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.
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!
We could do without the Asian-influenced...
We could do without the Asian-influenced “R-spec” catfish grille. The Hemi can bank on its own heritage quite fine without invoking shades of the new Nissan Skyline GT. Here’s something ironic: The ’72-76 Nissan Skyline was almost an exact styling lift of a Chrysler product—the ’67-69 Barracuda.
It’s just us, but we don’t...
It’s just us, but we don’t like the complexity or size of the nav/DVD/infotainment center stack. You will need to spend lots of time studying the owner’s manual if you want to keep from crashing your SRT8. Our thanks to Caltrans for putting edge rumble strips on the highway to Vegas!
The cockpit in the ’12 Charger...
The cockpit in the ’12 Charger SRT8 invites its occupants to alternately play hard, and relax in style. A great entertainment system, comfy seats, and dual-zone climate control keep long drives from being drab. Aggressively bolstered chairs and a D-spoke wheel beg it to be driven with gusto.