Full 2012 Dodge Charger Review
What's New for 2012
The Dodge Charger adds a trio of trim levels for 2012: the midlevel SXT, the high-performance SRT8 and a less-luxurious version of the latter known as the SRT8 Superbee. An eight-speed automatic is also now available with the standard V6.
It's rare to find a car that looks mean, sounds meaner and accelerates with the exuberance of a muscle car, yet can still comfortably schlep kids to school or pick up grandparents from the airport. Plenty of expensive European luxury sport sedans satisfy most of the criteria, save for the "look mean" bit. The 2012 Dodge Charger, meanwhile, satisfies all of the above.
The Charger's breadth of personalities is pretty unique for its class. While its sloping roof line cuts into some rear headroom, the Charger otherwise offers the comfort you'd expect from a large sedan, with plenty of rear seat legroom and a reasonably big trunk. Its interior design is also a cut above most other family sedans.
Performance, however, is where the Charger really distinguishes itself. Three different engines are available, along with several degrees of handling and performance upgrades. The hard-core 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 returns to the lineup with a new 470-horsepower 6.4-liter V8 and other pumped-up enhancements to its handling and braking. There's also the bargain-priced R/T with its 370-hp V8. But unlike in years past, getting a V8-powered Charger is no longer a must to enjoy good performance. The 3.6-liter V6 offers plenty of power and good fuel economy, especially with the new eight-speed automatic.
The 2012 Charger isn't for everybody. Its in-your-face attitude will no doubt turn off many large sedan buyers wanting something more stately. For them, the Chrysler 300, Ford Taurus or Hyundai Genesis will probably work out better. But if you want something a bit more aggressive than the norm, that can comfortably haul the family around and not break the bank, you won't do better than the Charger.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Dodge Charger is a full-size sedan available in SE, SXT, R/T, SRT8 and SRT8 Superbee trims.
Standard equipment on the SE includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, keyless ignition/entry, cruise control, dual-zone manual climate control, a six-way power driver seat, 60/40 split-folding rear seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a touchscreen infotainment interface, and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack, an iPod/USB audio interface, and steering wheel controls. The optional Connectivity Group adds Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Satellite radio is also optional.
The SXT gets the above items included along with an upgraded transmission, heated mirrors, foglamps, remote ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, an eight-way power driver seat with four-way power lumbar adjustment, a larger touchscreen interface and upgraded speakers. With all-wheel drive, the Charger comes standard with 19-inch wheels. Also optional are 18-inch wheels and leather upholstery. The Rallye Appearance Group adds 20-inch chrome-clad wheels, performance tires, a sport-tuned suspension, ventilated front sport seats, steering wheel shift paddles and a nine-speaker sound system. The Blacktop package is the same but with painted wheels and a special blacked-out grille.
The R/T adds to the SXT's standard equipment a V8 engine, 18-inch wheels, performance tires, upgraded brakes, the same sport-tuned suspension as the Rallye (rear-wheel-drive only), xenon headlights and front sport seats. The Super Track Pak adds the 20-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, performance steering, upgraded brakes and a three-mode adjustable stability control system. Leather upholstery and a nine-speaker sound system are also available.
Both the SXT and R/T can also be equipped with power-adjustable pedals, a power-adjustable steering wheel, driver memory functions, the auto-dimming driver mirror and ventilated front seats (late availability).
The SRT8 is a high-performance model that features a bigger V8 engine, a two-mode adaptive high-performance suspension, 20-inch wheels, three-mode adjustable stability control, upgraded brakes, a rear spoiler and special styling. It also includes the R/T's optional equipment along with a heated steering wheel, special interior accents, heated and cooled cupholders, heated rear seats, a navigation system (with real-time traffic), a rearview camera and a 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
The SRT8 Superbee is essentially a less luxurious, more affordable version of the SRT8. As such, it has a smaller touchscreen interface and does without adaptive suspension, xenon headlights, heated sideview mirrors, remote ignition, shift paddles, Harman Kardon audio, rearview camera, auto-dimming driver mirror, navigation system, power-adjustable pedals, power-adjustable steering wheel, power passenger seat, heated/cooled cupholders and heated/ventilated seats and steering wheel. The Superbee still has its own personality via yellow or black paint accented with Superbee emblems and graphics, unique grille and hood treatments and special cabin features including striped cloth seats with embroidered Superbee logos on the front headrests.
