2012 Dodge Charger R/T Road & Track Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
An exciting new interpretation of a classic Detroit muscle car loaded with contemporary and civilized refinements
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
The name harkens to the past, as do some of the styling cues and even the "Hemi" engine's combustion chamber layout, but the current Dodge Charger is not an exercise in nostalgia. It is a new interpretation of the classic Detroit muscle car that is thoroughly contemporary in the chassis chassis department and a far more civilized piece of machinery than anything from the 1960s.
But not too civilized, as a prod to the accelerator of my 2012 R/T Road & Track test car revealed. With a maximum of 370 horsepower and 395 lb-ft of torque, and a wide and strong spread to that torque, it's a classic all-American V8 with plenty of thrust. Unlike its namesake of forty-plus years ago, though, this Charger handles and stops, quite likely better than most sports cars of the late 60s. A solid unibody structure with four-wheel independent suspension and huge vented disc brakes all around sees to that. And its 245/45 ZR20 tires are an improvement over even the racing tires of the late `60s, don't even think of the dubious bias-ply street tires of that time. "Fuel Saver Technology", deactivation of four of the eight cylinders, means reasonable fuel economy in light-throttle cruise mode. (Which almost makes up for the hearty appetite with foot to the floor…)
Reflecting customer desires of this day, a 2012 Charger can be specified with the full gamut of today's comfort, infotainment, and safety electronics. No nostalgia there… power windows and seats may have been around in the 60s, but heated and cooled seats and cupholders, blind-spot and hidden cross-traffic detection, backup cameras, navigation systems, satellite radio, adaptive cruise control , and electronic stability control weren't even imagined. And can all be had in a Charger.
Such as my test car. "Fully-loaded" would be an apt description, with options that drove the R/T's $29,995 (at time of writing) base price to $37,935. Typical press fleet specification, and a showcase for all that the beast could be. Of those extras, the Road & Track Package adds performance with an upgraded engine controller and rear axle ratio, adds shift paddles for manual shifting (in addition to the AutoStick lever) and also comfort with heated and cooled high-bolstered front seats and cupholders, and a long list of interior additions. The Super Trak Pak is also a definite plus for go, with stickier tires and a sport tuning for the suspension and steering and multi-mode stability control plus larger four-wheel vented disc brakes. For high-tech and luxury desires, there's the safety upgrade of the Driver Confidence Group, with blind spot and rear cross traffic detection and a wide-angle backup camera key and much-appreciated components. Adaptive Cruise control helps reduce tedium and improve safety on long highway drives, and the Navigation group also adds Sirius/XM radio and telematics, a Garmin nav system, and Chrysler's Uconnect connectivity and entertainment system.
So equipped, it's a very civilized beast. But a beast nonetheless. Which is the point -- for civility and better economy there are the V6 models, with the 292-horsepower Pentastar DOHC V6 and now an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission. Muscle traditionalists can opt for the R/T variations, with 370-hp Hemi and rear- or all-wheel drive. Yes, the UConnect audio system sounds good; so does the Hemi stereo out of the twin exhausts. And unlike its legendary forebears, this Charger loves life in the corners and can stop quickly and repeatedly. It's roomy and comfortable, civilized and quick. Keep your foot in it and it'll pass anything but a gas station, but gentler throttle and cylinder deactivation can be a long distance from that 19-gallon tank. 1968 was good; 2012 is even better.
Watch TACH's exclusive Dodge Charger Blacktop and R/T models promo video
APPEARANCE: There have been no real styling changes to the Charger since its 2011 mid-cycle freshening, and none are needed. The current Charger's original looks were a bit chunky when it debuted in 2006. Last year's refresh visually lost weight and added sleekness with styling influenced by but not a copy of the 1968 to `70 version. The "double diamond" fenders and semi-fastback roof work as well today as they did then, and the full-width LED taillights are a definite improvement. Up front, the crosshair grille is familiar, and each model gets a slightly different trim treatment.
COMFORT: In 1968, the Charger was a medium-sized car. By today's standards, this one is a large car. With a length of just under 200 inches, on a 120-inch wheelbase, it's shorter than the first- or second-generation Charger, and on a three-inch longer wheelbase. With four doors instead of two for passenger access, so no compromises for the rear passengers and no lack of space for anyone. Interior styling is contemporary international, with an all-American ambiance. Simple shapes and high-quality materials set the tone. A textured aluminum, or at least convincingly aluminum-looking, inlay around the instruments is a notable styling element. A good instrument layout and easy-to-use controls, even for the nav system, help to make the Charger a very pleasant car for any distance. As do very good front seats, here leather with suede-like centers and both heated and cooled. A locking, compartmentalized glove box provides secure storage for more than the owner's manual, registration papers, and maybe a pair of gloves, and there are storage pockets with water bottle holders in all four doors.
All expected contemporary cabin electronics are standard or available, depending on trim level -- as mentioned, this one had them all. With the Uconnect system, audio, phone, seat, and lighting systems are controlled through the touchscreen, as are some climate settings. But there are good old-fashioned simple controls for HVAC and audio as well. Rear seat room is very good, for the outboard passengers, at least -- who here get seat heaters. The center is compromised by the near-bucket cushion contour and a high central tunnel, so is best for a small person for a short distance. The trunk is spacious, and space can be increased by folding the 60/40 rear seatback. A space-saver spare and the battery live underneath its floor.
