Review: 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8

We drive the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8

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November 8, 2011

Review: 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8

When a big and black low-riding performance sedan shows up at your door, you don't wait around-you get out and drive.

Introducing the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8
When a big and black low-riding performance sedan shows up at your door, you don't wait around-you get out and drive. And when you get the chance to spend a week behind the wheel, you start inventing excuses to run errands. Finally, you find yourself having a hard time letting go when your turn is up.

Such is the case with the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8. We'll get to our full conclusion in a bit-we'd like you to read the whole thing, please-but first, some basics. The SRT8 is the top-dog Charger, thanks to a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 that puts out 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. Other changes include a high-gloss grille and grille surround, SRT/Hemi badging for the fenders, Dodge's signature 'crosshair' grille, a hoop scoop with heat extractor, a new rear spoiler, four-inch exhaust tips, and more SRT badging out back. Twenty-inch rubber adorns all four corners.

2012 Dodge Charger This ain't a cheap ride. The interior gets aluminum fiber accents, a flat-bottomed heated steering wheel with paddle shifters, performance gauges, heated and cooled seats with heavy bolstering (plus Nappa leather and suede), and heated rear seats.

Power reaches the rear wheels via a 5-speed automatic transmission, and thanks to both cylinder-deactivation and an active-valve exhaust system, the SRT8 Charger is EPA-rated at 14 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.

Forty-five large ($45,795, to be precise) is the price of entry, but our tester didn't lack for options. A $745 Driver Confidence Group package added blind-spot alert, rear cross-path detection, rain-sensing windshield wipers, 'smartbeam' headlamps, and approach lamps. The $795 Adaptive Cruise Control Group added forward collision warning and adaptive speed control. A power sunroof ran $950, performance tires (replacing all-seasons) added $150, and the gas-guzzler tax dinged the sticker for $1,000. Add in the $825 destination charge, and the total as-tested price came to $50,260.
2012 Dodge Charger Hitting the road. That's entering deep into Corvette or Shelby GT500 territory, but unlike the two-seat 'Vette or two-door Mustang, the Charger offers both a real back seat and two rear doors. Consider it the muscle car for the family man (or woman).

Also consider it one of the most wonderfully juvenile cars ever produced by Detroit-and this is saying something in an industry in which both foreign and domestic automakers routinely crank out ridiculously cool vehicles. It's even more unapologetically immature than the previous Charger SRT8, which wasn't exactly subtle.

The previous generation SRT8 had the big spoiler and the hood scoop and all the other hi-po ornamentation, but the new car just looks more flat-out sinister. Still, it shares one characteristic with the previous car-drive it gently, and no one will know what lurks beneath.

Yeah, there's a lumpy idle reminiscent of the days of yore, but at part-throttle cruise, the Charger is meek and docile. Engine noise fades into the background, and the car loafs without a care in the world.

Sure, the choppy ride and bolstered seats never let you forget the car's true mission, but until and unless you tromp the loud pedal, you might think this car was a little too sedate.

That changes when the Hemi unleashes hell. Perhaps due to liberal traction control settings, you can break the rear loose on dry pavement from a dead stop with just a quick stab to quarter throttle. After a while, it becomes hard not to engage in childish behavior at each and every stop sign. Won't someone please think of the poor tires?

A car with that much giddy-up and a curb weight over two tons needs strong brakes, and the Charger obliges, with plenty of stopping power. Try saying that about the muscle cars of yore.

Ride and handling make for an interesting mix-on the one hand, there's nicely weighted steering which feels accurate in both the twisties and during Main St. cruising, but on the other hand there's that ride, which can occasionally get so bouncy that one might wish his or her $50K had been spent on a staid luxury ride. Fun doesn't come free, and if getting bounced around is the price of admission, so be it.

While cornering, the Charger takes a set nicely, but it's a large, heavy car, and you never quite forget that. It tries hard to be a good dance partner, and mostly succeeds, but the laws of physics can only be bent so far. This is a muscle car that can corner, and corner well, but the experience isn't as satisfying as it should be, due mostly to the massive amount of mass.
2012 Dodge Charger Plenty of space for conducting business. The performance gauges prove an interesting distraction, and the long sweeping dashboard that tapers off into the center stack makes for an attractive fashion statement. In general, this is a handsome cabin, though the last generation's interior was so relatively bad (think 'rental car') that any improvement would be drastic. Still, it's not a bad place to do business.

Of course, for all of its ability to be a sedan behaving badly, the Charger SRT8 is still a Charger. Which means plenty of trunk space for luggage or groceries, plenty of passenger space, and plenty of space, period-this isn't an easy car to park in tight quarters, and while purists may howl, the standard park assist system and standard rearview camera are welcome.

Less welcome is the blind-spot alert system, which seems to be tuned to 'oversensitive' (to be fair, many of these systems are over cautious), and the likewise Chicken Little forward-collision warning system. While we appreciate the intent of these systems, and we understand the need to error on the side of caution, driving in tight urban quarters will lead to false alarms.
2012 Dodge Charger Fuel-savers need not apply. Also alarming, if not surprising, is the prodigious rate at which the Charger SRT8 guzzles fuel. While we admit to a few bouts of driving that would be the opposite of hypermiling-'undermiling?'-we still found ourselves eyeing the range indicator warily as it dropped rapidly. Thanks to a combination of plenty of urban driving and stop-and-go commuting-and a little hooning-we averaged an eye-popping 12.8 mpg. Even a long highway slog didn't boost the numbers much.
2012 Dodge Charger We say good-bye to a very fast, very fun sedan. The charm of the last SRT8 was that it was a bit of a sleeper-well, as much a sleeper as a car with a hood scoop and huge spoiler could be. The current SRT8 lays its cards on the table from the get-go. It looks just as mean as it is, and when the Hemi is first fired, it growls to life as if imbued with authority from Zeus himself. There's no mistaking what this car is about.

Which is why we love it. We don't love it just because it's fast or big or because it's not afraid of sweeping corner, or because it sounds awesome. We love it because Dodge built it for one reason (if you really need a more tractable daily driving experience or better fuel economy from your Charger, Dodge has other trim choices to show you) and one reason only, and the SRT8 fulfills that mission. In spades.

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