2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus AWD Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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You've got to hand it to Dodge: In an era when too many full-size sedans seem to have been focus-grouped into bland conformity, the Dodge Charger manages to retain far more than its share of style and swagger. And while in the past this style and swagger could have been accused of coming at the expense of sophistication and finesse, the 2012 Charger SXT Plus with AWD is a surprisingly well-refined machine.

The Charger nameplate has a long and varied history with Dodge, and the current four-door iteration was first introduced in 2005 for the 2006 model year, with a revised second-generation car coming to market for 2011. While the 2006 Charger sedan had a suitably menacing face, the bodywork was a bit soft and chubby looking, but the 2011 redesign fixed that, sending the Charger off with a personal trainer to bring back the chiseled, well-defined look that the Charger had back in college. Which is to say that the current, second-generation sedan now has hood scallops, body side scallops and full-width taillights like the original Charger coupe of the late 1960s, and is generally more taut-looking all around.

For 2012 Dodge has focused attention on the drivetrain, introducing an all-new 8-speed ZF transmission for the V6-equipped SXT and SXT Plus models. This is actually the same basic transmission used in BMWs and other European performance cars, and represents the first such application in a domestic North American car. It's good stuff too, giving the 3.6-litre V6 equipped Charger both better performance and improved fuel economy, although after spending a week with an 8-speed equipped Charger SXT Plus all-wheel drive model there are a couple of small points I'd ask Dodge to address going forward.

My first quibble relates to the "monostatic" electronic shifter, which returns to centre after each gear selection and therefore lacks any real user feedback. I found it difficult to consistently get the gear I wanted, constantly ending up in park when I was trying to shift from drive to reverse, and getting neutral when I was trying to shift from park to drive. At first I thought this was perhaps because I was doing something wrong or just not "getting it," but it turns out that my colleague experienced the exact same frustration and so did several other reviewers. Memo to Dodge: fix the shifter so it provides clear physical feedback and can be operated without having to watch the shift indicator.

Second is the fact that my test car did not have paddle shifters or any other way of manually controlling the transmission. Paddle shifters are shown on the Dodge website as being available, but at this time they don't appear to be available on the AWD models and are only listed for the rear-wheel drive models as part of the Rallye or Blacktop packages, either of which costs $1,595. With eight forward speeds the transmission can ensure that it's always in the best gear for fuel economy, but in the absence of paddle shifters this means that it's inevitably never in the best gear for immediate acceleration, a trait I found frustrating when driving along twisty back roads, where every post-corner foray into the accelerator was accompanied by a distinct pause as the transmission selected the correct gear and then a sudden surge as the 292-horsepower, 260 lb-ft Pentastar V6 engine delivered the goods. Paddle-shifters should be standard equipment, or at least a standalone option.

In all other respects, my SXT Plus test car was very well equipped. The SXT Plus trim includes 19-inch polished alloy wheels, push button start and remote engine start, heated mirrors, fog lights, automatic air conditioning, heated leather seating both front and rear, power fronts sets, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Homelink, auto-dimming headlights, adaptive cruise control, nice-sounding Alpine AM/FM/satellite audio, Bluetooth connectivity, and even heated and cooled front cupholders.

I found the front seats to be wonderfully comfortable, and they were supportive in the corners without being constricting. The back seats were also accommodating and received praise from my teenagers during a road trip to a local island. The rest of the interior receives similarly high marks - it's nicely detailed and built of good quality materials, with soft-touch surfaces covering areas that are hard-touch in most of the competition. About my only negative comments (and these are really minor points) are that the dash, although soft-touch, is a little rubbery looking and that the central touch-screen display could be a little bigger.

On the road, the Charger delivers driving performance that'll put a smile on your face and a civilized ride that'll keep your passengers smiling too. The V6 has a pleasant burble that sounds more like a V8 than it has any right to, and it moves the Charger along quicker than it has any right to as well - but perhaps that's not so surprising, because at 292 horsepower it's only eight horsepower shy of the Mustang GT from five years ago. Despite all this power, city/highway fuel consumption is reasonably good at 11.4 / 7.3 L/100 km.

Around the corners the Charger is well-controlled and comfortable, with precise, confidence-inspiring steering. At 1,883 kilos (4,151 lbs) it's not a light car, and you can sense this fact when weaving through the corners, but the suspension does a very good job of keeping the car's heft buttoned down and going where you point it, and the big 235/55R19 tires generate plenty of grip. Overall, when driven with restraint the Charger is perfectly docile, but it rewards spirited driving with credible performance.

Pricing for the 2012 Dodge Charger starts at $29,995 for the base SE RWD model, with the SXT Plus RWD starting at $35,095 and the SXT Plus AWD model, as tested, going for $37,095. When one considers the cars the Charger might be considered competitive with - full-size sedans like the Ford Taurus, Hyundai Genesis and Toyota Avalon - this makes the Charger a genuinely good value, especially if you're the kind of driver who likes a little swagger in your sedan.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sedan, Dodge, 2012, Charger, $30,000 - $39,999,

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