In the final days of February, our 2012 Dodge Charger faced its first big road trip: a quick run to Michigan's Upper Peninsula that called for 1100 miles and 18 hours of driving in two and a half days. Extra seat time -- both on the long highway run and closer to Ann Arbor -- has led several staffers to deliver new praise for the Charger in the third month of its stay.
After last month's debate on the performance of the eight-speed automatic, road test editor Christopher Nelson kept the discussion going with the notes from his Upper Peninsula road trip. "The eight-speed might be a bit sluggish driving about town, but the fact that the transmission is going from eighth to fourth when passing on the interstate never crosses your mind," he posited. "The shifts are plenty quick and plenty crisp."
The Charger's styling suggests a sporty demeanor, but its size also makes it a refined and relaxing choice for long drives. "The seats could pass for living-room furniture," suggested Nelson's co-driver. "They are extremely comfortable hour after hour after hour and are one of the qualities that make the Charger a great long-distance cruiser."
Add to that list attributes like great visibility, space to stretch out, a seriously quiet cabin, and adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately, the Charger's adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning system showed signs of flakiness during the 550-mile drive home. Several times the Charger warned of imminent crashes with nothing but an open road in front of it. Other times an error message flashed in the instrument panel that the sensor had stopped functioning altogether. We initially wrote it off as an effect of the snow, salt, and road grime that coated the Charger's nose, but a thorough washing was followed by more errors.
A trip to the dealer confirmed that the front sensor was indeed malfunctioning, so the service department ordered a replacement part under warranty. It wasn't until we returned three weeks later and the service technicians started the installation that they determined the mounting bracket was out of alignment, leading the dealer to conclude the sensor -- mounted in the lower grille opening -- had been struck by an object. That discovery would typically shift the liability from Chrysler's bank account to our wallet, but our dealer finished the repair under warranty, saving us from a bill in the neighborhood of $1500.
While the Charger was in the shop, our dealer also performed a recall repair that addresses our complaints about the obnoxiously bright gear indicator light on the shifter. The fix comes in the form of a software update that allows the indicator light to be dimmed via the dial that controls the instrument panel brightness. It works wonderfully and has successfully squashed a small problem that was a major annoyance. "The Charger never should have left the factory with such a glaring design problem," commented one driver. "But I'm impressed that Dodge did the right thing and quickly addressed an issue it could have ignored."
At the same time, a few drivers have acknowledged that they're now accustomed to the transmission's electronic shifter and can easily find the right gear by feel. "I have no issue with the shifter now," said senior web editor Phil Floraday. "It only took a few days of driving for it to become muscle memory. I don't want to make excuses for this shifter because it shouldn't be as complicated as it is, but it certainly doesn't make the car undriveable."
If those past two compliments seem like faint praise, copy editor and Chrysler buff Rusty Blackwell had nothing but glowing approval when he got behind the wheel and later reminded the staff why he cast an All-Star vote for the Dodge. "I don't just like the Charger -- I love it," he wrote in the logbook. "Its styling is fantastic, putting it head and shoulders and arms and hips above its AARP-eligible competition. The Charger is a spacious, attractive, stylish, muscular, affordable, comfortable, sporty sedan that embodies the best aspects of American cars."