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.]