To the uninitiated, the 2012 Dodge Challenger might seem like just an overgrown retro-mobile. Indeed, when this classic nameplate returned for 2008, it certainly looked like a slightly plus-sized version of the original early 1970s Mopar icon. It was also very fast (at first just the 425-horsepower SRT8 was available), surprisingly comfortable and spacious enough to seat four adults with ease. But many people felt that the reborn Challenger was too bulky and not agile enough for a performance car. In other words, it was more like the original than perhaps some folks wanted. Furthermore, the later-introduced V6 version -- burdened as it was with nearly 2 tons of boulevard bruiser -- was too slow for something that made such a powerful visual statement.
Last year, however, revisions to the steering, brakes and suspension gave the Challenger the moves to match its muscle. And thanks to a new 305-hp V6 that also boasts better fuel economy than the lackluster engine it replaced, the base Challenger is now more competitive with its V6-powered rivals. Also introduced last year was a new engine for the top-dog SRT8: a mighty 392-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) 470-hp V8. The old-school, cubic-inches specification is a nod to the famous (for older car guys, anyway) 392 Hemi of the late 1950s.
In our opinion, the 2012 Dodge Challenger to get is the middle child of the family: the R/T with its plenty-potent 5.7-liter V8 and wide array of styling options (such as 1971-style stripes). The SRT8 is pretty darn cool, but it's also overkill given its price premium over the still-speedy R/T. On the other end of the spectrum, a muscle car with a V6 will always seem a little wrong.
Good as the Challenger is, you can't ignore its age-old competitors. The Chevrolet Camaro arguably has the flashiest styling, though it comes with the costs of even more compromised outward visibility and a lack of rear seat room. The Ford Mustang is still the most well-rounded choice, giving up the Dodge's rear passenger room and comfort for an edge in performance and handling. An outside consideration is the Hyundai Genesis Coupe for those who like the idea of a muscle car in a more modern wrapper.
Of course it comes down to personal taste, especially in such a style- and performance-conscious segment. But if you're looking for the muscle car that can take four adults on a road trip as easily as it leaves two long black stripes on the pavement, then it doesn't get any better than the 2012 Dodge Challenger.
The 2012 Dodge Challenger is a five-seat coupe available in three trim levels that each correspond to a different engine: SXT, R/T and SRT8 392.
The SXT's standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry/ignition, full power accessories, cruise control, automatic climate control, rear A/C outlets, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel (with audio controls), a six-way power driver seat (with power lumbar adjustment), a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a trip computer and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
The optional SXT Plus package adds foglights, automatic headlights, leather upholstery, heated front seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, illuminated visor mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity/streaming audio and an upgraded sound system with satellite radio and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The SXT also offers a number of other packages. The Super Sport group includes 20-inch chrome wheels (with performance tires), a rear spoiler, a 3.06 rear axle ratio, performance-tuned suspension/steering/brakes and steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles. An Interior Appearance group includes metal-accented pedals, a car cover, upgraded floor mats and a T-handle shifter. The Electronics Convenience group includes heated mirrors, remote start and displays for tire pressure and outside temperature. The Sound Group II package comes with a 6.5-inch display screen, Boston Acoustic speakers and digital music storage.
The Challenger R/T gets a V8 engine, the SXT's Super Sport group (except with 18-inch alloy wheels), automatic headlamps, foglamps, heated mirrors, a USB/iPod interface, satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity/streaming audio. The R/T Plus package adds the rest of the features of the SXT Plus package that aren't already standard. The R/T Classic package includes the R/T Plus items as well as 20-inch "heritage-style" wheels, black side stripes, functional hood scoops and xenon headlights. The Super Track Pak (not a typo) includes higher-performance steering, brakes, shocks, tires and stability control programming. Audio/navigation options essentially mirror those of the SXT. The R/T also offers the Interior Appearance group.
Individual option highlights for the SXT and R/T include the UConnect voice command system (includes Bluetooth and steering-wheel-mounted controls), a sunroof and a variety of special Mopar trim pieces and styling enhancements.
The Challenger SRT8 392 gets all the R/T's basic equipment, but adds xenon headlamps, unique 20-inch wheels, sport seats, an upgraded trip computer with real-time performance data, hydraulic power steering (versus electrohydraulic), upgraded brakes and suspension and a one-day driver training course at the Richard Petty Racing School. Optional for the SRT8 are a navigation system and a premium 18-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
Unlike the Dodge Challenger's distinctive-looking exterior, the interior is quite bland. A few styling cues, like the large beveled dashboard and distinctive shifter knobs, are reminiscent of Challengers past, but overall, the interior experience pales in comparison to its retro-themed rivals. Rearward visibility, because of the car's chunky rear roof pillars, is also poor.
Despite a slightly confusing audio interface, however, the interior is quite functional and its materials are of good quality, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces. The gauges feature a cool cobalt-blue glow. A relatively small-diameter steering wheel that's well-contoured makes for a pleasant interface between the car and driver.
The front seats in most Challengers are wide and flat, which doesn't do much for lateral support, but they're exceptionally comfy for long-distance drives. The SRT8's have better bolstering and are also covered in leather and faux suede. The rear seats are surprisingly roomy for two adults, with good headroom and decent legroom. The backseat also features a 60/40 split-folding back, a fold-down armrest and a middle seat for tiny/good-natured folks. At 16.2 cubic feet, the Challenger's trunk is positively enormous for this segment and bigger than those of many midsize sedans.
The 2012 Dodge Challenger SXT is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 305 hp and 268 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined.
The Challenger R/T gets a 5.7-liter V8 that when paired with the standard six-speed manual transmission cranks out 376 hp and 410 lb-ft. When hooked up to the available five-speed automatic, output drops slightly to 372 hp and 400 lb-ft. In Edmunds testing, a manual-equipped Challenger R/T went from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds; the automatic raises that to 5.8 seconds. Fuel mileage estimates are 16/25/19 for the automatic with the manual getting about 1 mpg less.
The Challenger SRT8 392 gets a 6.4-liter V8 that produces 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard and a six-speed manual is available with the Track Pak. In Edmunds testing, a manual-equipped SRT8 392 went from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. Fuel mileage estimates are 14/22/16 for the automatic, with the manual getting about 1 mpg less.
While all 2012 Dodge Challengers are blessed with a ride quality that's comfortable enough to keep your mom happy when you pick her up from the airport, the base tuning of the SXT is pretty floaty. We highly recommend going for the Super Sport group's performance-tuned suspension, which brings with it more responsive steering and brakes. Or you could just get the R/T, which comes standard with those upgrades, plus the big V8 that, as expected, will have your mother screaming with anger or delight as you tear away from Arrivals. That goes double for the SRT8 392. Overall handling is pretty respectable, particularly with the R/T and SRT8 392, though competitors like the Mustang or Genesis Coupe are noticeably more agile.
Every 2012 Dodge Challenger comes standard with antilock disc brakes (size and power differs based on trim and certain option packages), stability and traction control, active front head restraints, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. In Edmunds brake testing, the SRT8 392 came to a stop in an excellent 114 feet.
For 2012, the Dodge Challenger lineup receives a renamed base trim, a new, optional premium audio system and available shift paddles for the five-speed automatic.