2012 Dodge Charger Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 23, 2011

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2012 Dodge Charger Buying Advice

The 2012 Dodge Charger is the best car for you if you appreciate the virtues of a big, powerful, rear-wheel-drive domestic-brand sedan. 

The 2012 Dodge Charger will carry over the new styling that came with this car’s extensive model-year 2011 re-engineering but mechanical changes may be afoot. One change is confirmed: re-introduction of the high-performance SRT8 model, now with some 465 stompin’ Hemi horsepower. The other mechanical change is less certain: reports say Dodge is preparing to upgrade Charger’s transmission from a dated five-speed automatic to a state-of-the-art eight-speed automatic. The new transmission holds the promise of more efficient power delivery and improved fuel economy. Whether it’ll come on line for model-year 2012 and whether it’ll be in every model in the Charger lineup are unanswered questions.

Should you wait for the 2012 Dodge Charger or buy a 2011 Dodge Charger? Wait for the 2012 Charger if you pine for the monster thrust and bad-boy looks of the SRT8 model. Wait, as well, if you’re betting on introduction of the eight-speed automatic transmission – it may well be worth your patience. Buy a 2011 Dodge Charger if you’re pleased with the performance of the entirely capable 292-horserpower base-V-6 version or enamored of the good-looking and faster-yet 370-horse Hemi-V-8 2011 Charger R/T. Both will look the same for model-year 2012, and their appeal won’t wane even without the eight-speed automatic.

2012 Dodge Charger Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Dodge Charger won’t stray from the classic-Charger styling cues that were a hallmark of this big sedan’s model-year 2011 redo. I’ll remain a spacious four-door with extroverted body lines and trim details inspired by those of the 1969 and 1970 Charger.

The 2012 Charger will continue to share its basic architecture with the 2012 Chrysler 300 sedan, which also was re-engineered for model-year 2011 and is aimed upscale of the Dodge. In a shortened version, this platform is also the basis of the 2012 Dodge Challenger coupe. The chassis design traces its origins to the model-year 2006 Charger and 300, which were developed while Chrysler was under control of German’s Daimler, maker of Mercedes-Benz. That genealogy is one reason for the sedans’ laudable balance of ride and handling. Their generous passenger room owes much to a 120.2-inch wheelbase, the longest of any car in their price range. That’s important because wheelbase – the distance between the front and rear axles – is a key determinate of a vehicle’s passenger volume.

The 2012 Dodge Charger lineup will expand from two models to three with addition of the SRT8. It could grow to four if Dodge restores the SXT model, which was Charger’s middle-rung trim level before the 2011 redesign. As it is, the 2012 Charger SE almost certainly will return as the base trim level. The 2012 Charger R/T (for Road and Track) will be back as the first step into high performance. And the 2012 Charger SRT8 will join the lineup as the muscle flagship. It’ll be visually distinguished from the other models mainly by a larger, blacked-out grille, a more aggressive lower front fascia, and a hood with a “power bulge” and air-extraction vents. Inside, the 2012 Charger SRT8 will have its own flat-bottom steering wheel and exclusive trim.  

Mechanical: The 2012 Dodge Charger will continue with V-6 and V-8 power and will remain based on a traditional rear-wheel-drive platform. Unconfirmed reports have Chevrolet contemplating re-introduction of a rear-wheel drive sedan (it hasn’t had one since the 1996 Caprice Classic and Impala SS), but until that’s settled, the 2012 Charger will be the only rear-drive full-size sedan – foreign or domestic -- in its price class has it. Compared to front-wheel drive, in which the mass of the powertrain is over the front tires, rear-wheel drive distributes the powertrain’s weight over the length of the car. This benefits handling balance and doesn’t force the front tires to both steer the car and propel it, double-duty that can compromise traction and directional control.

Front-wheel drive’s concentration of weight over the wheels that also drive the car does hold wet-surface traction advantages. To blunt that rear-drive shortfall, the 2012 Dodge Charger will again offer all-wheel drive (AWD), a feature only the Ford Taurus offers within this immediate competitive set.

The 2012 Charger’s AWD system will again automatically reapportion power to the front wheels if the rears slip. For model-year 2011, the R/T model was the only Charger available with it; AWD had previously been available on the SXT, as well. Whether that R/T exclusivity will continue for model-year 2012 may well depend on a return of a Charger SXT model. No matter the model, Charger’s 2012 AWD system will again save a bit of fuel by automatically disconnecting the front axle when AWD isn’t needed.  

Expect the 2012 Charger SE to return with a 3.6-liter V-6 rated at 292 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. (Consider torque the force that presses you into your seat when you hit the gas and horsepower as the energy that sustains your momentum.) Dubbed the Pentastar V-6 in a nod to Chrysler’s five-pointed corporate logo, this V-6 should again provide the 2012 Charger SE with the highest horsepower and torque of any base model in its competitive set.

