The Dodge Challenger brings muscle car performance and styling to everyday driving. The Challenger harkens back to 1970, and the current generation, launched as a 2008 model, amuses and delights us. For 2012, changes are primarily packaging.
The 2012 Challenger SXT name replaces SE as the entry-level Challenger. The Challenger SXT 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 produces 305 horsepower and 268 foot-pounds of torque. Added last year, the V6 engine's horsepower and smoothness were a major improvement, as was a 5-speed automatic transmission, but the Challenger is a big car so fuel economy is not its forte (EPA rated 18/27 mpg City/Highway). The base SXT comes reasonably well equipped and gives you the Challenger look and room for a modest price.
The 2012 Challenger R/T rumbles with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8. The V8 is rated at 372 hp and 400 pound-feet of torque with the 5-speed automatic, or 375 hp and 410 pound-feet of torque with the now-standard 6-speed manual. The Hemi uses a multiple displacement feature that switches off cylinders to save fuel, but EPA ratings are no better than 16/25 mpg. We think the Challenger R/T is a sweet spot in the lineup. It can be used as a daily driver with less intensity than the SRT8 (and considerable cost savings) yet it's sportier and more fun than the SXT. Challenger R/T is often compared with the Mustang GT and Camaro SS, although Challenger is a bigger car and a more comfortable cruiser.
The 2012 Challenger SRT8 392 is named after its Hemi V8's cubic-inch displacement (even though it's actually 391) and that of the legendary Hemi 392 engine of the late 1950s. The 2012 Challenger SRT8 392 comes with a 470-hp 6.4-liter Hemi V8 that includes cylinder deactivation technology. EPA ratings are 14/23 mpg. The 2012 Challenger SRT8 392 also gets a new steering wheel with heating, two-mode adaptive damping and a 900-watt Harman Kardon audio system. The SRT8 comes with big Brembo brakes, the firmest suspension and a limited-slip rear differential. We found the SRT8 392 fast and stable. It's ready to go to the track yet we think it's compliant and controlled enough that it you can drive it daily or just for weekend cruises.
The Challenger is an enjoyable muscle car. Driving it brings a smile to our face and it seems to light up others as well. Everyone seems to like the Challenger. We've driven all the models and like all of them. They all have their own merits but there are distinctions.
The cabin is mundane. Like muscle cars of the past, the Challenger is based on a sedan (the Charger) and the interior borrows heavily from existing materials. A new steering wheel for 2012 is an improvement and the new 392 sport seats hold you in place in corners and are designed to accommodate large drivers. Climbing into the back seat is a chore but once in we found it's fine for children, teens and the occasional adults.