SAFETY: Passive safety is addressed by a strong unibody structure that uses high-strength steels and transformation-induced plasticity to maximize passenger protection through front and rear crush zones and a central safety cage. A full complement of airbags and reactive head restraints are further enhancements. Good handling characteristics, strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes, multi-mode electronic stability control, and available active cruise control with forward collision warning further enhance safety. Blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic detection is available, and was fitted to my test car. It's very useful on the road and especially when backing from between two large vehicles in a parking lot. The placement and angle of view of the backup camera also helps in that situation.
RIDE AND HANDLING: It's no secret that the Charger, like the Challenger, Chrysler 300, and late Dodge Magnum, is based on an ex-Mercedes-Benz E-Class chassis architecture. No complaints there, and the strength and rigidity and fully-independent unequal-length control arm / multilink suspension make today's Charger a far better car on any sort of road than any of its Sixties namesakes. Add the "Super Trak Pak" sport tuning for the suspension and steering and it's even better. Appropriately firm, it's very European in that it's quite comfortable as well as providing very good handling characteristics. With immense grip from the 245/45 ZR20 tires in the Trak Pak, cornering limits are best explored at a track day. This is a very competent piece of machinery, with a chassis as good as its drivetrain -- something that couldn't be said of `60s muscle cars.
PERFORMANCE: Today's Hemi is not the legendary `60s 426, and that's probably good. Yes, the old one had low-ball power figures when most manufacturers were exaggerating. It was also big, heavy, and thirsty. We won't even mention emissions from seven liters of engine breathing richly through a couple of extra-large four-barrel carburetors…and fuel consumption would be commensurate. The current Hemi shares only eight cylinders and a similar (but hardly identical) head design with its ancestor. Power has been increased over the years, and is now 370 hp at 5250 rpm, with torque peaking at 395 lb-ft at 4200 rpm. And, unlike many current engines that need to be revved to make decent torque, there's plenty right down to idle. That means: press hard with your right foot and get rocketed forward, probably more quickly than any stock street-legal Hemi car from the 60s. Expect membership in Friends of OPEC if you do too much of that, though -- horsepower = fuel + air, the more the merrier. In more mundane operation a little green "eco" light is displayed on the dash, and four of the eight cylinders are deactivated for reasonable fuel consumption. Still, at around 15 mpg city and 23 highway indicated, this is an engine for the performance enthusiast, not the frugal. The five-speed automatic is fine, with this amount of torque third gear is really all you ever need… and yes you can shift manually, listening to lovely V8 music and all, but that's hardly necessary as the automatic programming is very good. Automatic transmissions have come even further than engines over the years.
CONCLUSIONS: With a Hemi V8, the Dodge Charger is as muscular as any of its street-legal ancestors and far more civilized and capable.
2012 Dodge Charger R/T Road & Track
Base Price $ 29,995
Price As Tested $ 37,935
Engine Type 16-valve pushrod OHV V8, cast iron block and aluminum alloy heads with hemispherical combustion chambers and variable cam timing and (4) cylinder deactivation
Engine Size 5.7 liters / 345 cu. in.
Horsepower 370 @ 5250 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 395 @ 4200 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length 120.2 in. / 199.9 in.
Curb Weight 4253 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 11.5
Fuel Capacity 19.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement 89 octane unleaded mid-grade recommended 87 octane unleaded regular permissible
Tires 245/45 ZR20 99Y Goodyear Eagle F1
Brakes, front/rear vented disc all around, ABS
Suspension, front/rear independent unequal-length control arms / independent multilink
Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 16 / 25 / 20
0 to 60 mph est 6 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
29R Charger R/T Road & Track - includes: Road/Track Performance Group: high-speed engine controller, 3.06 rear axle ratio, customer-selectable sport mode, steering wheel- mounted paddle shifters, ventilated front seats, driver/front passenger 4-way lumbar adjust, power front seats, heated rear seats, power tilt & telescope steering column, power-adjustable pedals with memory, memory for radio, driver seat, and mirrors, 180-amp alternator, security alarm, 20"x8.0" chrome-clad wheels with 245/45R20 all-season performance tires, rear body-color spoiler, black grille with black honeycomb insert, "Heritage R/T" badge, power heated memory mirrors with manual fold-away, auto-adjust in reverse mirrors, driver's auto-dimming outside mirror, heated exterior mirrors, heated & cooled front console cupholders, driver & front passenger lower LED lamps, front overhead LED lighting, sport leather seats with suede inserts $ 4,000
Driver Confidence Group - includes: blind spot with rear cross detection, ParkView rear backup camera, rain-sensitive windshield wipers, Smartbeam headlamps, approach lamps $ 995
Adaptive Cruise Control Group - includes: heated steering wheel, forward collision warning, adaptive speed control $ 925
Navigation/Rear Backup Camera Group - includes: UConnect Touch 8.4N CD/DVD/MP3/NAV, Garmin navigation system, Sirius/XM radio/traffic service/ travel link with 1-year subscription $ 795
Super Trak Pak - includes: 245/45 R20 BSW 3-season performance tires, sport suspension, performance steering, 3-mode electronic stability control, heavy-duty 4-wheel antilock disc brakes $ 400
Destination Charge $ 825