Some will hate this car but it still feels good

WARREN BROWN
Last updated 07:01 09/09/2012
Dodge Charger SRT8
Dodge Charger SRT8: Muscular American sedan almost gives the author a new understanding of Mitt Romney.

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I understand Mitt Romney. He is not as much of a flip-flop artist as he is a deeply conflicted man.

I understand how that happens. You have noble values that, unfortunately, run afoul of other things you want to do.


Click photo at left for more views of the 2012 Dodge Charge SRT8.


Romney, a wealthy Republican, wants to be president of the United States. He also wants to remain wealthy - aspirations that seem in conflict with the many good and noble things he did for the common people of Massachusetts as governor of that state.

So here he is disavowing a successful state health-care programme that served as the template for the Obama administration's national health-care plan. Here he is whooping it up with the most conservative of conservatives, saying and doing things that his late father, George W Romney, a liberal Republican, the 43rd governor of Michigan, a civil rights stalwart and leader of the American automobile industry, would be ashamed of.

But I'm not angry with Mitt for his apparent betrayal. We all have a little Mitt in us, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm an eco-lefty Obama supporter.

I fully understand the global need for renewable energy, for alternative propulsion systems for cars and trucks, for today's vehicles to consume less oil and gas. I'm a staunch advocate of such changes.

Or I was, until I spent a week behind the wheel of the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8, with its humongous 6.4-litre, 350kW, V-8 engine.

It's a rear-wheel-drive beast. It comes with a $NZ1230 US federal gas-guzzler tax, applied because it swallows petrol at the combined city-highway rate of barely 13.06L/100km, less than the US federal threshold of 10.45L/100km.

But the car runs so fast and hard, it makes me want to shout: ''Hallelujah, Sarah! Drill, baby, drill!''

I could've declined delivery of the Charger SRT8. The car runs counter to my newfound religion of environmentally responsible motoring. But I wanted to drive it more than Mitt wants to become president. So I swallowed my hypocrisy and said yes.

I'm glad I did. Little is more pleasing than the guilty pleasure of driving a car as rambunctiously powerful, fast and wasteful as the Charger SRT8. But I had to be smart about it.

It seems that every law enforcement official in the Washington-Baltimore region knows about the performance capacity of the Charger SRT8. They often followed me on major highways and city streets. I understand.

The car has neck-snapping, back-slamming acceleration. It can run from 0 to 100kmh in under five seconds with no heavy breathing. The police were just waiting for me to mess up.

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So, like a wayward soul creeping into a porno show, I drove it in places where people weren't looking - in fact, where there were no people at all. I had such fun! You squeeze the Charger SRT8's accelerator. A deep growl-rumble emanates from the bowels of the car. Squeeze it a bit more. The volume and depth of the exhaust note increase. Shove it. Whoosh! You start "oh my God"-ing all over the place. You can't help it. The feeling is just that good when the Charger SRT8 is driven in a place where the car - the top of the five-trim Charger line (SE, SXT, R/T, SRT8 Super Bee and SRT8) - is allowed to run the way it is designed and engineered to run.

But there aren't many places like that, which is why the Charger SRT8 is bound to remain a niche-mobile. It is too big, powerful, fast and mean-looking for most American motorists. It costs substantially more than cheap or "affordable". It is a miserable, frustrating, heavy and ponderous car to be with in most congested, stop-and-go urban traffic. Add those demerits to the Charger SRT8's prodigious consumption of premium gasoline and you have a car that makes little or no sense as a daily commuter.

But still I love the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, I love it. It's the way of the world, I guess. You can't have churches and saints without sinners. You can't have politics without duplicity. And you can't convert to environmentally responsible motoring without at least understanding why the other sort is so magnificently appealing.

NUTS AND BOLTS

Bottom line: This is a wonderful full-size sedan of limited aesthetic and practical appeal. But it has a solid market. Fans love it enough to pay the price - both purchase and maintenance - to own it. Also, Dodge has wisely loaded the Charger line with enough trim variants to capture a wider audience.

Ride, acceleration and handling: A beefy four-wheel independent suspension does a nice job of carrying the car's 1980kg weight and is tight enough to keep the car's big, heavy body disciplined in tight curves. Acceleration is something to behold.

Head-turning quotient: Love it or hate it, the Charger SRT8 deliberately intimidates in stance and overall presentation. A menacing blacked-out cross-hair grille, is styled to polarise.

Body style/layout: A full-size, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive performance sedan that lives up to its name. The top of a five-trim-level line which includes an all-wheel-drive SXT model.

Engine/transmission: Comes standard with a 6.4-litre Hemi V8 engine producing 350kW and 638Nm of torque. The engine is linked to a five-speed automatic transmission that also can be operated manually, via a floor-mounted gear lever or with paddle shifters on the left and right sides of the steering wheel.

Capacities: Seats five people. Rear-seat space is tight for adults.

Cargo capacity: 461 litres with the split rear seats up. Fuel capacity is 72 litres and premium petrol is recommended.

Mileage: Not much. The Environmental Protection Agency says you can get 16.8L/100km in the city and 10.2L/100km on the highway. You will get substantially less than that in real-world driving - about 19.6L/100km city and 11.2L/100km highway, if you're lucky.

Safety: Standard equipment includes front and rear ventilated disc brakes (Brembo); emergency braking assistance; emergency brake-force distribution; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; electronic stability and traction control; as well as front, side and rear head air bags.

Price: Base price is about NZ$56,498. Price as tested is NZ$60,800, including NZ$2080 in options, which include adaptive cruise control, 20-inch-diameter BSW performance tyres, lane-change warning system, backup warning system with onboard navigation, backup warning and rear-view camera. Price as tested in the US is NZ$58,577.

-Washington Post/Bloomberg

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