.  Instead of putting its entertainment/HVAC/informational displays on a ginormous LCD (like a particularly silly Kia I had recently), the Charger gave me a pretty svelte 8.4″ screen nicely plopped where a radio should be.  This makes the dash look like a car’s dash should.

Man, this is sounding more like “Old Man Yells at Cloud” by the moment.

So, I like my touch screens, but at least until I develop those really old guy sausage fingers (technically known as “dactylitis“…your challenge today is to use that word in the course of conversation), I’m fine with pressing on something that doesn’t extend the entire width of the dash.

The touch screen could also be switched to display the HVAC controls, although this too was redundant.

That’s because just below the screen were perfectly serviceable buttons and a knob that would do whatever you could get by jabbing away at a screen.  The same was true actually for the radio, which had a nice set of knobs and buttons. My overall impression was that in this car the digital stuff was a kind of unnecessary add-on to fully functional analog controls and information sources.  I don’t know if this would ultimately start to bother me if I had to live with it as my own, but at least on a rental it was nice to experience a car that didn’t depend on having screens in order to operate its basic functions.  In short, the Charger had a refreshingly (to me) simple human-machine interface.  This is something that I don’t think is easily found on many “things” (including cars) created in the past decade or so.

This simple interface stuff extended to another area that increasingly represents a pet peeve to me…the transmission selection control or shifter.  The Charger offered P-R-N-D (no L, but really, how often do you use that anyway…in a modern car?) and a simple button on the side.  That button was in the perfect place to be depressed by your thumb when pulling the lever out of Park.  I intend to write a whole separate article (that will be Old Man Yells at WEATHER) about how confusing – and I contend, dangerous – some shifters are nowadays.  Suffice to say at the moment that this Charger’s shifter was entirely logical, fully integrated without flappy paddles or console buttons, and without drama.

All in all, the Charger seemed smooth, logically controlled and rather well-built.  That last quality of course can’t really be evaluated on a car with under 7,000 miles on the clock. But at least there were no weird rattles, odd pulling motions, or anything plastic flying around the cabin…yet. Maybe the only downside was that I did sort of feel at times like I was driving a police car given the black slightly rubbery interior, and the fact that Chargers also seem to be the police cars of choice in the parts of Nebraska I visited. I did see them pretty much everywhere. I thought about parking next to the police version — for a photo opp — that was at one of the high schools I was visiting. But I was a bit pressed for time and I guessed that typically police officers may not be so keen on impromptu photo opps.

The Charger impressed me as something of an automotive blast from the past that I was glad – and somewhat surprised – to have experienced in a brand new car. Albeit a brand new car that will no longer be available after this year.  It will soon be gone just like nearly every other American car in this class/category. Yes, I know that term needs to be used generously and loosely, given that this car was built in Canada and probably contains parts from the 4 corners of the world.  Nevertheless, as far as domestic offerings from the Big 3, what’s left after 2023 is the Chevy Malibu (also popular in rental fleets), Mustang, and Corvette.  Of these, the Malibu and lower level Mustangs probably have the most in common with this low-trim Charger.  Other than those two cars, after this year, apparently you’ll have to find something other than a domestic offering (for what that’s worth) if you want to drive a car that at one time was as common on U.S. roads as camels were in Nebraska in the Miocene.

Take my word for it, there were a lot of camels in Nebraska in the Miocene.

Perhaps my feelings of automotive nostalgia were especially keen given that I was after all in the hometown of another American icon of days gone by, Johnny Carson. Johnny’s presence is all over Norfolk, ranging from this huge mural in the center of downtown, to his well-preserved boyhood home, to an information and artifact-filled exhibit at the local museum, to the theater named after him at the local high school.  I will bet that the high school students in Norfolk represent about 90% of all people in the U.S. under that age of 21 who know who “Johnny Carson” is.  Oh well.  Another thing that makes Norfolk special.

For those readers interested in seeing even more Johnny in Nebraska, there’s this “special” where he goes home to Norfolk and interacts with people such as his 100 year old former English teacher. “Special”. There’s another word that used to mean something in TV, but doesn’t anymore in an age where there are no “regularly-scheduled programs” and everything is special.  Anyway, there are some nice shots of Johnny in his dad’s (then his and now Jay Leno’s) 1939 Chrysler driving around Norfolk.

I too am looking forward to returning to Nebraska. I’ll be back, although if it’s next year, I won’t be driving a Charger as those will have cycled out of the rental fleet and I’ll probably wind up in something with a giant LCD panel like what I usually get.

If I’m lucky though, I’ll still be able to catch next year’s FFA (Future Farmers of America) week festivities at at least one of my schools.  Because Friday’s “Drive Tractor to School” day definitely seems worth planning to see.  At least for a city/suburban/motorized equipment guy like me.

Oh, and I also need to find a way to be in Omaha on Soap Box Derby day.

This city has a well-maintained dedicated Derby track.  I spied it while driving into town and went back specifically to photograph it before heading to the airport.  How cool is that?

Yeah, pretty cool.