The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times Staff Writers

The Daily Drivers: 2012 Dodge Charger is a throwback to the big-car feel

There's one class of American car that seems to be disappearing faster than cheap gas: the large sedan. In that sense, the Dodge Charger, which got a much needed styling overhaul last year, is a throwback. But it also got a refined V-6 powerplant and new transmission, which means there is now a Charger for every taste.

Appearance: Simply put, this a large sedan ... with attitude. The muscular Charger looks like it's ready to pounce, with a bulging hood and front fenders, piercing-gaze headlamps that flank Dodge's crosshairs grille. The rear-end has "racetrack" taillights that harken back to the '60s-era muscle car. At night, there's no mistaking the Charger when you're behind one. Our tester came in Redline 3-coat Pearl paint ($500 extra) and 18-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels.

Performance: The Charger comes in several flavors, from the 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, which puts out a not-too-shabby 292 horsepower, to a 370-horsepower V-8 HEMI and the 470-horsepower ground-shaking HEMI in the SRT8. Our tester, the SXT Plus, had the V-6, which is now available with an 8-speed automatic. We liked the smooth shifting of the transmission but were less impressed with the electronic shifter, which stays in place and requires a much-too-light touch to "shift" into the proper gear. Peter always seemed to bypass reverse. (Best keep your foot on the brake.) The 8-speed gear box also helps with fuel economy, as the big car gets an estimated 19 mpg city and 31 highway compared with the base 5-speed Charger at 18/27. Lyra was not enamored of the handling, which she likened to a tank, with light steering and too little road feel. Peter admits, the Charger can be "floaty," but the V-6 gives you just enough muscle for flexing, and the suspension soaks up the bumps and uneven pavement.

Interior: We continue to see improvement from Chrysler. The roomy (and quiet) cabin had quality materials. Our tester had a black-and-tan color scheme with faux metallic trim. The expansive feel is magnified by the large swath of dashboard — a throwback to another era — that holds one of the largest (8.4 inches) and easy-to-use touchscreens we've seen. The leather driver's seat was plush, but could have used more bolstering. We both had a lot of head- and legroom up front. The rear-seat room was less expansive, but we didn't hear any complaints from our passengers. Our tester was loaded with options, which gave us features such as heated and cooled front cup holders and blind-spot warning. The number of option packages and trim levels can be confusing and expensive. We found trunk space to be only so-so. The lid also opens too high for shorter drivers.

Our 3 favorites

Peter Couture

Model range: The Charger may be one of the few cars that appeals to younger drivers and the old-school set.

AWD: It's available as an option.

Steering wheel: I like the thick grips from Dodge/Chrysler.

Lyra Solochek

Transmission: An 8-speed automatic? Yes, please.

Taillights: They stand out in the dark with 164-LED taillights.

Built tough: If it's good enough for law-enforcement cars ...

The bottom line: As parent Fiat continues to prune the Dodge-Chrysler lineup, the Charger should (and deserves to) survive. If you like a little muscle and big-car feel at the expense of nimbleness, then it deserves your attention.

2012 Dodge Charger SXT Plus

Price: $25,495 base, $35,580 as tested

Powertrain:

3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission, touring suspensions, RWD

Horsepower: 292 at 6,350 rpm

Torque: 260 pound-feet at 4,800 rpm

Curb weight: 3,996 pounds

Dimensions

in inches:

Wheelbase, 120.2

Length, 199.9

Width, 75

Seats: 5

Fuel economy:

19 miles per gallon city, 31 mpg highway

Safety features: Airbags and curtains, reactive head restraints, ABS, electronic stability control, all-speed traction control, hill-start assist, rain brake support

Website: dodge.com/charger

The Daily Drivers: 2012 Dodge Charger is a throwback to the big-car feel 03/16/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 16, 2012 5:30am]

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