While enthusiasts will still peg the scorching, Hemi-powered R/T and SRT8 versions of the Charger as most desired, the all-new eight-speed automatic transmission that's being introduced for 2012 on V-6 models does, in some ways, change the game.
The new transmission takes full advantage of the silky, even power delivery of the 292-hp, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that was introduced last year; and while the old four- and five-speed automatics were underachievers with the V-6s, sapping even more of its performance, this ZF eight-speed is quite the opposite. With relatively low ratios in the first few gears, it rapidly bumps up a gear at a time during light to moderate acceleration, allowing a perky driving feel, yet at a highway cruise, the engine's just loping along. But that's not a bad thing; the transmission always seems ready, and with a quick prod of the right foot it simply grabs the right gear and goes. Also contributing to the perky feel in the lower gears is that the new transmission doesn't allow a lot of slip.
Even though the V-6 is much more enjoyable this year, the V-8s remain the stars of the lineup. Not many sensory perceptions can equal the throb of a massive V-8 in full mating call, and the HEMI V-8 is the equal of Ford's Mustang V-8 for its lascivious racket. Play around the 2000-rpm to 3000-rpm range and the HEMI connects with your inner lothario. The 5.7-liter belts out 370 horsepower with the thrilling force of great gospel music—and you won't be shocked if the 0-60 mph numbers flying around put this R/T in the 5.5-second range. The huge Hemi is a very forgiving engine, and it actually pairs well with the five-speed automatic, which includes a manual-shift mode.
With hydraulic power steering--run by a electric-operated pump--the Charger has a confident, nicely weighted tiller, with a feel that just about matches the somewhat beefy feel of all the controls. The suspension improvements introduced last year, with upgraded shocks, control arms and bushings, do improve body control and responsiveness, though they don't bring any more road feel to the steering wheel.
The Charger actually drives like a somewhat smaller car--that is, unless you opt for Dodge's all-wheel drive system, which makes the steering more reluctant to unwind and in general, makes the driving feel bulkier.
The R/T, by the way, rolls on 18-inch tires unless you pick up the optional 20-inchers, available on "Enforcer" or "Rallye" or "Rallye Plus" packages as well. A "Road and Track" package re-tweaks everything with bigger roll bars, Goodyear sport tires, stiffer monotube shocks and tougher brake linings, as well as an "off" mode for stability control.
For 2012, there's a new Blacktop Package, which brings 20-inch performance tires on Pitch Black five-spoke alloys; a performance suspension; sport seats; and a Pitch Black grille theme. There's also an R/T Road & Track Package, which includes a rear differential with 3.06 axle ratio, performance powertrain calibrations, a high-speed engine controller, 20-inch chrome-clad wheels, and special badging.
The kingpin of the lineup is the 6.4-liter HEMI V-8, with 475 horsepower and a five-speed automatic, good for 0-60 mph times of under five seconds and with its own lascivious V-8 mating call.