2012 Dodge Charger SXT road test: A sophisticated sedan dressed for street-cred

2012 Dodge Charger SXT

2012 Dodge Charger SXT

With a smooth new V-6 engine as a counterpart to the burly V-8 and a whole host of design and quality upgrades for 2011, it would seem quite possible that the crew responsible for the 2012 Dodge Charger could take a year off to rest on its laurels.

Not so.

The tested rear-wheel-drive 2012 Dodge Charger SXT and most of its V-6-powered counterparts now come with an excellent 8-speed automatic transmission that replaces a dated 5-speed unit. In the case of the SXT, it also came with optional paddle shifters and a sport mode for a more aggressive driving experience.

The upgrade is significant.

2012 Dodge Charger inst

2012 Dodge Charger inst

In fact, the engine-transmission combination works so well that the full-size four-door sedan becomes a reasonable alternative for buyers who want rear- or all-wheel drive but cannot afford the heavy hitters from Europe (BMW 5 Series, Audi A6) that cost $20,000 to $30,000 more.

No, I’m not kidding.

The engine is smooth, the gears shift seamlessly, the suspension provides a balanced blend of ride and handling, the cabin is quiet and the big sedan feels solid.

The total package is a whole lot more than you might have been led to expect if you had spent time behind the wheel of a Dodge Charger just two years ago.

In fact, the V-6-powered 2012 Dodge Charger performs like a slightly less luxurious, less expensive versions of its close corporate sibling, the Chrysler 300.

What the extra three gears do, not surprisingly, is increase both performance and fuel efficiency.

The lower gears get the 3.6-liter, 292-horsepower V-6 engine off the line quicker (0 to 60 mph in under 7 seconds) and the top gear allows the 4,100-pound Dodge to achieve up to an EPA-rated 31 miles per gallon on the open road.

2012 Dodge Charger taillights

2012 Dodge Charger taillights

Around town, the EPA estimates fuel usage will average 19 miles  per gallon. I averaged just under 24 mpg in a week of driving on mostly level urban and suburban roads.

While the new transmission is the scene stealer, the Charger SXT comes with a host of standard features that includes the Uconnect information and entertainment system, Bluetooth voice command, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, dual-zone climate control, 6-speaker premium audio system and 12-way power driver seat.

For an extra $995, you can get a navigation system, rear backup camera and satellite radio service.