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2012 Dodge Charger: An old-school sedan with great marks

Posted by Bill Griffith  March 2, 2012 10:32 PM

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(All photos: Bill Griffith for The Boston Globe). Click photo for larger version.

Sometimes driving is fun; other times, it’s a hoot. This is about one of those wonderful occasions.

We’re at the wheel of a 2012 Dodge Charger—a.k.a. the undercover police car—near the New Hampshire border. Our test car’s tungsten metallic paint job isn’t too far away from the N.H. state police cruisers’ color scheme.

So, when we manage a friendly wave at local police officers in their black and white Chargers, they wave back, not quite certain if we’re an unmarked member of the fraternity. Of course, we’re not part of their lodge, but we’re driving one of the neatest full-sized sedans around, one the law enforcement types like for its intimidating looks and power.

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Our Charger “only” has the 292-horsepower (and 260 lb.-ft. of torque) 3.6-liter V-6. It’s plenty for us so we can only imagine the feeling of being at the wheel of an R/T model with its 5.7-liter V-8 (370 hp) or the SRT with a 6.4-liter and 470 hp. If our ride is on the edge of being a muscle car, those are true muscle-flexers, vehicles that are helping to keep American’s power-loving tradition alive.

For us, the V-6 also is really smooth on the road. It’s hooked to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. The optional all-wheel-drive system on our vehicle has a front axle disconnect system that leaves us, in effect, driving an old-school rear-wheel-drive sedan given a lack of snow and slippery roads. Our AWD version is rated at 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 on the highway (the RWD version is rated at 31).

The only thing that’s not fun in the Charger is the electronic gear shift lever that requires a firm foot on the brake and very delicate shift movements [The selector always remains in the same fixed position, so you can't feel what gear you're actually in. And you'll usually get it wrong, which is bad when you want to get out quickly. It's an awful, terrible design borrowed from the Audi A8 -- ed.]. I feel embarrassed backing out of a space in a parking lot when it takes a few extra seconds to change gears with other drivers (impatiently) waiting.

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One can only imagine Jackie Gleason at the wheel of one of these units in an old-time “Smokey and the Bandit” episode in his role as the big-bellied sheriff Buford T. Justice. The frustration of trying to slam this unit from reverse into drive would elicit some classic Gleason ad-libs. [“One of these days, Sergio…”].

Others have told us the rear seats are snug, but we found enough leg- and headroom back there to be comfortable. My son, your basic 6-footer, found the passenger seat headroom tight, thanks to the sunroof.

Our SXT Plus had a base price of $31,470 (including destination) and a bottom line of $35,820 after a long list of packages and add-ons that included “should-haves” such as blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control as well as “nice-to-haves” such as a heated steering wheel, rain-sensitive wipers, forward collision warning, and auto high-beam headlights.

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Mrs. G was a bit taken aback by the Charger’s in-your-face acceleration and “tough guy” looks. The 8.4-inch UConnect touchscreen—think widescreen in your dashboard—also seemed bigger than life to her.

However, after a few days, she conceded, “It all fits the Charger’s personality.”

Then, after a stint in the rear seat, she said, “Hey, they think of all the passengers. It’s got heated rear seats. Good for Dodge.”

Included in the SXT Plus package are comfortable leather seats. Also comfortable was the suspension, a refined setup that was as competent over potholed roads as it was under heavy acceleration on a long highway onramp.

A local police officer told us his Charger hit its limit at 126 miles per hour after a Mazda RX-8 he’d stopped on I-95 decided to take off once the officer got out of his car. “He walked away from me… but right into the arms of the New Hampshire guys up the road,” the officer said.

All things considered, the test car hit my sweet spot. The V-6 was plenty powerful, and the eight-speed transmission, AWD, and high-tech goodies made life sweet. Others can have the real muscle of the V-8s. This Charger is a nice everyday driver with a bit of an attitude and a distinctive look.

Bill Griffith can be reached at WGriffith@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.



2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus AWD

THE BASICS
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $31,470 / $35,820.
Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 18 mpg city / 27 mpg highway.
Fuel economy, Globe observed: 25.2 mpg.
Drivetrain: 3.6-liter V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive with front-axle disconnect.
Body: Four-door, five-passenger large sedan.

THE SPECIFICS
Horsepower: 292.
Torque: 260 lb.-ft.
Overall length: 199.9 in.
Wheelbase: 120.2 in.
Height: 58.4 in.
Width: 75.0 in.
Curb weight: 4,151 pounds.

THE GOOD: Aggressive looks, power & handling, quality interior with large touchscreen.

THE BAD: Awkward electronic gear-shifting lever.

THE BOTTOM LINE
: A fun and capable sedan with an “attitude.”

ALSO CONSIDER: Audi A4, Buick Regal GS, Ford Taurus SHO, Chrysler 300C, Hyundai Genesis, Volkswagen CC.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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