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Dodge Charger, 2012: Fast, powerful, high-performance bargain

Iconic muscle cars are making a comeback — as much-improved models. The 1960s Dodge Charger with Chrysler’s awesome Hemi V-8 is one of the most legendary muscle cars of the high-octane 1960s. The 2012 Charger SRT8 with a Hemi V-8 is more than comparable to that old Charger.

In fact, the new $45,795 Charger SRT8 from Chrysler’s high-performance SRT group is a flat-out high-performance-car bargain that might be considered by some to be too hot for the street with its 6.4-liter Hemi V-8.

While well-mannered, unlike the 1960s 425-horsepower Hemi, the new Hemi V-8 provides 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. That gives the car a 0-60 mph time of about 4.5 seconds, although it‘s a big 120-inch-wheelbase sedan that weighs just over 4,000 pounds.

The specially tuned steering has revised gearing to give drivers a more direct feel and on-center response. It’s a little firm, but fits the car’s high-performance nature. The Charger SRT8’s sure handling makes the car feel smaller than it is, and it has electronic stability control and all-speed traction control to help keep it steadily on roads during swift driving. There’s also a hill-start-assist feature.

The ride is firm, but supple, and the anti-lock disc performance brakes have good pedal feel. They provide short stopping distances and have have four-piston Brembo calipers painted red. Also, a new underbody belly pan has integrated brake ducting.

Rear view, 2012 Dodge Charger
2012 Dodge Charger

New for 2012 is a standard adaptive damping suspension system. It uses a range of on-road and driver inputs, such as vehicle speed and steering angle, to automatically tune the suspension for specific conditions. When drivers manually choose between the “Auto” and “Sport” settings, the shock damping characteristics change from an everyday performance ride to a firmer “race-track-capable” damping for more challenging driving situations. The “Auto” mode is best for most driving.

Owners of the iconic 1960s Dodge Hemi Charger didn’t dream of such features. The technology just wasn’t there yet.

Safety items include a driver’s knee air bag, front side air bags and full-length side-curtain air bags. The optional Driver Confidence Group seems worth its $745 price with its blindspot monitoring, forward collision warning, rear cross-path detection and “SmartBeam” headlights.     

While the old Hemi Charger guzzled gasoline, admittedly during an era of almost comically cheap gas, the 2012 Charger SRT8 cuts out four of its eight cylinders while cruising. It thus delivers an estimated 23 miles per gallon on highways.That’s impressive, considering the car’s performance.

The city economy rating is just 14 mpg, but go easy on the gas pedal and you could probably top that figure by a few miles per gallon.

The Charger SRT8 has so much power and low-end torque that even accelerating moderately hard from a stoplight puts the car ahead of most vehicles. Even on bone-dry roads, the back end occasionally jumped out a bit during moderate initial acceleration. Lightning quick acceleration into fast-moving freeway traffic and during highway passing maneuvers is duck soup. An active intake manifold and high-lift camshaft with cam phasing provides maximum low-end torque.

The Charger is designed to appeal to a variety of people, so it also can be had with a 3.6-liter V6 generating a hearty 292 horsepower or with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with 370 horsepower. Sticker prices range from $25,495 to $45,795.

You can get a new eight-speed automatic transmission with the V-6, but the SRT8 comes only with a five-speed automatic. It shifts efficiently in fully automatic mode and  can be easily manually shifted with newly standard steering-wheel paddles or a console-mounted shifter lever.

The Charger SRT8 has a definite high-performance look, with such items as a high-gloss black front grille, grille surround, Dodge crosshair next to the signature SRT badge and “6.4 Hemi” badges on each fender. A new performance-sculpted hood has a black air exhauster for extra engine cooling.   

This racy looking sedan has a sloping roofline that gives it much the look of a two-door coupe. My test Charger SRT8 was black, which made it look sinister—especially with its shiny SRT-design 20-inch aluminum wheels.. Other body colors are bright silver, white, “redline red” and tungsten. Unique side-sill cladding is painted to match the body color.

In back, Dodge says the Charger SRT8’s new signature “race track” taillight design has (count ‘em) 164 illuminating LEDs positioned just below a new rear spoiler. Nifty looking new four-inch-round dual exhaust tips are inside the new rear fascia.

Especially impressive is the roomy, revised interior, which builds on the new 2011 design and combines more world-class accommodations with race-inspired technology and appointments. The cockpit has plenty of standard comfort and convenience features, including air conditioning with dual-zone automatic temperature control.

The interior looks like it belongs in a high-performance car and has good-quality, well-fitting materials — unlike the old Chargers. Front seats are supportive during spirited driving and are heated and ventilated. I especially appreciated the heated steering wheel during cold winter days. Rear occupants benefit on cool days with heated rear seats.

Gauges can be quickly read, and controls are easily worked. There’s a new instrument panel 8.4-inch color touchscreen display—the segment’s largest standard display. Also standard is a 900-watt, 19-speaker premium performance audio surround-sound system from Harman Kardon. Doors have too-small storage pockets, but front-console cupholders have a cover and are placed to avoid spills. .

The large trunk has a wide opening, but rather high liftover.

The hood pops up on hydraulic struts, revealing the awesome Hemi V-8, with its characteristically oversized cylinder heads. It’s set far back to help allow better handling. Fluid-filler areas can be easily reached.

Not long ago, you had to pay a stiff price to get a car such as the Dodge Charger SRT8, and it usually was a foreign model.

Pros — Racy styling. Sure handling. Roomy. Cylinder cut-out feature for better fuel economy.

Cons — Too fast for street?  Low city fuel economy. Rather high trunk liftover.

Bottom Line — A high-performance bargain.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.jedlicka.com.
 

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