Depending on who you ask, the R/T badge on the back of the Dodge Charger R/T stands for "Road/Track" or "Race/Technology." Most people will agree that it's the former designation, but that means that the full model and trim name of the 2012 Dodge Charger R/T Road and Track that pulled into the CNET garage recently is remarkably redundant.
Oddball naming convention aside, the Charger R/T Road and Track represents about the maximum blend of power and technology available in a Mopar vehicle this side of Dodge/Chrysler's SRT performance models. It's got a big V-8 with tons of torque, a thoughtful cabin with many grin-inducing creature comforts, and an available cabin technology package that adds quite a bit of braininess to go with the brawniness.
Not the Hemi you want, but all the Hemi you need
Under the hood of every Charger R/T breathes a version of Dodge's Hemi V-8 engine. However, it's not the 470-horsepower, 6.7-liter mill that graces the SRT version, but a smaller-displacement, lower-power version. At only 5.7 liters, the R/T's V-8 outputs a mere 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque. Who am I kidding, that's still a fantastic amount of power -- certainly more than the average driver could handle without the aid of the three-stage stability control system.
However, in spite of having gobs of power and torque on tap at any given time, the Charger doesn't seem terribly overpowered. That's likely because of the five-speed automatic transmission's reluctance to downshift without substantial prodding of the accelerator pedal, but even self-selecting the ratios with the R/T's standard paddle shifters didn't lead to tremendously responsive throttle feel or the same easily inducible oversteer that I felt in the.
Selecting a Sport mode hidden in the Uconnect system's touch-screen interface adds a bit of eagerness to the equation and causes the transmission to hold its gears a bit longer when in automatic mode, but I never got the impression that the Charger was comfortable with the constant acceleration and deceleration required to tackle a twisty road. However, the two areas the Charger R/T did well in were stoplight drag races and effortless freeway cruising at high speeds. Perhaps there's a bit of Dodge's Nascar and NHRA heritage shining through here?
Fuel economy was another one of the R/T's weak points. The EPA estimates the city and highway fuel economy at 16 mpg and 25 mpg respectively. We averaged a paltry 17.4 mpg combined. If you're looking to get more miles out of each gallon, consider sacrificing about 75 ponies and a pair of cylinders to step down to the Charger SXT's 3.6-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission combo, which is rated at 31 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg in the city.
Interior: Godzilla-skin dashboard
Every time I took a spin in the Charger, I found something else to like about the sedan. There are all sorts of cool creature comforts to be found around the cabin. For example, all four seating positions and the steering wheel can be heated and the front bucket seats can also be cooled. Ambient and accent lighting fill the cabin with a cool glow, but the feature that tickled me the most was the front cup holders, which not only had modes to keep my drinks warm and cool, but also featured a neat illuminated ring that glowed white but changed red or blue to indicate the respective heating or cooling modes. It's a silly little feature, but I showed it off to everyone who sat in the Charger's passenger seat.
Now, I didn't enjoy the bizarre rubbery material that covered the Charger's bulky dashboard. It wasn't bad, but its texture and appearance reminded me of the black foam-rubber material that the Godzilla monster suit was made of. Perhaps Dodge should market this as a feature, "The 2012 Charger R/T with Godzilla-skin interior." I think it'd sell like gangbusters.
Cabin tech: 'Yo dawg, I heard you like voice command...'
The technology that filled that dashboard, in the case of our fully optioned R/T Road and Track model, was Dodge/Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system. Nearly identical to that of the Chrysler 300 that we tested recently (but with a red color scheme rather than blue), this system is based around a massive 8.4-inch color touch screen.
Audio sources include USB, iPod connectivity, an SD card slot at the base of the center stack, and Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling and audio streaming. There's also a single-slot CD player, AM/FM radio, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (which also provides a data connection for traffic, weather, sports scores, stocks, and so on). Audio plays back through a pretty good-sounding Alpine audio system, but an even better 552-watt Beats Audio by Dr. Dre system with 10 speakers and a powered subwoofer is available. Our vehicle lacked the good doctor's $995 premium audio option.
Navigation is provided by Garmin and touching the navigation soft key at the bottom of the display brings up the same interface you'd see on a Garmin Nuvi portable navigation device. The home screen shows the same two-icon configuration that gives you the binary options of choosing a destination or viewing the map. The points-of-interest database can be searched by name, address, or category. The system locks users out of the more detailed parts of destination searching, but the Uconnect and Garmin partnership keeps Garmin's excellent voice address input and command system intact when you use the navigation system. Simply speak the word "Destination," then tell the system the address in one go, a la "123 Main Street, Anycity, USA," and let the tech figure it out for you.
