2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 Road Test

The 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 fills the void in the enthusiast-turned-family-man's soul.

What It Is/Who It's For
The 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 satisfies the enthusiast's soul while still performing all of the normal family hauling duties well.
Best Thing
Uconnect. Chrysler's partnership with Garmin navigation systems is one of the best moves the automaker has made in recent memory.
Worst Thing
The fuel economy. What do you expect from a V-8 engine that's responsible for pulling around 4,300 pounds all the time?
Snap Judgment
The 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 can run with the best of them and then carry all the groceries home after.


Move over Cadillac. Dodge is quickly pushing out the once-iconic American automaker as the most Patriotic of them all. Back when America was known for its baseball, apple pies, and large Cadillacs, a V-8 engine could be powered on the cheap. Now, America's landscape has shifted as gas prices continue to put the pinch on families all across the countries and in turn, pushing the V-8 engine to the brink of extinction. Automakers have to be smart in today's fragile economic environment and it can't just sprinkle a V-8 engine into whichever model it pleases. Dodge recognizes that and has decided to save its mighty Hemi engine for one of its most polished models in the stable, the Charger.

First bursting onto the scene back in 2006, the Charger immediately grew a vast and loyal fan base of people who were crazy about their aggressively styled car. During its six-year lifespan so far, the Charger has employed the Hemi engine in multiple trims and it has been tuned in multiple ways. No matter the configuration though, the Hemi engine has been bringing smiles to people's faces and skid marks to pavement everywhere for a while now. While the Pentastar V-6 engine has already begun paying dividends for Chrysler, the Hemi engine is what draws the enthusiast (and enthusiast at heart) crowd in. These are the people who enjoy driving from point A to point B and don't just want to get there. These people want an extra touch of flair when going to the grocery store and the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 delivers it.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

What We Drove

The 2012 Dodge Charger starts at a base price of $45,795 and doesn't include a destination fee of $825. So what do you get for all that? Well, for starters, there's that monster of an engine under the Charger SRT8's hood known to many simply as the "Hemi." More specifically, a 6.4-liter V-8 Hemi engine lurks below the Charger's crinkled hood and is responsible for 470 horsepower. The base Charger SE utilizes a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine which is rated at 292 hp, 178 less ponies than the top-of-the-line SRT8 model.

There's also a bigger Uconnect screen found in Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology's rendition of Dodge's Charger. In the Charger SRT8, an 8.4-inch screen gives way to all of the Charger SRT8's navigational and media needs while the SE only gets a screen that's 4.3-inch in diameter. Both the Charger SE and SRT8 models are mated to a five-speed transmission too.

Standard features included on the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 that spent a week with us included advanced multistage front airbags, ABS, all-speed traction control, hill start assist, rain brake support, keyless enter-n-go, rear park assist system and back-up camera, dual climate control, and adaptive dampening. Other standard features includes Uconnect which features Garmin navigation, 19 high-performance audio speakers, a 900-watt amplifier, remote USB port, auto-dimming rearview mirror with microphone, paddle shifters, and a steering wheel and shifter wrapped in leather. It should also be noted that the cup holders are heated and cooled, the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and through the 8.4-inch media center, you can access an array of "performance information."

The 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 earned a score of "good," the highest a vehicle can achieve, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. These tests include a frontal, side, rollover, and rear crash test. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 with an overall rating of five stars, the most that can be collected, and earned a perfect score in every category except the frontal crash, where it earned four stars.

The Commute

So how do you pull along a vehicle that weighs about the same as a Honda Odyssey minivan? Stuff a V-8 engine under the hood that drums up massive 470 horsepower, for starters. And let's just get this out of the way now; the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 engine is hands down this vehicle's best quality, followed closely behind by the new 8.1-inch Uconnect navigation system.

As it stands now, the Dodge Charger SRT8 is only available with a five-speed automatic transmission; the new eight-speed available in V-6 Chargers can't handle the Hemi's power, and the six-speed manual is reserved exclusively for the Charger's two-door cousin, the Challenger. While a manual would be a lot of fun, the automatic fits nicely when battling stop-and-go traffic, although the transmission computers sometimes took an extra heartbeat deciding which gear to select. Plus, it's easy to forget about the lack of a manual transmission thanks to paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel.

