By Steven Cole Smith, Special to Tribune Newspapers
April 21, 2012
There's an insidious feature on the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8. It's located in a little window on the dashboard, between the tachometer and the speedometer. It's a readout that allows you to come to a complete stop, then accelerate from 0 to 60 mph while it times your run.
You roll to a stop, the little window says "Ready," and you hit the accelerator. When you get to 60 mph, the numbers flash in the window: 4.9 seconds, perhaps. Then, like a waiter serving up a slice of pie to someone with a sweet tooth, the little window encourages you to do it again. And again. You can almost watch the fuel gauge plummet.
My name is Steve, and I am an acceleration-aholic, and the 2012 Charger SRT8 is an enabler. Yes, with the touch of a button you can turn off that 0-to-60 mph message, but it's so … hard. When you have a 6.4-liter, 470-horsepower V-8 ready and waiting, and you happen to live on a road where the speed limit is 60 mph, it's so easy to just look both ways — way, way down the road — pull out, stop, and press the accelerator. Just stomping on the accelerator doesn't work as well as easing into the power a little — that's how you get your best time of, say, 4.7 seconds.
Somewhere in this review, I would normally tell you what my overall fuel mileage was during the week-long test, but that 0-to-60 feature likely lowered it to the point where it does not at all represent what the Charger SRT8 is capable of. The EPA rates it at 14 mpg city and 23 mpg highway — still bad enough to earn a $1,000 federal "gas-guzzler" tax, and of course, premium gasoline is recommended — but my overall mileage was just grim, and I have myself to blame. That, and the little accelerometer.
Otherwise, how is the SRT8? It's a wonderful car, if you don't mind knowing your gas station attendant by his or her first name. Yes, on the highway, the SRT8 has the clever "fuel saver" feature, which cuts power to four of the eight cylinders when you are just cruising along, instantly wakening the sleeping four when you accelerate. It's seamless, and if you just hit the cruise control on relatively flat pavement, you can expect 25 mpg.
The Charger is offered in a nice selection of models, from the regular Charger with a willing 3.6-liter, 292-horsepower V-6 that, coupled with an eight-speed automatic transmission, gets an EPA-rated 31 mpg, astounding for what the EPA rightfully classifies as a "large" car capable of carrying five passengers and 16.3 cubic feet of stuff in the trunk. While the Hemi V-8 ("Hemi" refers to the hemispherical design of the cylinders) in the SRT8 is 6.4 liters — it was 6.1 liters in 2011 — there's a 5.7-liter version in the Charger R/T that still pumps out 370 horsepower. If that isn't enough, the 470 horses in the SRT8 is up 45 over last year.
While the SRT8 obviously goes fast in a straight line, SRT (Street and Racing Technology) engineers have made it stop and turn quite well, too. Brakes are big Brembo discs, and the suspension uses premium Bilstein shock absorbers that make for a firm but surprisingly comfortable ride. Wheels are forged aluminum, and the 245/45-R20 tires work great on dry pavement, passably well in the rain.
The SRT8 has very comfortable front bucket seats, and a generally upscale look that may surprise those who haven't looked inside a Charger in a few years. Instruments and controls are well-placed, and the 900-watt sound system is excellent. The test car had a power sunroof, outside blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control that measured the distance to the vehicle in front of you, and adjusted your speed. The base price was $45,795, and with shipping and options, the sticker read $49,260. Keep in mind that the regular Charger starts at about $26,000, so you are paying a big premium for looks, handling and the ability to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds.
Or maybe 4.6 seconds if I'd had more practice — and more gas.
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