Let's begin with some numbers. Packing 470 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, the new-for-2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 is nudging into BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG territory. The Big Bad Dodge runs hard up against the smaller Cadillac CTS-V, too, for less money. And it does all this without a turbo, a supercharger or more than two valves over each combustion chamber.
What the numbers don't tell you is how confident, complete and wholly American this assembled-in-Canada sedan drives. This isn't some pretend performance car with front-wheel drive or a truck stuffed with big wheels and tires. It's a broad-shouldered and bullying rear driver with deep roots in muscle car history. This is a tough guy looking to brawl.
And yet it's one of the most comfortable cars Dodge has ever built.
No Replacement for Displacement
Chrysler somehow survived the DaimlerChrysler merger/takeover and divorce, privatization, bankruptcy and a merger/takeover with/by Fiat and emerged stronger from the ordeal. Aggressive management and a "deliver now or die" attitude has re-energized the product roster. The Charger was thoroughly retooled for 2011 and the 2012 SRT8 version rides in on those sharply chiseled, heritage-styled coattails. The LX platform underpinnings haven't changed much from the 2006 Charger resurrection, but the sheet metal is new and tougher-looking, and the old haphazard interior has been replaced by a fresh design executed in altogether higher-quality materials.
While the base Charger V6 is now much better and the R/T is fortified with 370 hp from its 5.7-liter Hemi V8, it's the SRT8 that has gained the most. "The most" being 392 cubic inches — 6.4 liters — of Hemi V8 power: old-school pushrod technology thumped up to an SAE net-rated 470 horses and 470 lb-ft of grunting torque.
That's, not coincidentally, the same displacement of the raised deck and wide head Hemi Chrysler first installed in the 1957 300C and Imperial. But the new engine makes a lot more power. The dual-quad carbureted '57 300C's Hemi maxed at 390 hp — back when engines were gross rated on primitive engine dynamometers with a correction factor applied by the marketing department.
However, the original 392 was the Hemi so tough it could take the abuse of burning nitromethane — while being stuffed by a supercharger. In other words, it's the engine that made Top Fuel drag racing the spectacle it is today. It's the legend upon which the 426-cubic-inch in street and race Hemi legends-upon-legends were built. It's why the Hemi name is so dang marketable. Of course, Chrysler had to bring it back — or at least its displacement.
The new 392 effectively replaces the 425-hp 6.1-liter (370-cubic-inch) version of the Hemi used in all the previous SRT8 concoctions. It was first seen in the 2011 Challenger SRT8 and will also nest under the hoods of the Chrysler 300C SRT8 and Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8.
The Garlits Zone
Backing the amped-up engine is the familiar Mercedes-derived five-speed automatic transmission, boasting paddle shifters and SRT-spec calibrations for firm, responsive up- and downshifts. This trans is no dummy, offering conventional "normal" Drive and more aggressive "Sport" Drive modes, plus sequential operation with the console shifter if you prefer stick to paddles. Before we burn rubber, let's check out the new accommodations....
Screw that. Let's burn rubber!
Fire up the new 392 and it hardly seems as if there are 470 horses ready to be let off the chain. Unlike the old solid-lifter, lumpy camshaft days, this Hemi idles smooth, and the exhaust thrums like an old, all-wooden Chris-Craft power boat. There isn't a Hyundai or Honda running at full throttle that sounds as good as the Charger SRT8 does at idle.
Select Drive, mat the throttle and it launches hard, fast and loud: Zero to 60 takes just 4.6 seconds (4.3 seconds with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) if you get it just right. And 75 comes up just 1.8 seconds later. Then there's that sound. The SRT elves have worked hard to let this engine be heard; they've opened up some throaty intake roar, and a special "active valve" exhaust system allows for straight-through mid and rear mufflers, giving an extra-throaty exhaust roar under engine load. All this motor music exits via 4-inch chromed dual exhaust outlets that resemble the business end of a Howitzer. You won't be shopping for an aftermarket exhaust system for this one — it comes standard — quiet on the cruise, and it roars when you're hard on the gas.
The transmission shifts firmly and crisply (some would say "abruptly"), holding each gear and delaying the shift to redline in Sport mode if you keep your foot in it in Drive. You won't need the paddles or manual shifting to get the best acceleration; just keep your foot to the floor and let the engine, trans and engine management system do their business. The manual shifting is most handy when you want to control the car with engine braking, such as when coming down a curvy mountain grade.