Getting up to highway speeds was as easy as blinking an eye and the Charger was just as quick too. The vehicle's weight proved to be a non-factor thanks to the tremendous power, but changing lanes was a different story. Beauty is pain, or nervousness in this case, and the Charger's mean-looking exterior comes at the price of small windows and a huge hood, which combine to make it harder to see the world outside. Despite its overtly sporty mission, the car's weight makes for a comfortable, almost cushy ride. However, selecting the sport mode stiffens up the shock absorbers, adjusts throttle response, and gives the exhaust system a few extra burbles and pops. It's a noticeable difference, especially when traveling at high speeds on the Southern California cement-laden freeways. With so much power and weight, you may be worried about how the Charger SRT8 stops. Don't be. Big brakes from Brembo quickly haul the contraption to a stop again and again, the red brake calipers peeking out from behind the Charger SRT8's specially designed 20-inch aluminum wheels. These special wheels are wrapped in all-season performance tires, designed to provide adequate grip no matter the weather conditions. They work too; we had the chance to pass through a torrential rainstorm during our time with the Charger SRT8 and the sedan cruised at highway speeds through the falling water with ease.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

The Grocery Run

While the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 may not seem like the ideal grocery getter, its versatility showed through while serving as a cargo hauler. The trunk offers 16.3 cubic feet of cargo space, enough to dumped in a week's worth of groceries for two people.

The Charger's sedan body makes getting in and out easy, but the minimal ground clearance spelled trouble whenever there was a speed bump in the parking lot. Every incline had to be approached at an angle, which was annoying, but at least the Charger's quick steering made the quick jinks left and right easy. The back-up camera comes in handy when trying to poke the Charger's tail out, escorting the robust Charger out of a parking spot, and offering more outward visibility than the rear window is capable of.

Dads, take note: Despite its almost comically aggressive styling, the Charger is surprisingly effective as a family hauler. Little ones have no trouble climbing into the back seat, and once there they'll find plenty of room to spread out; you'll hear very little of "he's on my side" from the rear quarters. There's enough room to properly install child seats as well, and the huge trunk means you'll have plenty of room left over, even if you have to carry a stroller with you.

The Weekend Fun

When you have a Dodge Charger SRT8 for the weekend, there's only one thing to do: Show it off as much as humanly possible. We couldn't make more than two stops without receiving a compliment about our Charger's redline three-coat pearl exterior coloring that blanketed aggressive exterior styling cues.

The Charger's interior hit a chord with many people on staff. Fellow associate editor Blake Z. Rong noted the Charger's interior was lined with soft-touch materials, while associate editor Jacob Brown pointed out the near-perfect ergonomics. The radio is incredibly easy to figure out and work your way through, and syncing an iPhone was a snap. The navigation/media system was an easy reach from the driver's chair, and it quickly routed us through the streets of Los Angeles.

If you're road tripping, you'll love the Charger SRT8's seats. Dodge didn't skimp on the side support, and they held us tightly going through quick corners. But even when traveling in a straight line for miles upon miles, the Charger's seats stayed supportive and firm, yet still comfortable. We logged over 12 hours of wheel time over the weekend with the Charger SRT8, and the only urgent need was to feed the Charger's 18.4 mpg premium gasoline habit.

Summary

For the enthusiast driver who needs a car that at least nods toward practicality, it's hard to find a better choice than the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8. Its 470-hp V-8 engine won't leave you hanging, but its big back seat, huge trunk, quiet interior and excellent front seats make it easy to drive day to day. Of course, fuel economy wasn't great, and if you don't need all that horsepower--or if the styling is just too much--there are more Chargers to choose from, some with fuel-efficient V-6 engines, others with smaller, less aggressive V-8 engines. Of course, what you gain in fuel economy, you lose in performance, although even V-6 models aren't bad.

Regardless of what model you choose, there's something quintessentially American about this big, hulking V-8 powered sedan. If you're in the market for a performance-orientated sedan, we highly recommend you take a long, hard look at the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 before making a final decision.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $50,760
Fuel Economy:18.4 mpg
EPA City: 14 mpg
EPA Highway: 23 mpg
EPA Combined: 17 mpg
Estimated Combined Range 324.7 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Poor

Notebook Quotes

"I like the Charger's gauges, and I'm a sucker for soft-touch dashes. It's solid, big and imposing, just like the rest of the car itself." - Associate Editor Blake Z. Rong
"This isn't an easy car to see out of. The windows are small, the hood is huge, and the rear view is decidedly pinched. Lane changes are a bit of a challenge as a result." - News Director Keith Buglewicz
"The Uconnect system is intuitive, functional, easy to figure out, and probably among the best I've used. Everything is within quick finger-touch reach. The radio controls are all within arm's length." - Associate Editor Jacob Brown

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