There is a second voice command system that's accessible from other parts of the Uconnect interface that is used to control the interface outside of the Garmin module. Here you can speak song or artist names to play back MP3 media stored on a connected iPod, SD card, or USB storage device (after a short scan to index the metadata on the connected device). You can also jump to the climate controls, check for traffic, or access parts of the phone interface simply by tapping the VR button and talking. However, I wasn't able to initiate a call by speaking a contact's name, which left me rather frustrated.
Later, upon asking the voice command system for help, I was informed by the patient robotic voice that there was yet a third voice command system dedicated to hands-free calling, accessible by a separate Phone button on the steering wheel. With a quick tap, I was able to ask the system to "Call Optimus Prime at the office" with little difficulty and great accuracy of speech recognition. It is a bit frustrating that there are what feels like a total of three voice command systems in this car, but at the very least, Dodge Chrysler has covered all of its tech bases in some manner. I'd just like to see more refinement and smoothing of the seams between the systems in the future. For starters, I'd like to see only one "Voice command" button.
Driver safety features
Our Charger R/T Road and Track came equipped with a few optional driver safety features. The first of which made itself apparent within the first two blocks of my first trip out of the CNET garage. As I approached the rear bumper of the car ahead with just a bit more speed than I should have, the Charger's instrument cluster lit up and began to beep, signalling that I'd triggered the Forward Collision Warning System. This system monitors the road ahead for imminent obstructions and warns the driver that he or she should probably get on the brake pedal posthaste.
That same forward-looking sensor is used to gauge vehicle distances for the Adaptive Cruise Control System, which maintains a safe and constant gap between the cruise control-enabled Charger R/T and the car ahead, even if the lead vehicle slows below the set cruising speed. Adding this functionality along with the Forward Collision Warning adds $995 to the bottom line.
An available Blind Spot Monitoring System keeps an electronic eye on the areas immediately to the left and right of the Charger at speed and illuminates an LED in the wing mirrors if an obstruction is detected. Attempt to activate your turn signal with something in that blind spot and the Charger will beep to let you know to look again. The Blind Spot Monitoring System's sensors are also used to enable a Rear Cross Path Detection system that notifies the driver if a vehicle is approaching from the left or right of the vehicle while it's reversing out of a parking space.
Speaking of parking, the same package (a $995 Driver Confidence group) that adds the Blind Spot Monitoring Sytem adds a rearview camera, a rear proximity detection system, and auto-adjusting side mirrors to the Charger R/T's bag of tricks, making parallel- and reverse-parking the bulky sedan much easier affairs. That package also adds SmartBeam high-beam headlamps that automatically adjust so to not dazzle oncoming traffic, increasing nighttime visibility.
The Charger The 2012 Dodge Charger (like its Chrysler-badged fraternal twin, the 300) is a remarkably flexible vehicle, with models ranging from "You just bought a rental car" SE trim level to the efficient SXT to the rebel-yell-inducing SRT8 model. R/T Road and Track is, in many ways, an optimal blend of all of those attributes. It's got good power, and good tech, and it's rolling proof that someone in the Chrysler Group still cares about making sweet rides.
True, I was a bit disappointed to see the R/T and not the SRT8 in the CNET garage, but at no point did I feel like that extra 100 horsepower would have made the Charger a better daily driver. More importantly, the R/T didn't feel scary at any point during the testing period and while we automotive journalists enjoy being just a bit terrified of a car, I'm willing to bet that your average Nascar dad who just wants to go a bit faster doesn't want to feel like his daily driver is going to turn around and bite him at any given moment (which is how I felt when piloting the 300 SRT8 in the rain).
Our R/T Road and Track model starts at $33,995 which includes the 5.7-liter engine, the 20-inch chrome wheels, the sweet rear spoiler, and the Uconnect tech package. Add two $995 line items for the Driver Confidence and Active Cruise Groups and $795 to upgrade the Uconnect system to include the Garmin Navigation and you'll reach our as-tested price of $37,705 including a $925 destination fee.
|Model||2012 Dodge Charger R/T|
|Trim||Road and Track|
|Power train||5.7-liter Hemi V-8, five-speed automatic, RWD|
|EPA fuel economy||16 city, 25 highway, 19 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||17.4 mpg|
|Navigation||Garmin-powered Uconnect system available|
|Bluetooth phone support||Yes, with dial by voice|
|Disc player||Single-slot CD|
|MP3 player support||Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection|
|Other digital audio||SiriusXM Satellite Radio, SD card slot|
|Audio system||Alpine-branded standard audio|
|Driver aids||Active cruise control, collision warning system, blind-spot monitoring, rear camera and proximity alert, cross-traffic monitoring, active high beams|
|Price as tested||$37,705|