You have to pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming when you slide behind the wheel of the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8. The whole idea that they can still make cars like this is enough to make you lightheaded. You keep waiting for the other shoe to drop—it must be too expensive, or only a prototype, or for the export market, or “actual production product may vary.” Nope—the SRT8 Charger is the real deal, and you can get one today. Some guys might think the $50K price tag is a bit steep, but c’mon, just look at what you’re getting—and we’ll get to that.
Redesigned in 2011, the Dodge...
Redesigned in 2011, the Dodge Charger is far closer to its historical namesake than the previous ’05-10 iteration. The side coves remind us of the iconic ’68-70 model. The new version, however, is far more luxurious—not to mention much faster. As for the Hemi—nothing from the muscle car era could touch this thing down the quarter-mile, or around the road course.
With the SRT8, the sun rises and sets on the 470hp 6.4L V-8 Hemi. No blower, no turbo, no race fuel, just a fathomless sea of torque coming on from the slightest stroke of the accelerator pedal, and screaming upward unabated to the 6,000-rpm redline. If you turn the clock back 20 years or so, you’ll remember that we weren’t supposed to be driving cars this powerful—let alone ones that get 23 mpg on the highway. Remember how they told us we’d be schlepping around in solar-powered bicycles or some kind of crap like that?
Chrysler has really upped the game on the already great SRT8 Hemi engine. First, they bumped it up from 6.1 liters to 6.4 liters. (By coincidence, that’s 392 cubes, the same as the top offering of the first-gen Hemi back in 1957.) At the same time, engineers widened the operating range of the multiple displacement system (MDS) and added camshaft phasing to the Hemi’s bag of tricks. This broadened the torque band, increased power, and improved fuel economy.
That Hemi power still goes through Chrysler’s aging five-speed automatic, because the new eight-speed isn’t strong enough to survive the Hemi’s destructive force. Truthfully, we like the five-speed. We’ve had it in a bunch of cars, and it can take the heat while delivering decent economy. And let’s not forget, the Hemi’s fat powerband doesn’t really care what rpm you stab the loud pedal at. That’s cool, because the SRT8 Charger is obnoxiously fast when you need it to be. Push the button and you’ve got a pit bull on your hands that can dish out punishment at the drop of a hat. It’s a hooligan when you want it to be, but only when you ask it. Otherwise, it’s gentle giant, standing on the hill quietly like a sentinel.
The sweet burble of the 6.4L...
The sweet burble of the 6.4L Hemi belies its wild side, but stab the pedal and all 470 ponies pour out of the stable. Incremental improvements to the Hemi design have given it a wider powerband while boosting total output. It still gets 23 mpg on the highway too.
But a big fat power curve and a beefcake transmission aren’t the only things you’re getting—not by a long shot. The Charger SRT8 is one of those cars that casts a long shadow in the marketplace, much to the dismay of its more expensive rivals. It’s a luxury car that has the advantages of being large enough to seat five comfortably while staying true to its muscle car heritage, and costing many thousands less. Not that we’re experts at the competition at Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or Audi, but there doesn’t seem to be anything on the radar that’s close to the SRT8.
As a serious sport luxury car, the SRT8 has leather seats that are up to the task of the hardest cornering. They’re solidly bolstered along the thigh and thorax, yet comfortable enough for long cruises. The fat D-shaped steering wheel telegraphs better road feedback and has a sharper turn-in than the author’s C6 Corvette, and the gear lever (and button set on the steering wheel) allows manual shifting such that the computer will keep it in the gear you select without shifting on its own. All that power at your hands, plus sharp cornering equals the need for big binders, and the SRT8 has them in the form of 14-inch, four-piston Brembo brakes all around.