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2012 Dodge Charger Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus front quarter view
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Introduction

Back in 2005-2006, when the "HEMI" V8-powered Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger were new, these large sedans were the hottest thing out of Detroit. But once gas prices shot up to $4 a gallon they fell off buyers' consideration lists. For 2012 Chrysler offers both with a 292-horsepower V6 and eight-speed automatic. Exactly what these large rear-wheel-drive sedans needed to make them relevant again, or a lame attempt to make them something they're not?

Tested: 2012 Dodge Charger

4dr Sedan 292-horsepower 3.6L V6 8-speed shiftable automatic RWD

Compared: 2009 Hyundai Genesis

4dr Sedan 290-horsepower 3.8L V6 6-speed shiftable automatic RWD

Why the 2012 Dodge Charger?

  Compared to the Genesis
Handling
Handling: Better Better Worse

Many Charger buyers no doubt pick the car because they love how it looks. But the "21st century muscle car" thing doesn't do much for me. I prefer the looks of the related 300, though perhaps not enough to spend the additional $5,000 or so the Chrysler costs. What I personally like best about both cars with the new V6/8AT powertrain: how they handle. These 200-inch-long, two-ton sedans are far too big and heavy to handle with anything approaching agility. But with the V6 they do feel substantially lighter and better balanced than with the V8--perhaps because they are over 250 pounds lighter and nearly all of this weight comes off the wheels that steer. Need the car to rotate a little more readily about its axis? Just dip into the throttle to nudge the rear end around. With rear-wheel-drive and a sufficiently torquey engine, this option is always available.


Front seat support & comfort
Front seat support & comfort: Better Better Worse

The V6 Charger also feels right because it sits right. Sitting moderately high in the big comfortable seat gazing over an expansive hood, you might start to wonder why traditional American cars don't rule the road the way they once did. Visibility isn't the best, but the 2011 redesign did enlarge the windows, alleviating the bunker-like ambiance of the 2005-2010 sedans.


Charger Reviews: 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus rear quarter view

Sweeping roofline. Bright red might not be the best match for the tall body sides.

Charger Reviews: 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus rear seat

Good room and comfort.

Fuel economy
Fuel economy: About the same Better Worse

With the 5.7-liter V8, the Charger gets EPA ratings of 16 mpg city, 25 highway. Last year the new 3.6-liter V6 bumped these to 18/27. The addition of an 8-speed automatic for 2012 (for now the V8 soldiers on with the 5-speed) raises the EPA numbers to 19/31. In typical suburban driving the trip computer reported between 19 and 25 depending on the number of red lights and the heaviness of my right foot. On one light-footed 78-mph highway cruise it reported 31.5. These are outstanding numbers for such a large, heavy sedan.


Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: About the same Better Worse

The eight-speed automatic also gives the engine the initial gearing it needs to provide the performance promised by the bold styling. Previously, the V6, especially the pre-2011 V6, underwhelmed. The new transmission is also much more responsive than the old one, and eliminates wide gaps between gear ratios, making you feel much more connected to the car. I personally value this responsiveness more in daily driving than I would the greater absolute thrust of the V8. And when they start offering the V8 with this transmission, will the V6 once again seem second class? That remains to be seen. For those who like to give the transmission direct orders, the Rallye Appearance Group includes paddle shifters on the steering wheel.


Price or payments
Price or payments: Better Better Worse

The Charger SXT Plus with Rallye Appearance Group lists for $32,615. Additional options like sunroof, xenon headlights, and memory for the driver's seat and steering wheel bring the price to nearly $35,000. Doesn't seem like a value? Well, even an equivalent Hyundai lists for nearly $44,000, and adjusting for feature differences still leaves the Dodge with a roughly $6,600 price advantage.


Why Not the 2012 Dodge Charger?

  Compared to the Genesis
Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: About the same Better Worse

For the most part, the controls of the Dodge Charger are easy to understand and operate. This is the case even with the touchscreen controls, as the virtual buttons tend to be large and widely spaced. But there is an exception: the electronic shifter that attends the new eight-speed automatic. The detents between P, R, N, and D are hard to feel. The system must intuit from the distance of your pull back on the handle which one you are trying to select. Too often it cannot decide what you want, so it does nothing. Especially if I was in a hurry it could take me three or four attempts to engage Drive.


Interior styling  

The Charger's instrument panel remains more massive than it needs to be, and in general many aspects of the interior seem under-styled and oversized. Shorter drivers will feel like Goldilocks behind the wheel of Papa Bear's car. Raising the power adjustable seat helps. The Chrysler 300 doesn't suffer as much from this problem (which won't be a problem at all for some people) and is a little nicer inside. But even in the tested Dodge the tan leather on the seats looked and felt rich.


Charger Reviews: 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus engine

Suddenly, the V8 seems less necessary.

Charger Reviews: 2012 Dodge Charger SXT shifter instructions

That these were deemed necessary should have been a clue.

Conclusion

We live in a changed world, and many people no longer feel a need for a large sedan. For those who do, the 2012 Dodge Charger with the V6 and eight-speed automatic strikes an excellent balance between performance and economy, while also lending the car better handling than one so large has a right to have.

Charger Reviews: 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus tail lights

Looks even more distinctive at night.

Charger Reviews: 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus trunk

Split rear seats fold to expand it.

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2012 Dodge Charger pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2012 Dodge Charger. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.
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