Some of the upper trims' standard luxury features can be had on the lower trims as options. For example, the R/T offers the navigation system and rearview camera. Other options, depending on trim level, include a power sunroof, adaptive cruise control (with a forward collision warning system) and a Driver Confidence Group that features side blind spot and rear cross-path warning systems as well as rain-sensing wipers and auto-dimming headlights.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Dodge Charger SE and SXT come standard with a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 292 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard on the SE; an eight-speed automatic is optional on the SE and standard on the SXT. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but the SXT can be equipped with all-wheel drive. The SE should return an EPA-estimated 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. With the eight-speed automatic, Chrysler says highway fuel economy jumps to 31 mpg. In Edmunds performance testing, a rear-drive SXT went from zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, which is an average time for a full-size sedan.
The Charger R/T gets a 5.7-liter V8 good for 370 hp and 395 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive are standard, but all-wheel drive is optional. In Edmunds testing, a rear-drive R/T accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy stands at 16/25/19 with rear drive and 15/23/18 with all-wheel drive.
The Charger SRT8 is powered by a 6.4-liter V8 making 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive are standard. In Edmunds testing, it hit 60 mph in a brisk 4.6 seconds. Fuel economy is, not surprisingly, low at 14/23/17.
Standard safety features for the Charger include stability and traction control, antilock brakes, front seat side airbags, a driver-side knee airbag, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Optional features include a blind spot warning system, a rear cross-path warning system, a rearview camera and a forward collision warning system that's included with adaptive cruise control.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Charger SXT with the optional 20-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in a very short 113 feet, which is about 10 feet better than average. An R/T was essentially the same, while the SRT8 managed an even shorter 108 feet.
In government crash testing, the Charger received a top five-star rating for overall crash protection. Within that rating, it earned four stars for overall frontal-impact protection and five stars for overall side-impact protection. In crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Charger was awarded the best possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Dodge Charger's interior used to be its weak spot, marred by cheap materials, boring design and a generally low-buck vibe. That all changed with last year's redesign. Now the interior is not only more interesting to see and feel, but also vastly better in its construction. We're big fans of the available 8.4-inch touchscreen interface, which features large, well-marked "buttons" and a clear menu structure. The smaller touchscreen on the base SE is not quite as desirable, but still better than the older touchscreen models found in other Dodge and Chrysler cars.
Cabin space is excellent in the Charger, though the car's slanting roof line restricts headroom for taller backseat passengers and limits rearward visibility. The front seatbacks may be overly firm for some, but should offer good long-distance support nonetheless. The trunk's 15.4-cubic-foot volume is merely adequate for a large sedan, although 60/40-split-folding rear seatbacks are standard for occasions when you need more room.
In the past, getting a Dodge Charger without a Hemi V8 was something you kept quiet. Usually it meant you were driving a rental car or couldn't pony up for the extra horses. Thankfully, this is no longer the case, as Chrysler's new 3.6-liter V6 puts down strong power and returns good fuel economy. The addition of the eight-speed automatic improves efficiency even more.
So, you no longer have to get the V8, but this is still a Charger we're talking about. The big V8 transforms the Charger from a handsome, pleasant-to-drive sedan into the muscle car its name evokes. Step all the way up to the SRT8 and you'll give Corvette drivers a run for their money in a straight line.
The 2012 Dodge Charger also earns high marks for a suspension that delivers a good balance between ride comfort and competent handling. The car's sheer girth makes it tough to hustle along a tight road, but precise steering and a composed suspension make it a more involving drive than most other full-size sedans. This is especially true for Chargers fitted with the many performance upgrades available throughout the lineup.