Back to the Future 2012 Dodge Charger

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Wouldn’t you vacate the left lane, with this in your rear-view?
Wouldn’t you vacate the left lane, with this in your rear-view?

Dodge Charger, 1969: Two-door hardtop with a choice of five V-8s or the 225-cubic-inch Slant Six, good for about 180 to 425 horsepower. Manual or automatic transmissions.

Torsion-bar front suspension, leaf springs in the back. Overall length 17 feet, 4 inches on a 117-inch wheelbase. Weight about 3,700 pounds.

The big-dog 500 Hemi cost about $4,600, which equates to $30,000 today, and sprinted from zero to 60 miles per hour in a couple ticks under six seconds.

That got everyone’s attention, back in the day. So did the distinctive Coke-bottle body style, introduced a year earlier.

Dodge Charger, 2012: Four-door hardtop in eight models with engines ranging from a 3.6-liter (220 cubic-inch) six with 292 horsepower to a 470HP 6.4-liter (390 cubes) V-8. Only two transmission choices, and they’re both automatics—but one has eight speeds!

Four-wheel independent suspension. Overall length 16 feet, 7 inches on a 120-inch wheelbase. Weight about 4,000 pounds. The range-topper SRT8 model starts at $42,495 and it can blitz to 60 in less than four and a half seconds. Yikes. The update of the old Coke-bottle body style still sets male synapses firing.

Everything old is new again, except so much better. Ye Olde Charger would bellow and roar and hurl itself toward the horizon; barring any urgent need to stop or negotiate a corner tighter than about 20 degrees, all was well. Heaven forbid it should hit anything.

Its descendant, though, has the whole package: Acceleration, speed and handling. It arcs through bends like it’s on rails and can even zig-zag, thanks to good body control. Plus outstanding braking, steering and bump absorption. Not to mention the full cookie jar of modern safety features, from ABS to airbags, rain braking to electronic traction and stability control.

This $37,000 Charger SXT Plus even has all-wheel drive, with a transfer case that disconnects the front axle when it’s not needed, to reduce wear and friction. Ye can keep ye olde Charger, I’ll take this one. It drives like a couple of big German sedans I could name.

The cabin deserves praise too. This is a muscle car, but it’s also a spacious four-passenger sedan with comforts galore. These are 300-mile seats, easy, and the satnav and computer functions can be operated by someone older than 12.

Two features especially make the Charger an exceptional interstate missile: First, the 8-speed autobox is about perfect. It helps hustle this large, heavy machine up to speed very quickly and smoothly, and then lets the engine relax. At 90 MPH, the tach shows just 2,200 RPM, which helps explain the impressive-for-size fuel economy rating of 27 MPG highway.

Then, if you get boxed in, clicking over to Sport and applying a bit of pedal boosts the car around obstacles equally smoothly and quickly. However, thanks to the Charger’s other nifty highway feature, getting trapped doesn’t happen as often.

Even high-rise pickup trucks vacate the left lane with alacrity (means “quickly,” for you truck owners) when they spot this silver Charger’s crosshairs grille in the mirror. Maybe it’s because lots of cops drive Chargers these days. Maybe it’s a tip of the cowboy hat/ball cap from one icon of the American road to another.

The 2012 Charger is one more home run from the resuscitated, revitalized, newly and justifiably proud Chrysler outfit. It is what American cars once were, and (some) are becoming again, namely top o’ the value heap.

BTW, in case you’re wondering what “imported from Detroit” means: The Charger platform was a Mercedes-Benz hand-me-down, from back when M-B owned Chrysler.

Its engine, at least the V6, comes from Mexico and the 8-speed transmission from Germany, while the entire car is built in Canada. And Chrysler’s CEO is a chain-smoking Italian guy named Sergio Marchionne, whose Fiat Group owns 58% of the company. It’s a new world out there.