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Review: 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8

Opinions vary on exactly when the muscle car era began. Some believe this time period got underway with the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket 88, while others feel that true muscle cars sprang to life starting in the mid 1960s after the Pontiac GTO hit the streets. Regardless, it all went south when the 1-2 punch of an OPEC-strangled nation that couldn’t afford to fill up their thirsty machines was also fighting against choked-out engines defeated by new emissions regulations.

Muscle cars, as we know them, faded into the setting sun. Funny thing about the sun though, is that it always rises again. 

We’ve entered a new era of muscle machines, and they’re not just two-door, straight-line all-stars. In fact, modern muscle cars aren’t even stuck in the box of being a purely American or Australian notion. For example, Mercedes-Benz is building ridiculously powerful two and four-door vehicles that growl more aggressively than anything Detroit ever rolled out.

Still, the idea of the muscle car is a concept that is American at its core. A great classic example is the original Dodge Charger. Like other muscle cars, it too lost its way as we marched into the future. The damn thing eventually came back to life with four doors. That first-generation modern Charger did a major disservice to the legacy behind the moniker. Chrysler is looking to right that wrong, and the automaker is hoping to accomplish this with the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8.

It still has four doors… but it might just be modern muscle done right.

 

Truth be told, the last generation car was never supposed to be called a Charger. The product planning team asked for a large, sporty sedan, and designers penned the car they were told to create. Somewhere along the way, someone slapped the name Charger on the project, but the designers protested because the classic name didn’t fit the car they created. It was too late, however, and the four-door Charger came to be.

In order to rectify the situation, this new Charger would need some semblance of, well, being a friggin’ Charger. This time around the designers knew the task that lay in front of them, and they did a commendable job of squeezing the four-door shape into one that possesses hints of the beloved classic bearing the same badge.

While the front seems to borrow cues from a Nissan GT-R/any current Audi/Mitsubishi Evo, the profile is pure nostalgia in its updated form. The deep side scallops are a clear nod to the past, and serve to lend the car an aggressive stance. That stance is further served by the 20-inch aluminum SRT wheels, which are shod in 245/45 R20 three-season performance Goodyear tires. The eyes complete their visual journey at the tail of the car, where they’re greeted by a low-key spoiler and the taillights with a level of brightness that can be measured on a scale typically reserved for small to midsize suns. If you’re ever following a Charger at night, you will never lose sight of the car. The lights serve the exterior well though, and also work as another link to remind you of the cars heritage.

The word “heritage” would be lost however, if it weren’t for the engine mounted under the hood. The badge on the fender doesn’t lie, which means a 6.4-liter, scratch that since we’re talking muscle, a 392 cubic-inch V8 is ready to rumble with the slightest extension of the toes on your right foot. This mill produces 470 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 470 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm, and it sends that power to the rear wheels courtesy of a five-speed automatic gearbox.

I said it rumbles, and it most certainly does, but I can’t help but want for more noise. The sound I do hear is excellent, but there should be more of it. Dodge would do well to fit the Charger SRT8 with a dual-mode exhaust system (a la the Corvette Z06), so that it could bellow more belligerently above a certain rpm range.

The five-speed transmission could use a bit of tuning as well. It’s oddly harsh, even when running around in normal mode as opposed to the available Sport mode. Shifts can be handled with the steering-wheel-mounted paddles or the gear shift lever, and the shifts somehow feel smoother than when letting the computer decide to switch cogs.

Still, the unrefined shifting doesn’t spoil the fun. This modern muscle car shows the advantage that time has provided with regards to how well it handles. I’m talking about 4,365 pounds, and you can feel every bit of that heft when flinging the Charger through a corner, but it behaves like a fat man that just so happens to be a professional tango instructor. Turn the traction control off, keep both hands on the wheel, and mash the gas. The Charger will respond in kind with a surge of forward momentum and easily controllable tail-out shenanigans. There’s certainly a bit of body roll, but it’s far from Titanic grade. The only issue that seems to affect how hard I can push the car boils down to the brakes, which are merely adequate. I’d like to see far more initial grab when I stomp on the pedal, but the 14.2-inch-front and 13.8-inch-rear Brembo units can’t work magic in this application.

