Dodge introduced the 1982 Charger in the summer of '81, and it was the first with a front-engine and front-wheel-drive system. Unlike its predecessors, which offered big V-8s under the hood, this one was just a four-banger aiming at the European sport-compact coupes such as the Renault 17 or the Volkswagen Scirocco. But the big carmaker was in deep financial troubles, and it needed a car to sell in high volumes, and the former gas-guzzlers just couldn't do that, especially with another oil crisis in the public memory.
It looked was a hatchback designed on the newer standards with a wedged-shape bodywork. At the front, it featured rectangular headlights in individual clusters and a narrow grille between them, between the hood and the bumper. A wrapped-around plastic bumper that respected the 5-mph rule was added to the car, and its apron was aerodynamically studied to increase the downforce onto the front wheels. But building a hatchback was not one of the American's carmaker specialties, and that was obvious on the C-pillar, which was very thick.
Inside, Dodge installed bucket seats with high bolstered areas to keep their occupants in place. Unfortunately, the car's platform didn't do a job as well as the seats. The carmaker installed a folding rear bench in the back, thus increasing the otherwise limited trunk room.
Under the hood, the Charger started with a 2.2-liter engine which couldn't provide 100 hp. Its performances were barely in the same league with a Volkswagen Golf GTI. Its five-speed manual was geared for quick acceleration but with longer, higher gears for fuel-efficiency. Thus, the 1981 Charger proved to be a sporty-looking commuter vehicle, but not a sports car.