Charger SXT is big but not lumbering

Posted: July 02, 2012

Can a comfortable, affordable full-size family sedan also qualify as an automotive Adonis and exhibit enough athleticism to earn a varsity letter in corner?

In the case of the new Dodge Charger SXT, the answer is yes.

In some ways, the SXT I drove (base price: $28,495) struck me as a large German sports sedan minus the price tag and the prestige. Certainly, it lacked the richness and mechanical sophistication of a big Audi or Mercedes. But when it came to styling and handling, the SXT was right there in the thick of things.

Indeed, the grace and cleanliness of this body design is truly memorable business. There was no tacked-on ornamentation on the car, no chrome fungi growing on its sides. Rather, the stylists achieved their aesthetic goals with pure sculpting. Only the front fascia departs from the monochromatic scheme.

The tester's all-black interior repeated the exterior's grace and monochrome minimalism. It also provided supportive seats, readily accessible instruments and controls, and John Wayne elbow room.

The SXT I drove was powered by Chrysler's recently minted 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, which develops 292 horsepower in this setting.

That lively, civil engine was buttoned to a brand-new eight-speed automatic transmission. This gear box, furnished by ZF, the German transmission maker, is the same box used in the Audi A8, but with different gearing and shift points.

The transmission tuning for the Charger reveals an obvious economy bias. The higher ratios in the top gears mean lower engine RPMs, and those lower RPMs breed better fuel economy. In other words, there's an intimate relationship between the SXT's exceptional highway mileage and the fact that its engine is only turning over 1,500 RPMs at 70 miles an hour in top gear. The SXT has an EPA highway estimate of 31 m.p.g., which is quite good for a large, heavy sedan.

Despite the transmission's economy concerns, the 292-horse SXT is no slouch. It gets on the case quite briskly, and doesn't get unruly in the process. Indeed, its lack of fuss is part of the reason that driving the SXT is such quiet business.

The rear-drive SXT's handling brings even more kicks to the party. The tester, which was equipped with an optional rear stabilizer bar and substituted 18-inch performance tires for the standard 17-inch all-season rubber, was far nimbler than I expected for a car this size. Like some big dancers, it was surprisingly light on its feet. The wide tires give the SXT a good bite in the turns. The suspension could deter body roll and keep its composure even when pushed hard.

Perhaps even more noteworthy was the suspension's ability to strike such an equitable compromise between ride and handling.

Braking and steering were also fine. The only part of operating this vehicle I didn't like was the transmission's "E-shifter." That's "E" as in "effluent," for my money. It had such a delicate touch that I was often overshooting the gear I wanted.

Except for the annoying shifter, the SXT was good fun and games. In fact, the only way you'll raise the fun quotient in Chargerville is to get rid of the SXT's 100 mile-per-hour governor (which I wouldn't recommend) or buy a Charger SRT8. The latter is a very-high-performance Charger with a 470-horse, 6.4-liter V-8 that gets from zero to 60 in under 4.5 seconds. Of course, the tag on this guy is pushing 50 large.

The SXT's driving pleasure is complemented by its utility. The trunk is about the size of the Eagles' indoor training facility, and can be extended by folding down the rear seats, which I did when some 48-inch stair treads proved about two inches too long.

The SXT is nicely equipped for a vehicle at this price point.

Contact Al Haas at alhaasauto@aol.com.


2012 Dodge Charger SXT

Base Price: $28,495.

As Tested: $29,645.

Standard Equipment: 3.6-liter engine, 8-speed automatic transmission, rear-drive and an amenity arsenal that includes a 270-watt sound system, heated power front seats, heated power mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps and automatic headlights.

Options: Include 18-inch alloy wheels and performance tires, rear stabilizer bar, and flex fuel capability.

Engine Performance: Lively.

The Ben Key: Four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.

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