Dodge's reborn Charger SRT8 sets the pace for a lineup of 6.4-liter V8-powered track-bred performance machines from Detroit.

2012 Dodge Charger SRT8

It's one of the most aggressive-looking American cars in history, from its blacked-out snout to the rocket-retro tail lights, and it's capable of showing those tail lights to almost every sedan money can buy. Dodge has raised its game with the new Charger SRT8, but the price has risen as well. Speed costs money: How fast do you want to go?

The verdict on the original Charger SRT8 was simple. Fast, but messy. The 6.1-liter HEMI was stout, but the suspension was slack and the rental-car interior was in sharp contrast with the TIE-fighter exterior. For the 2012 model, Dodge has fixed most of the problems while turning up the dial on the stuff we loved.

Is this a luxury sedan, a sports sedan, or both?
"¨Oh, it's just your everyday family sedan. If, that is, your idea of a "family sedan" comes straight from the AMG "family" of products. This is an American take on the stellar Mercedes-Benz E63. Not, mind you, that the two cars share anything besides a transmission design and some long-lost relatives back in the engineering family tree. Rather, the fundamental idea is the same. Big rear-wheel-drive car with big-hearted V-8 engine. Add a world-class suspension and brakes. Shake, stir, and release on the unsuspecting.

To the already much-improved 2011 Charger, the SRT8 adds the aforementioned go-fast goodies and then ups the ante further with an SRT-specific set of electronics and an upmarket seating package, not to mention pretty much every option in the Charger's long list of available goodies.

With this model, Chrysler has decided to differentiate the 300 SRT8 and Charger SRT8 a little better. For a slightly lower price, the Charger brings a simpler dashboard, less expensive interior trim, and a slightly less-comprehensive list of options.

The best way to understand the difference between the 300 and the Charger? The Chrysler has the luxo-mandatory LED lights in place; the Charger wears a GT-R style trapezoid all-black grill and a permanent sneer. That tells you what you need to know about the different markets for the two cars.
Still, the Charger's new-for-2012 adaptive damping , standard on the SRT8, means that it's possible to impress your girlfriend's parents on the open road once they're inside. Just don't let them look at the thing.

Setting the pace
Oh yeah, and don't open up the throttle on them, either, Our test route down the Angeles Crest Highway revealed the Charger's simply terrifying ability to leap into the triple digits between almost any pair of corners on the road"¦ and it could hold most of that speed down the long sweepers. Rebound damping is beyond superb. Almost nothing can upset the SRT8 when it's at full chat.
Full chat, by the way, is where this engine will demand to take you.

With 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque, combined with a big active intake and a decided lack of rotating inertia, this is one of the most impressive V-8 engines in history. It simply outclasses the LS3 GM powerplant and offers an even more dynamic delivery than the 5.0 "Coyote" Ford overhead-cammer.

For the first time, cylinder deactivation is included with an SRT8 sedan. The "ECO" mode can be induced to appear fairly often, although don't expect it to change the game. Our 75-mile canyon run averaged 8.6 mpg.

Track attack
We took the SRT8 Charger to Willow Springs Raceway and discovered just how good a full-sized sedan can be on a racetrack. It's monstrously fast, of course, but better than that, the brakes are dependable and the big HEMI hanging over the front axle keeps everything well-balanced.
Through Willow's Turn 3-4-5 complex, the Charger could be easily steered on the throttle both up and down the hill. There's plenty of room to safely rotate and manipulate the car through trail-braking and less-than-prudent throttle application.

In reality, however, the on-track behavior of the old SRT8 was just fine. This is the least-improved aspect of the car, just because it didn't have as much room for that improvement. You'll give your Camaro SS and Mustang GT buddies something to think about on a racetrack, particularly if you are swift with the wheel-mounted paddle shifters and awake to the possibilities of left-foot braking.

The old SRT8 variant of the Charger was priced way below the similarly souped-up 300, at 38 grand and change. The new one snuggles right up to its platform mate, ringing the register for $46,660 - a gap of under $1,400 to the Chrysler. It's a worrisome increase, particularly in the current economy, but frankly, the car justifies the money and then some. There's more tech inside and out, the new engine costs more to build, the adaptive suspension is expensive, and the interior is simply light-years beyond the old one, even if it's missing the stitched leather and upscale feel of its platform mate.

Leftlane's bottom line"¨
If you want to have a "fast sedan" for thirty grand, go buy a Kia Optima Turbo, but don't expect to even sniff the back bumper of this SRT8. Speed costs money. The new car has technologies that make it faster, and that costs more. Simple as that.

The 2012 Charger SRT8 is an absurdly satisfying sedan that goes like hell and looks like the devil yet doesn't require the complete sale of one's soul to afford.

2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 base price, $46,660.

Words and photos by Jack Baruth and courtesy Chrysler.