We certainly ask our Pro Touring muscle cars to do a lot. We want classic good looks, a potent powertrain, modern handling and stopping, good economy with an overdrive transmission, and reliability on par with new cars. That’s a tough set of parameters to satisfy, but PHR and other magazines have provided the road map for success. Nevertheless, it’s not an easy road to build the ultimate muscle machine, and it costs plenty, even when you’re doing the work yourself. What the Charger SRT8 provides is everything you’ve wanted in your Pro Touring machine, but at a bargain price, with a warranty, and room for five. It’s also got that Hemi Charger pedigree.

On the handling side, Dodge has done a remarkable job keeping the grip quotient high, given its 4,300-pound mass. The independent SLA front and five-link independent rear are aided by computerized adaptive tuning, producing excellent manners on rough roads and surprising grip when pressed hard around corners. In the final analysis, the SRT8 Charger isn’t going to win any road course podiums, but it handles amazingly good (up to .89g lateral grip) for its mass. You could take it to an open track day and be proud for sure.

Our SRT8 wasn’t without its problems though. Front and center was the huge nav/DVD/information center stack. (Note: The ultrabright nav screen will outright blind you at night, and there’s no automatic daylight sensor to darken it down.) Perhaps we need to cut the SRT8 some slack due to our limited time behind the wheel, but this thing was way too complicated for our simple tastes. Plan on sitting down with the owner’s manual and a cup of coffee, then taking the day to familiarize yourself with its many pages and functions. Same goes for the steering wheel buttons. (There are 14 of them, some hidden on the back of the wheel.) As for the red interior color we got on our SRT8, it was a bit flamboyant, but the available black interior could easily stand in for the BMW M5’s or the Cadillac CTS-V’s.

The positive note with the nav/DVD/info screen is that if you dig deep enough, you’ll find some performance pages that will allow you to test your SRT8 at the limit. We found a built-in dyno, dragstrip (quarter- and eighth-mile), trap timers, and g-force meters for lateral force, braking, and acceleration. In the middle of our L.A.-to-Vegas run, we stopped in the desert and got a 13.2-second quarter-mile at 107 mph—loaded to the gills and heat soaked, so you’ll likely do better. Our brothers at Motor Trend tested the SRT8 in the quarter-mile, and they knocked down a 12.8 at 111 mph, better than the vaunted Camaro SS. Top speed is a noncomputer-limited 175 mph, according to Dodge.

One down side to the looks that we’re not that pleased about is the Asian-influenced front fascia. While the plain-Jane Charger and Charger R/T have a strong Detroit-centric style, the SRT8 is decidedly Japanese. The grille is dominated by a cliché “catfish face R-type” motif that we don’t think traditional muscle car owners will warm to. The 10-spoke wheels, likewise, are tuner-ish, where traditional five-spokes (or dare we dream—Magnum 500s!) would be more appropriate.

If it were up to us, we’d offer the potent 6.4L Hemi in a standard Charger R/T as an option. This would put it more in line price-wise with the previous generation Charger SRT8, which was in the $40K area. Leave off the crazy luxo-options, use the regular entertainment/HVAC stack found on the standard Charger, and go with the R/T’s “Detroit” style chrome grille and five-spoke wheels. Notwithstanding, we understand that if Dodge is to compete in the luxury muscle niche occupied by BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Cadillac, they almost have to load up on the heated/cooled cupholders and stuff. But we can still dream!

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For full specs on the ’12 Dodge Charger SRT8, go to www.PopularHotRodding.com.