While the brakes remind me a bit of muscle cars from that bygone era, those thoughts fade immediately upon entering the cabin. Heavily cushioned red seats welcome my backside, and an ultra-beefy steering wheel says hello to my hands. Splashes of suede contrasts wonderfully against the carbon fiber backsplash of the instrument panel and center stack. The gauges are bright and easy to read, and an information display is located centrally between them, which provides a wealth of information ranging from fuel economy to lateral g forces to the current audio track.

It’s the measurement of those lateral g forces that showcase a unique aspect that SRT has employed with the Charger. Called the SRT Performance Pages, I can flip through a series of displays which appear in the large 8.4-inch touchscreen. Along with the g-force displays, I can opt for oil pressure and temperature gauges, and even time slips for my best 0-60 mile per hour, 1/8th-mile, and quarter-mile times. 

It’s not just a performance focused vehicle though, because the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 boasts a feature that surprised me the most when I first spent time with the car. Dodge has turned to Harmon Kardon to supply the audio performance inside this sports sedan. The result is a 19-speaker system, which is (hands down) the best factory-fitted audio unit I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening. Ultra-crisp sound hits my ears at both the lowest and highest volume levels with zero distortion or crackling. It’s as if I had taste buds in my ears, and Harmon Kardon is funneling Yogurt Land straight into my ear drums.

The audio system, along with the cozy cabin, wonderfully bright touchscreen display, and heated and cooled front seats all help to ease the pain felt by ones wallet. A 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 will cost you at least $45,795, and the car you see wears a sticker price of $49,310. Expensive? Sure. Worth it? Yes, because you’re basically getting a premium interior paired with a powerful machine, and both the cabin and performance are sure to induce serious bouts of extended smiles and laughter with every burnout or drifted corner. Plus, it’s more powerful than a Corvette… and more useful to boot, while boasting a better interior.

What Dodge has produced is a car that’s a lot more worthy to wear the Charger name. You can gripe all day long about the fact that it wears four doors instead of two, or that it’s nearly $50,000. This is the car we deserved the first time a modern Charger hit the streets. It may be late but it’s here now, and it’s an exciting member of the current class of modern muscle machines.

Fuel prices are again climbing, OPEC is still OPEC, but modern muscle cars appear to be getting stronger by the day. I’m going to break out my Skynyrd, blast it out from all 19 speakers, and rejoice with hearty burnout.

I suggest you do the same… 

Exterior photos copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jeff Glucker
Interior photos courtesy of Chrysler 

[Disclosure: Dodge flipped us the keys to its 2012 Charger SRT8 for a week, and included a tank of gas. We turned that gas into noise, and enjoyed burning a bit of rubber of the Eagle F1s.]

  • Damn son, fancy photography. Now I'm gonna have to step it up.

  • The front totally reminds me of an Evo, but the back end is unique, and I really like it.

  • JayP2112

    If the RT/SRT8 were offered with the manual, they'd rocket into my Top 5 easily.

    • Maymar

      What's your stance on the Challenger, essentially being the two-door, three-pedal version of this car? Granted, it's a little down on utility, if that's your thing,

      • JayP2112

        I'd take a white Challenger RT before a Charger but there's something about a big, bad sedan.

  • njhoon

    As with the several other Chrysler products, I am guessing that it will take until the end of the model run for me to like the body styling. I absolutely love the previous body now and I finally warmed up to the Challenger. Both took me a bit to like them. The new 300 maybe the exception, I like the base models and saw a picture of the SRT8 version and is awesome.

  • That dash is totally retro. Retro like orginally-designed-in-1995 Ford Ranger retro. Not good. Other than the fact that it offers 2012-level gadgetry, it looks seriously dated.

    <img width="400" src="http://images.thecarconnection.com/lrg/2011-ford-ranger-2wd-2-door-supercab-126-xl-dashboard_100321930_l.jpg"&gt;

    • Having owned a 1998 Ranger, I have to disagree. In fact, I quite like the dash space of the Charger SRT8.

      Also, holy CRAP there is a lot of empty space with that bottom tier radio.

