Suspension Tuning? Have It Your Way
Touching that sport mode button does more than simply revise shift points and calibration - thanks to some new hardware on the underside of the car, it also affects how the Charger SRT8 behaves dynamically.
For 2012, each SRT-tuned product -- 300, Charger, Challenger, and Grand Cherokee -- receives Bilstein adaptive dampers at all four corners. After being fed data pertaining to vehicle speed, steering angle, yaw, and both throttle and brake inputs, both compression and rebound rates are adjusted to provide an ideal ride quality. The sport function provides a firm, stiff ride that's ideal for tossing the big sedan around a twisty road or on a racecourse, but the automatic setting is compliant and composed -- perhaps even a little floaty -- over rough roads.
Although it packs massive power into a hefty 4365-pound frame, the Charger SRT8 is more than a stereotypical American muscle machine. Yes, it kicks you forward with a sudden wall of torque, but the car excels at more than straight-line acceleration.
Through some combination of smart chassis tuning, heavy-duty hardware, and sheer homework (ask any SRT engineer: they spend more time trackside than they do at home), this brute proves to be remarkably agile. Turn-in is quick, and a revised steering rack -- with a 14.4:1 steering ratio -- provides sharper, quicker turn-in and also makes mid-corner corrections a little easier to execute. Push too hard, and both stability and traction controls may also attempt to correct your trajectory, but neither does so in a heavy-handed fashion - in fact, in sport mode, we were able to slide the tail of the car around quite a bit before the computer began to intervene.
The new Bilstein dampers work wonders both on and off the track, but they also help lend the Charger its own personality. SRT may be installing similar units on the new 300, but those used on the Charger are specifically tuned for this application - and engineers labored to give it a sportier feel than that of the 300. As a result, the Charger feels a little stiffer and a little sportier than its premium sibling - a far cry from the days when the only thing differentiating the SRT8 sedans were fenders, instrument panels, and badging.
A Welcome Renovation, If Not a Revolution
That's a welcome change, in more ways than one. Certainly, it's a plus for dealers handling both the Chrysler and Dodge brands; no longer do they have to explain the coexistence of two nearly identical cars that somehow manage to carry two different price tags. It's also a good idea for each of the brands involved. Dodge has a high-performance sedan that drips the attitude it's been spouting in marketing campaigns, while Chrysler receives a high-speed flagship designed to cosset an upmarket customer. Either way, they're still being lured into the SRT fold -- an important consideration, seeing as the brand has ambitions of expanding its presence in the years to come.
2012 Dodge Charger SRT8
Base Price: $45,795 (est.)
On Sale: Summer 2011
Engine: 6.4-liter SOHC 16-valve V-8
Horsepower: 470 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 470 lb-ft @ 4300 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
L x W x H: 200.3 x 74.24 x 58.26 in
Legroom F/R: 41.8/ 40.1 in
Headroom F/R: 38.6/ 37.9 in
Cargo capacity: 16.3 cu. ft
Curb Weight: 4365 lb EPA Rating (city/highway): 13/23 mpg (est)