2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus Blacktop review: Sinister six with an 8-speed

2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus Blacktop

2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus Blacktop

Enough with the praise of the Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 that’s shown up and dazzled reviewers and drivers in everything from Jeeps to minivans to cars. The new 8-speed automatic transmission, paired with the V-6 in our week-long sojourn in the 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Blacktop, was enough to send us back to the specifications to find out whether Chrysler engineers had found extra horsepower in the Pentastar six. Nope. It’s just that six-cylinder engine has found a perfect partner in the eight-speed transmission.

Hoodathunkiit, more gears than pistons.

The 2012 Dodge Charger is a known quantity. After a checkered career dating back to 1965, the Charger name was revived for the 2006 model year as a counterpart to the Chrysler 300 series.

Dodge called the Charger a “four-door coupe” but we’re willing to go with “sporty family sedan.” It’s a traditional America large car, except that there’s no front bench seat and all-wheel drive was never available back in the day. But the original Charger from the Sixties was available with everything from a slant-six to a Hemi. The original Charger was a two-door and the 2006 Charger caused uproar by having four doors, but practicality reigned and that’s the way it was.

However, the new Dodge Charger was, like the original, available with a six-cylinder engine, though the new powerplant was a V-6, not an in-line motor. But like the old days, the top of the line Charger comes with a rompin’ stompin’ Hemi. This review isn’t about that car. Instead, the 2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus Blacktop is the low-budget six, but where the six-cylinder from days of yore was a boring (even if reliable) engine, the 2012—along with the 2011 Charger—is powered by the new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6. We liked it when we first drove it. The Pentastar six made 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, but it was filtered through a five-speed automatic that had been around for a while. (Note: In the long ago, standard issue was a three-speed automatic, with a four-speed auto being a rare thing. But that’s another story.)

2012 Dodge Charger 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6

The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 in the 2012 Dodge Charger is a smooth and powerful engine teamed with the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.

That five-speed had a feature that never appealed, and that was the way the transmission was manually shifted. Instead of the fore-and-aft pattern of all other tip-shift manumatics, the Chrysler Corp automatic transmission had a T-shaped quadrant, and with the shifter pulled all the way back, the shifter was moved side to side to shift up and down. Or is it down and up. We could never remember exactly which it was.

For the 2012 Dodge Charger SE and Charger SXT/SXT Plus models, both powered by the V-6 Pentastar engine, will also come with a new eight-speed transmission. It’s available only with the V-6, the V-8-powered Chargers stuck with the five-speed automatic, and it’s built by Chrysler in Indiana under license from the German transmission-maker ZF Friedrichshafen AG. The transmission, designed for rear-wheel and all-wheel applications, is also used in the Audi A8, among other luxury cars, putting the Charger V-6 driver in pretty good company.

The shifter is unlike anything in any domestic car, operating more like the column shifter in the BMW 7-Series. The shifter quadrant in the Charger 8-speed transmission has four positions, “P”,”R”, “N”, “D/S”. The positions are what one thinks they are: Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive/Sport.  But instead of staying where the shifter is moved, the shift lever returns to the center position. The full-color info center between the tachometer and speedometer shows which “gear” the transmission is in.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.