Forget about retro, nostalgia stuff. The Dodge Charger is an impressive, large, rear-wheel-drive sedan for today’s buyers who want to stand out from the crowd.
Revamped for 2012, the expressively styled, four-door Charger can look like a snarl coming down the road. It can act like a snarling machine, too, especially if it has the new-for-2012, 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 with 470 horsepower.
Even the base, 3.6-liter V-6 is noteworthy. Mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission, it gives the Charger a federal government fuel economy rating of 19 mpg in city driving and 31 mpg on the highway.
Suspension upgrades give smart, responsive handling, and at the government’s crash tests, earned a top safety ranking – five out of five stars – for overall passenger protection.
Best of all, auto enthusiasts can find Charger models affordable. The price, including destination charge, is $26,420 for a Charger SE with the V-6 with 292-horsepower mated to an automatic transmission.
The price for a V-8 is $30,920 for an R/T model with automatic transmission and 370-horsepower, 5.7-liter, Hemi V-8. The top-level, 470-horsepower Hemi V-8 begins at $47,720.
THE CHARGER NAME dates to the 1966 model year, when it adorned a sleek fastback with hidden headlights and a sporty interior. The name was used into the late 1970s and revived in 2006 on sedans that were described as retro models.
The Charger’s ride, amenities and technology aren’t retro, however.
The test car, an SRT8 model, for example, had the latest fuel-saving technology – deactivation of up to four of the eight cylinders when power wasn’t needed plus an active valve exhaust system that allowed fuel-sipping across a wide rpm range.
It helped the test car, with 70 percent city driving, to average 15.4 mpg. The official SRT8 mileage rating is 14/23 mpg. The SRT8 incurs a $1,000 U.S. gas guzzler tax.
The torque peaks at 470 foot-pounds at 4,300 rpm and is accompanied by awesome engine sounds.
The five-speed automatic seemed a bit old school, but it worked fine and included paddle shifters so drivers can shift through gears on their own, if they like.
Optional 245/45 performance tires bit into the pavement to get traction quickly as the power came on. The 4,365-pound Charger easily beat other vehicles away from stoplights. Power came on steadily when the SRT8 merged onto highways and in passing maneuvers.
Unlike most large sedans that have a sedate look, the SRT8 has audacious styling. The grille is blacked out and looks like a massive vacuum opening. There are four chrome, double-walled exhaust pipes in back.
The sporty coupelike look disguises an interior that gives passengers generous legroom, front and back, of at least 40.1 inches. Headroom of 38.6 inches in the well-bolstered front seats provides most drivers and passengers with comfortable resting spots and decent views out over the slightly domed, aluminum hood.
The SRT8 tooled around town and in the countryside with fine manners, responding without nervousness to steering inputs and keeping easily in its lane during turns and curves.
The tidy, sport steering wheel with the flat-shape bottom was a nice perk, and interior fit and finish was excellent.
As long as the suspension wasn’t set in Sport mode, the ride was firm but not punishing, as dampers adjusted automatically to smooth the ride. The overall sensation was of a heavy car that was well-managed. There was constant road noise from the 20-inch tires, though.
Sport mode suspension changed the car’s personality into a racetrack machine, and the large display screen in the middle of the dashboard could be switched to show racing stats such as 0-to-60-mph times and lateral g forces.
Unfortunately, the 2012 Charger has been the subject of six safety recalls, ranging from an engine problem to electrical head lamp wiring that could overheat.