The 2012 Charger R/T will return with a 5.7-liter V-8 known as the Hemi in recognition of its hemispherical combustion-chamber ceilings. It should repeat at 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque, positioning the 2012 Charger R/T once again as the most powerful sedan in it price class.

The 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8 will put the charge in Charger. It’ll be rear-drive only and pack a 6.4-liter version of the Hemi V-8 tentatively rated at 465 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. The Charger SRT8 was last offered for model-year 2010 with a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 rated at 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. Both the 5.7- and 6.4-liter Hemis will have fuel-saving technology that shuts down four of their eight cylinders during light-throttle cruising or when the Charger is idling. The 2012 Charger R/T and SRT8 also will have performance-tuned suspension, steering, and brakes commensurate with their power outputs.   

As for transmission, all 2011 Chargers used a five-speed automatic with a floor shifter that could be toggled to replicate manual-type gear control. (Using toggle-action for manual mode, by the way, is another remnant of Mercedes-Benz engineering practice.) Dodge has confirmed the 2012 Charger SRT8 will use a five-speed automatic, but with manual shifting via steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters in addition to the floor lever.

The five-speed automatic worked well enough, but put the 2011 Charger SE and R/T a stride behind top competitors, which use six-speed automatics. An eight-speed would help those 2012 Chargers leapfrog key rivals and keep pace with the new wave of premium-priced sedans, which increasingly are using seven- and eight-speed automatics. Transmissions with a greater number of gears have greater opportunity to execute the most efficient power transfer and get the best fuel economy from a given engine. As for the 2012 Charger SRT8, Dodge may have concluded that with an estimated 465 pound-feet of torque at just 2900 rpm, the five-speed automatic won’t place this car at a disadvantage in terms of power transfer.  

Expect the 2011 Charger SE to again have 17-inch painted alloy wheel standard and be available with the 18-inch chrome-finished alloys that come standard on the rear-wheel-drive R/T. The 2012 Charger R/T AWD should repeat with 19-inch alloys. The 2012 Charger SRT8 will come with its own lightweight forged polished aluminum 20-inch wheels and other 20-inch alloys will remain optional on the 2012 Charger SE and rear-drive R/T models. 

Features: The 2012 Dodge Charger won’t skimp on comfort and convenience features, and will continue to reflect forward thinking in terms of infotainment tech. Comfort features will again include heated front and rear seats, either standard or optional, depending on model. A heated steering wheel with power tilt and telescoping also is on the agenda.

Convenience items will again include standard remote keyless unlocking with pushbutton ignition; the keyfob also allows remote lowering of the standard power windows. Adaptive cruise control to automatically maintain a set distance from traffic ahead and audibly alerts of an impending frontal collision also will remain available. Same for blind-spot detection to warn of traffic in adjacent lanes and rear cross-path monitors to detect vehicles approaching from the sides when backing from a parking space. 

On the infotainment front, expect every 2012 Charger to come with a dashboard touchscreen as part of Chrysler’s Uconnect audio, climate, and accessory interface. SE models should continue with a 4.3-inch touchscreen and be available with the 8.4-inch screen that’ll likely again be standard on the 2012 R/T models. Optional on those and possibly standard on the 20102 SRT8 will be the 8.4-inch system combined with voice-activated navigation and a rearview camera. All models will come with both an auxiliary jack and a USB iPod interface, though Dodge would enhance the 2012 Charger SE’s competitive profile if it stopped charging extra for the Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity that’ll be standard on the R/T and SRT8.

Don’t, however, expect Dodge to stray from a features hierarchy that continues as standard on the R/T and SRT8 and optional on the SE such items as xenon headlamps, heated mirrors, automatic dual-zone climate control, and remote engine start. Leather upholstery and a power sunroof probably will remain optional on the 2012 Charger SE and R/T and standard on the SRT8s.

2012 Dodge Charger Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Dodge Charger won’t be released until shortly before the car goes on sale, but don’t expect big jumps from model-year 2011 levels, though introduction of the SRT8 will elevate things at the high end. Expect a 2012 Dodge Charger base-price range of roughly $26,500-$31,500, with the 2012 SRT8 starting around $40,500. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee; Dodge’s fee for the 2011 Charger was $825.) 

Estimated base price for the 2012 Dodge Charger SE is $26,500. Like all 2012 Chargers, the SE will again be available with options packages group popular features. Among these, expect the Rallye Package to add about $2,300 and include the Uconnect 8.4 system, Bluetooth, automatic dual-zone climate control, upgraded audio, heated front seats, and 18-inch alloy wheels. At around $4,000, expect the Rallye Plus Package to include all that, plus leather upholstery.   

