2012 Dodge Charger SXT: Driven

March 2, 2012
The 2012 Dodge Charger SXT would most definitely see more attention—and more respect—if it weren't for the bombastic greatness and over-the-top V-8 muscle of the models slotting just above it.

We've driven the Hemi models of the Charger—including the SRT8, with its adrenaline-surging, 470-horse, 6.4-liter Hemi, and the punchy 370-hp R/T. And with their throbbing, burbling V-8s and sheer tire-shredding ability, they're clearly the ones most lusted after. But as we recently found out when we revisited the Charger V-6, the Charger SXT has grown into quite the smart pick—as a well-rounded sport sedan with enough luxury to rival German sedans costing twenty grand more.

Considering the V-8 models' raucous, larger-than-life performance, the feel of previous V-6 models from the driver's seat was always a little disappointing. From the overwhelmed (and underwhelming) 2.7-liter that you might have driven if you've rented a Charger, to the merely adequate 3.5-liter that many others who loved the look but were limited by monthly payment, it simply didn't provide the kick that it visually teased, in seemingly every other way possible. And with interior appointments passable, but nothing special, prior to last year, there weren't many other solid selling points for the V-6 models—other than their rear-wheel-drive roadholding and poise has always been a step ahead of front-drive rivals.

But it all started changing last year, when the Charger got a revised exterior as well as, more importantly, a redone cabin, plus Chrysler's oh-so-smooth 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. This year the Charger takes the second step in its transformation: V-6 versions of the Charger get an all-new ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, as well as availability of UConnect Touch (it was phased in last year). And altogether, these changes finally make the V-6 SXT, which gains UConnect Touch and other upgrades, one surprisingly desirable car.

As we've reported in nearly all of its other applications, the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 is one of the best V-6s in the business right now. It lacks the flat spots of some V-6s, has plenty of torque, and smoothly (not coarsely) hits its high-rev power peak.

Finally, a smooth, sensible yin to the V-8's yang

The new eight-speed ZF automatic provides a wide span of ratios, and a deep overdrive. In eighth gear at 70 mph, the engine lopes along at a slight tick under 1,500 rpm, according to the tach—free of vibrations of protestations. From there, you can ease very slightly onto the accelerator and ease up your speed; but prod harder with your right foot and the transmission simply picks out a lower gear, without hesitation. Slam your foot down from that eighth gear cruse, and it masterfully pulls off what feels like a slight intake followed by one awesome multi-gear downshift. Before you can exhale, you're pinned back in your seat—and no, that's no exaggeration; thanks to the engine's heavy breathing in the high revs, and the transmission always ready with the right ratio, the passing power is always right there.

At least on point-and-shoot Michigan roads, we found the fancy, die-cast paddle-shifters beside the steering wheel completely unnecessary; but the once we used them, we found the transmission's responses to be just as quick. And if there's not a throttle blip on downshifts, there's something very close to it.

Chrysler says that the eight-speed automatic brings a 10 percent improvement to acceleration and a 15 percent increase in fuel economy. With that, the rear-wheel-drive version we drove earns EPA ratings of 19 mpg city, 31 highway. And in around 140 miles of rather rapid driving around the Detroit area, in cold weather, we managed about 23 mpg.

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