New Charger is one smooth operator
Yep, you've heard all the chit-chat about Chrysler's miraculous return from the grave. But if you want to see for yourself whether it's all fact or fiction, do one thing: Go drive a 2012 Dodge Charger. Not since John Rhode jettisoned 220 pounds to win 'The Biggest Loser" has anything had such a complete makeover. In just one model year, the Charger has gone from a dull-as-dishwater, rent-a-car special to one of the most must-have, blast-to-drive sporty sedans on the market. And despite its well-honed, muscle-car looks, the Charger is now all grown up and refined courtesy of its magical combo of a super-smooth, all-new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 and- wait for it - an eight-speed auto transmission.Eight speeds, instead of the previous five, let the engineers fine-tune the Charger's performance. So the lower five gears are closely stacked to give terrific off-the-line acceleration and super-responsive passing. At the other end, the top three gears are so-called overdrive ratios that lower engine revs on the Interstate and save fuel. It's the reason the new Charger offers best-in-class highway economy with an impressive 31 to the gallon. But that's not all. Within 20 yards of driving away, you'll notice the quantum leap in refinement. Sleeping babies make more noise than this. Marcel Marceau performing before Benedictine nuns creates a greater ruckus. This thing is quiet. It's also gorgeous inside, with a cabin-full of soft-touch materials, sporty aluminum trim and tight-fitting panels. Only the silly T-shaped shift lever with its confusing action detracts from an otherwise brilliant layout. Of course, the icing on the cookie is price. A not-so-base SE stickers for just $26,320, while a nicely-loaded SXT goes out the door for an impressive $29,320. With value like this, who's not tempted to say "Charge it!" Tampa-based auto writer Howard Walker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.