    • Joe_Btfsplk

      Agreed. It's about as classy as every Autozone parts delivery Ranger. I wonder if it comes with "carpet delete" option?

  • Alcology

    Just gotta ask. Do you not use your own interior shots because the "man" wants theirs in there or do you feel like yours aren't up to par? Personally, I'd rather see your shots.

    • Good interior shots are super hard to get. The angles and lighting are all wrong.

      • Alcology

        Yeah, I get that. BUT! As a consumer, I don't see interiors in perfect angles and light. I see it in all conditions. Showroom perfect only lasts for a moment.

    • Jeff Glucker

      This is the first car where I had to use interior shots from the manufacturer… I typically prefer my own shots.

      • Alcology

        I thought it was the second one, sorry about that. I just like that you do your own stunts

  • mnm4ever

    Only thing I am not crazy of is the wheels. The earlier generation wheels were better, these are too flat faced. Looks like the GLI rims.

  • SRT392

    Ok, I can't take it anymore. I bought a Charger SRT8 in November. This is the 3rd review I've read that says the Charger SRT8 doesn't shift well. It's too abrupt or harsh. The transmission is designed/programmed to shift this way. When accelerating at about 1/2 to 3/4 throttle it shifts with a nice kick – it's a performance car and it's designed to do this – It's fantastic. When you're lazy on the throttle or when you floor it there's no kick at all. There's no difference in shift firmness between the normal or sport modes, only shift points and transmission responsiveness. Also, the car does not lean in corners in the Sport mode. Big difference in suspension between normal and sport. Feels like 2 different cars. Brakes are good too. Alright I feel better now.

    • mnm4ever

      And of course you are completely unbiased, right?? 🙂

      I love these cars, but there is no reason it should shift with a "kick" at 1/2 to 3/4 throttle, or at all. IF it was designed to do this, its just to appeal to guys who were used to thier 1960s or 70s Hemi doing that with those ancient trannys. If anything, I would rather it not kick unless I was really getting on it… for normal driving it would be pretty annoying.

      I guess the solution is to always full throttle accelerate. I can live with that!

    • Alcology

      I've got a question for you, since you own one. I'm not trying to be a jerk or draw a specific response out, but why did you buy it? Do you have kids and the need for 4 doors? I just don't know. I'm not knocking you for any specific thing, but you obviously like the car. What was it about the car that lead you to buy this over a challenger?

    • Jeff Glucker

      Congrats on the purchase.

      I disagree about the trans though… It feels a tad unrefined. I kick when shifting under hard acceleration is or thing, but it shouldn't do that if I'm not flat on the throttle…

      Still, the car is a blast, and I been said my perception of the transmission didn't make hurt my overall impressions of the car.

    • I'll 1 up your comment for standing up for your car. I also thought a "hard" shift kick was by design. Did you spring for the infotainment setup? How is it in daily life?

  • Van_Sarockin

    I just saw a murdered out 300 tonite. It was scary cool. This SRT8 seems a bit too retail to compete.

  • Spring-heeled Jack

    These things will always be toad-mobiles to me. Got to be one of the ugliest things every put on the road. What's even more pathetic is half-hearted re-style, which uses elements from the original Charger prototype shown at least ten years ago (Scalloped sides, halo taillight). That 4-door was attractive enough to wear the Charger nameplate. This thing? Never.

    • Alcology

      Yep, wayyyyy too heavy. Someone gave you a thumbs down. I thumbed up.

    • I like it except the blacked-out section of bumper between the upper and lower grille openings bothers the hell out of me. (But, if I were in the market for a Charger, I'd be buying a lowly R/T and wouldn't have to deal with that problem.)

  • Moparman

    The front end fairly SCREAMS "Audi" or "Mitsubishi"…anything BUT MOPAR! Why is it that everyone seems to "ape" ' the latest "styling" trend?? These blacked out "swollen upper lip" bumper center sections (e.g. Honda Civic, Hyundai Hybrid, Genesis Coupe, and worst of all offenders, any Mazda) just turn me totally off!!

  • Saw this at the auto show, the crowd around it suggests it's going to be a popular girl.





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