Dodge's high-performance Charger SRT8 is an amplified version of the V-8-powered Charger R/T. It's a hot rod you can sell to the left side of your brain — you know, the logical side.
The SRT8 not only has a 6.4-liter V-8 making 470 horsepower and a top speed of 175 mph, it also has four doors, a big trunk and … to be honest, that's all the evidence I need of the SRT8's practicality.
Newly introduced technology improves the redesigned 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8's drivability and efficiency without watering down the rawness that made the previous SRT8 a blast to drive.
Despite a 4 mpg increase in highway gas mileage, the SRT8 is hit with a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. The SRT8 starts at $45,795, without destination or that gas tax, compared with $29,995 for the R/T.
The Charger SRT8's 470-hp V-8 makes noises you'll only hear from muscle car coupes and other SRT8 products. The engine's bellow makes it hard not to give in to temptations of tomfoolery just to hear the 6.4-liter at redline. Rear tires, beware.
A selectable Sport mode firms up the suspension and changes transmission shifting to turn the car into a lively performer, especially considering the sedan's size and curb weight of 4,365 pounds. A new adaptive suspension for 2012 adjusts shock-absorber firmness automatically for varying road conditions. The SRT8's suspension technology makes the heavy Charger drive like a much lighter car.
Sport mode also firms up the shocks for more demanding use and reduces body motion in corners. I think it's counterintuitive to make Sport mode a button on the SRT8 rather than the standard mode. I'd much rather see a "Comfort" button, with Sport as the default setting. It's a high-performance car, after all, and the SRT8 is so much more fun with Sport mode engaged.
When Sport mode is activated, the ride gets firm enough on the highway to produce more bouncing than the Normal mode, though the extra harshness isn't teeth-shattering. Sport mode substantially increases the accelerator pedal's responsiveness: The transmission changes gears faster and holds gears longer, so there's no waiting for the car to downshift.
With Sport mode off, the SRT8 has a softer ride that makes it perfectly tolerable as a long-distance cruiser, while keeping enough firmness for a sporty edge; it doesn't go full Buick LeSabre on you. I drove the SRT8 from Chicago to Detroit and back, totaling 600-plus miles in comfort.
Gas mileage ratings are 14/23 mpg city/highway, up from 13/19 mpg in the 2010 Charger SRT8. (There was no SRT8 in the 2011 model year.) The additional mileage comes from a cylinder deactivation feature that shuts down four of the eight cylinders during light-duty cruising. It's easy to tell when the feature is active, as the mellow V-8 rumble changes to a more strained exhaust note. The feature feels like it stays active longer in the SRT8 than do similar systems; the slightest blip of the throttle doesn't fire up the other four cylinders. The SRT8 outdid itself with a 24.8 mpg average, according to the trip computer, after an interstate road trip of almost five hours, driving mostly in fuel-saver mode.
The SRT8 is a family car on the inside, with a big trunk and room for five people, but with an attitude more in line with the Andretti family than the Cleavers. The front seats have aggressive side bolstering to keep occupants in place during cornering, and they can be covered in bright red upholstery.
The bolsters were nicely positioned, but the lumpy bottom and back cushions made finding a comfortable position nearly impossible. I prefer the previous SRT8's seats to the new ones. It's possible the seats just needed breaking in to be more comfortable, though, and even as they were, ride quality was comfortable over a long haul. Our SRT8's seats and interior were bright red, garnering love-or-hate responses from passengers and onlookers. I thought the colors were a little too much and would have opted for black instead.
The SRT8-only steering wheel has a flat bottom and paddle shifters. Sport mode does a great job of controlling the transmission automatically, so I didn't feel the paddle shifters were necessary. There's no rev-matching function to smooth out downshifting, so downshifts are harsh, making the paddle shifters even less enticing.
All Chargers have an 8.4-inch touch-screen as the main access point to the car's stereo, navigation, climate features, Sport mode and other functions. The SRT8's large graphics and responsive touch commands made it one of my favorite touch-screens. There aren't actual buttons for the heated seats or Sport mode — you have to use the touch-screen to control them — but accessing the controls here isn't as bad as it is in systems that make you fumble through small screens and unresponsive virtual buttons to use the features.
At the Drag Strip
Dodge says the SRT8 is good for zero to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, and that it does a quarter-mile in less than 13 seconds. We tested those claims at Michigan's Milan Dragway, pitting the SRT8's standard on-board telemetry against the drag strip's timing system. The SRT8's Performance Pages — accessed through the 8.4-inch touch-screen — track zero to 60 mph as well as eighth- and quarter-mile times and mph. Along with elapsed time, the system measures distance via the antilock brakes' wheel-speed sensors.
I was skeptical of the accuracy at first, but our car's numbers were within a tenth of a second of the drag strip's timing system. The car's display spat out a best time of a blistering 12.9 seconds in the quarter-mile at 109 mph, and 8.3 seconds in the eighth-mile at 86 mph. The track's time slip read 12.94 seconds at 108.75 mph and 8.38 seconds at 85.89 mph. The Dragway doesn't measure zero to 60 mph, but the car measured it as 4.8 seconds. Any sub-13-second car is blazingly quick, especially a full-size sedan like the Charger.
There was little to no wheelspin on these runs, which likely helps this method's accuracy. When the rear wheels spin, the computer attempts to compensate by comparing sensor data between front and rear wheels, according to a Dodge engineer, which adds a layer that could affect accuracy.
The Charger is a Top Safety Pick at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It scored the agency's best rating, Good, in front-, rear- and side-impact crash tests, as well as in a roof-strength test. As of publication, the 2012 Charger SRT8 had not been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The SRT8 includes the same standard safety equipment as other Chargers. There are seven airbags, including two in front, a driver's knee airbag, seat-mounted side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for the front and rear seats. Also standard, as is required of all 2012 models, are antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Optional features include forward collision warning and a backup camera. See all standard safety features here.
To see how child-safety seats fit in the Challenger, check out the Car Seat Check.
Charger SRT8 in the Market
The Charger SRT8 is unique as a four-door muscle car. Competitors have been scarce since the departure of the Pontiac G8 GXP in 2009. Another large performance sedan is the Hyundai Genesis Sedan R-Spec, but beyond that you're looking at higher-end luxury performance sedans well above $50,000.
No other full-size sedan embodies the SRT8's mean attitude for a starting price below $50,000, making the SRT8's track performance and everyday usability a bargain.
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