The 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is a time machine. Although it sports modern attributes like fuel management systems, ABS brakes, airbags and even (optional) navigation, the rumble of its 6.4-liter V8 and straight-line ability evokes the 1970s. Preferably driving down one of those roads of the American west that heads like an arrow toward a distant horizon. Forget about MP3 players, let's fire up the radio. Just don't spend too long looking at the plastic dashboard that seems out of place in a modern-day vehicle.
As part of the larger Chrysler renaissance, more is being made of its SRT sub-brand. In the past, this badge - which stands for Street and Racing Technology - has appeared only sporadically. Now the Challenger joins the Charger, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Chrysler 300 for the latest round of modifications to create the sportiest versions of these cars. It's just something of a shame that Dodge decided to fit only a manual adjuster for the seat backs.
In another throwback to a bygone era, Dodge likes to quote Challenger engine sizes in cubic inches. So the SRT8 is a 392, a number that's a blast from the company's drag strip past. The mightiness of the muscle car here is 470 hp and 470 lb-ft, good for zipping from zero to 60 mph in four-and-a-bit seconds (Chrysler/Dodge has not released an official time) and hitting a top speed of 182 mph as a six-speed manual (or an optional five-speed, paddle-shifting automatic) transmission drives the rear wheels.
The shift action of the manual takes a bit of strong-arming to get into each gear, especially sixth, but the actual handle is quite fun. It's like a pistol grip or a pilot's joystick.
One good thing about the dashboard is that it does house the Electronic Vehicle Information Center (EVIC). This unit provides data on things like acceleration and braking times, G-forces developed, and which song is playing at the moment.
This generation of Challenger has been around since 2008, with styling that evokes the 1970 original. It handles well and can take bends with far more sharpness than its "classic" counterpart. These talents have been enhanced by the SRT treatment. This involves a suspension whose comfort or track-oriented settings may be selected by pressing a button on the center console, and an aerodynamic front lip.
However, there's still some play on the steering at dead center and that contributes to a less than crisp feel when turning into a corner. For all the improvements made in the handling department, its the straight-line performance that shines. Along with the looks: those racing stripes and handsome 20-inch alloy wheels make the car seem as if it has just driven off a movie set. It has way too much charisma to be part of everyday life.
Which might consign the 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 to the fate of aspiration rather than a real goal for many, even though the basic price is a relatively reasonable $44,820 (including $825 destination) when it goes on sale this fall. As a part of that price, the buyer receives a day's professional track instruction. But even to have one for a while, settle into the supportive sports seat, roll down the window (well, press the button), rest an elbow on the door and then growl off into the sunset would be a very cool thing.