Estimated base price of the 2012 Dodge Charger R/T is $31,500 with rear-wheel drive, $33,700 with AWD. Among key 2012 R/T options, expect the R/T Plus Package to cost about $2,000 and include leather upholstery, a 12-way power front passenger seat, heated and cooled cup holders, and ambient LED cabin illumination. Another $1,000 or so would bring the R/T Road & Track Package, which should again include all the R/T Plus Package features, plus a black honeycomb grille with matte-black surround, sport-bolstered front seats with suede inserts, and performance-boosting engine and transmission calibrations.

Expect the 2012 Charger R/T models to again be available with the R/T Max Package. It should cost around $4,000 and it include the R/T Plus Package, plus the navigation system, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot and rear cross-path monitoring, a premium Alpine audio setup, power tilt/telescope heating steering wheel with memory, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

2012 Dodge Charger Fuel Economy back to top

The 2012 Dodge Charger’s official EPA fuel-economy ratings were not released in time for this review, but they shouldn’t stray far from those of the 2011 Charger.

Expect the 2012 Dodge Charger SE to again rate 18/27 mpg city/highway. The 2012 Charger R/T is likely to repeat at 16/25 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 15/23 with AWD. We estimate the 2012 Charger SRT8 at a sobering 14/20 mpg.

If Dodge holds with previous years, it’ll recommend regular-grade 87-octane gas for Chargers with the V-6 engine, more expensive 89 octane for the R/T, and premium-grade 91 octane for the 2012 Charger SRT8. 

2012 Dodge Charger Release Date back to top

The 2012 Dodge Charger should be in showrooms by early autumn 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Dodge Charger back to top

The return of big-bore SRT8 is confirmed for model-year 2012, but it’ll account for only a fraction of Charger sales. Bigger news for the line as a whole would be introduction of the eight-speed automatic transmission. And Dodge could well expand Charger’s lineup by slotting in new trim levels, such as the SXT, starting as early as model-year 2012.

As for styling, the 2006-2010 Charger went essentially unaltered through its lifecycle, though it did get an updated interior for model-year 2008. If Dodge decides the current-generation Charger needs a mid-cycle facelift, it wouldn’t likely occur before model-year 2014, and then involve no more than subtle appearance changes to nose and tail. Expect the vintage-2011 generation Charger design to run through model-year 2016.

Incidentally, the previous-generation Charger sedan came with a station-wagon body style badged the Magnum. That would make an intriguing adjunct to the current lineup; station wagons are regaining credibility as smart alternatives to bulkier SUVs and crossovers – and the Magnum did offer AWD, as well as a Hemi R/T version.

Speaking of engines, Dodge would be wise to consider turbocharging as a way to wring more power from the Pentastar V-6 without reducing gas mileage much. Turbos are the trend as fuel prices rise and they are increasingly being applied to four-cylinder engines as substitutes for V-6s and to six-cylinder engines as more efficient stand-ins for V-8s.

Dodge, along with the Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram truck brands, is now controlled by Italy’s Fiat, which has thus far shown admirably understanding of the American nameplates’ heritage and market strengths. Fiat has discussed using Charger’s basic architecture as the basis for some future sedans from Lancia and Alfa Romeo, two of its other brands.

2012 Dodge Charger Competition back to top

Ford Taurus: For now, this is the only other domestic-brand sedan to challenge Charger for style, size, or sporty spirit. Taurus employs a front-wheel-drive layout but does offer AWD. It’s slightly larger outside than the Charger, but a bit tighter inside. The 2012 Taurus engine lineup will again consist of a 3.5-liter V-6 in base form with about 263 horsepower or in Ford’s twin-turbo EcoBoost guise with some 365. Ford also is reportedly preparing a four-cylinder EcoBoost powertrain for the Taurus, and it could come on line for model-year 2012. It’s likely to be accompanied by a mid-cycle freshening for the car as a whole, with a full redesign expected for model-year 2015 or 2016.

Buick LaCrosse: Not as brash as the Charger but appealing as a little more “international” in flavor. This full-size sedan is based on a front-wheel-drive layout but with optional AWD. It’s not as large as the Charger, but makes excellent use of its packaging to create a very roomy cabin that’s quiet and nicely finished. The top engine is a V-6 with a relatively modest 280 horsepower; a fuel-sipper four-cylinder is the base engine, and reports say a gas-electric hybrid is in the works, possibly for model-year 2012. The 2012 LaCrosse could also be in line for a mid-cycle freshening with a full redesign likely for model-year 2016. 

Nissan Maxima: The list of affordably priced, full-size domestic-brand sedans is a short one, but that’s not to say an import or two doesn’t talk Charger’s language when it comes to attitude. Case in point is this brashly styled four-door from Nissan. It lacks Charger’s bulk, but holds four adults in comfort. And it’s strictly front-wheel drive, but handles well and gets lively performance from its only engine, a V-6 that’s expected to stay at around 290 horsepower for model-year 2012. No big changes to styling or features are due before model-year 2014.

2012 Dodge Charger Next Steps