2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus First Test
No Laughing Matter
During last year's Car of the Year competition, the judges spent much time gushing about the Dodge Charger's (and Chrysler 300's) new-for-2012 eight-speed transmission and just how much of an impact it had on the car's personality. After putting the better part of a thousand miles on the 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus you see here over the course of two weeks, it's easy to see why.
Not only is the new Charger light years ahead of the one it replaces at a baseline level -- the interior alone is a huge leap forward -- but the new entry-level powertrain is a legitimate option even for those with an enthusiast bent. The combination of the eight-speed and the 292-hp 3.6-liter V-6 shaves a full second off the old 250-hp, 3.5-liter V-6/five-speed automatic combination's 0-60 mph time and 0.7 second off the quarter mile, for starters. Granted, even the new numbers of 6.6 seconds and 15.1 second at 95.2 mph aren't anything special, but this is a 4100-pound, full-size American sedan -- one with a 31 mpg highway rating, at that. That fuel economy figure is legit, by the way -- my lead-footed self-averaged about 22-23 mpg during my regular commute and saw it go up even higher during a weekend drive out to Palm Springs. Despite that, your eyes might still pop every time you head to the pump, thanks to the Charger's massive 19.1-gallon fuel tank.
The Charger's greatest attribute, however, is just how smooth it is. The engine may well rival BMW's legendary inline-sixes, while the transmission's shifts are as seamless as they get. Thanks to the Rallye Appearance Group, our tester was equipped with a sport mode and (small) steering wheel-mounted shifters -- the latter are of limited use, but the former is quite handy for passing maneuvers or spirited drives. And yes, this big 2-ton sedan can hold its own in the hills, posting 0.83 g on our skidpad and a 26.9-second time around out figure-eight course, less than a second behind the far more-powerful Charger R/T. Out in the real world, it has no problem holding its line, thanks in part to the big 20-inch, 245mm tires and sport suspension (also part of the Rallye Group), doing so with minimal corrective input. Steering is on the light side, but quick and responsive nonetheless. More important, it feels natural rather than artificial. If you do want to get stupid, it'll be more than willing to hang out its rear end, though it's obviously not as quick to do so as the R/T and SRT8.
Opinions were split on the red interior color, but there's no denying that the cabin is a pleasant place to be, with plenty of space for all passengers and, thanks to the cavernous trunk, their luggage. Headroom in the back is on the tight side for taller occupants, but there's enough legroom to enable couch-like slouching. The big 8.4-inch screen is clear, the infotainment system is easy to use, and the sound coming from the 506-watt, nine-speaker stereo is good enough to keep almost anyone's ears happy. With the windows up, NVH is nicely isolated, resulting in a cruise quieter than that of many so-called "luxury cars." The only downside is that the V-6 doesn't provide much of a soundtrack.
Should you want a bit more noise from the hood, the Charger R/T and its 370-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 is a mere $1400 away, but you'll pay far more at the pump, and won't get to enjoy the smoothness of the ZF eight. In fact, the V-8-powered Charger and 300 have to make do with the five-speed for at least another year. Once the eight backs the eight, the calculus may change, but for now, the SXT is the Charger to spend your money on.
|2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$36,015|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.6L/292-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4107 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||199.9 x 75.0 x 58.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.6 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.1 sec @ 95.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||121 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.9 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||19/31 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||177/109 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.84 lb/mile|