Don't worry about the lack of a 6th gear. This car's torque band is so wide, it could get by with a direct connection between the crankshaft and rear pumpkin.
The EPA's ratings are still pending, but Dodge has worked hard to make the SRT8 as frugal as a 470-hp car can be. Cruise along at part throttle and the ECO indicator lights up on the dash as the big Hemi's cylinder-deactivation "Fuel Saver" system shuts down half the engine to run on just four cylinders. Other than that ECO light blinking, the Fuel Saver's engagement is seamless; there's no feeling or sensation of cylinders cutting in or out.
At 4,371 pounds, the Charger SRT8 is thick and densely packed. It's one thing to stop a Porsche and something else to haul down a dreadnought that's running at ramming speed.
Fortunately the Charger SRT8 has monster brakes and an all-independent suspension system that keeps the tenacious tires planted under hard deceleration. Nosedive is minimal, modulation is perfect and every stop was short with no apparent fade. The 60-0 runs averaged just 108 feet. There's no technique involved either; just stomp on the brake pedal until your femur cracks and let the antilock system work its electronic magic.
The brakes themselves are from the usual suspect in these matters, Brembo. Up front four-piston Brembo calipers chomp down on big 14.2-inch-diameter slotted and vented rotors. In back is another pair of genuine Brembo four-piston calipers, crushing 13.8-inch slotted and vented rotors. These aren't half-measure brakes — you know, big Brembos in front and generic dwarf discs in back. About the only way to get a shorter stopping distance in this Charger would be to go full Vanishing Point and aim for the spot of sunlight shining between the two bulldozers' blades.
For those of you scoring at home, that means the brakes have 16 pistons — beating the engine in piston count by a stunning two-to-one margin.
Fleet of Feet
As effective as the brakes are, they're abetted by the SRT8's standard 20-inch forged alloy wheel and tire package. The 245/45R20 Goodyear Eagle RS-A 2 tires are rated as all-season radials, but they stick better than that usually implies. There's lots of grip going on here and the suspension keeps the tires well planted. We drew 0.88g on the skid pad with the stability/traction control on or off. That's not Lotus 7 territory, but outstanding for a big sedan.
Those talents show up in the slalom, too, where this big Dodge — lineal descendant of the Polara and Royal Monaco Brougham — ripped through the cones at 66.5 mph. Again the Goodyear tires get some credit, but even more should go to the German engineers who originally designed this basic suspension system way back when for the Mercedes E-Class. The front end rides on short and long A-arms, coil springs, Bilstein shocks and a 30mm anti-sway bar. The rear uses five links, coil springs, two more Bilstein shocks and an 18mm bar.
Standard is a new "Active Damping Suspension" system cleverly dubbed ADS that uses a range of on-road and driver inputs, such as vehicle speed, steering angle, steering speed, brake torque, throttle position and lateral acceleration to automatically adjust the Bilstein shocks for specific conditions. The driver need only select between Auto and Sport — the car and the computers calculate and adjust the rest.
All that ability doesn't come at the expense of a comfortable ride. The Charger SRT8 never becomes punishing, even on rough road surfaces. Dodge nailed the ride/handling balance this time; this Charger rides firmly but never over the top, and rolls like a limo on smooth surfaces. Yet when boogie-fever strikes, it's as pinned down as a Baywatch graduate on Celebrity Apprentice.
The just-superseded Charger's instrument panel, console and dashboard were almost random collections of cheeseball plastic. In contrast, the new dash materials are high quality and the design puts all the gauges front and center where they're easily scanned. And there's a large, clear and bright 8.4-inch LCD touchscreen that dominates the center stack.
The new seats are terrific. The side bolsters are rich-looking Napa leather with a pinholed suede material covering the centers; this grippy stuff keeps you cool and holds you in place during aggressive cornering. The steering wheel incorporates neat silver shifter paddles (done the right way, too: flick the right paddle toward you for an upshift, fan the left paddle for downshifts, with no thumb action required). There are also a wide variety of audio and cruise control functions built into the chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Want a Challenger 392 but need four doors — the Charger SRT8 is your answer.
Sure, there are big-dollar sedans that are faster, more luxurious and carry more weight at the valet. But none of them possesses the sheer swagger of this monstrous Mopar. Not a bad deal for $50K.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of this evaluation, which originally appeared on insideline.com.
The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2012 Dodge Charger in NJ is: