Depending on who you ask, the R/T badge on the back of the Dodge Charger R/T stands for "Road/Track" or "Race/Technology." Most people will agree that it's the former designation, but that means that the full model and trim name of the 2012 Dodge Charger R/T Road and Track that pulled into the CNET garage recently is remarkably redundant.
Oddball naming convention aside, the Charger R/T Road and Track represents about the maximum blend of power and technology available in a Mopar vehicle this side of Dodge/Chrysler's SRT performance models. It's got a big V-8 with tons of torque, a thoughtful cabin with many grin-inducing creature comforts, and an available cabin technology package that adds quite a bit of braininess to go with the brawniness.
Not the Hemi you want, but all the Hemi you need
Under the hood of every Charger R/T breathes a version of Dodge's Hemi V-8 engine. However, it's not the 470-horsepower, 6.7-liter mill that graces the SRT version, but a smaller-displacement, lower-power version. At only 5.7 liters, the R/T's V-8 outputs a mere 370 horsepower and 395 pound-feet of torque. Who am I kidding, that's still a fantastic amount of power -- certainly more than the average driver could handle without the aid of the three-stage stability control system.
However, in spite of having gobs of power and torque on tap at any given time, the Charger doesn't seem terribly overpowered. That's likely because of the five-speed automatic transmission's reluctance to downshift without substantial prodding of the accelerator pedal, but even self-selecting the ratios with the R/T's standard paddle shifters didn't lead to tremendously responsive throttle feel or the same easily inducible oversteer that I felt in the Chrysler 300 SRT8.
Selecting a Sport mode hidden in the Uconnect system's touch-screen interface adds a bit of eagerness to the equation and causes the transmission to hold its gears a bit longer when in automatic mode, but I never got the impression that the Charger was comfortable with the constant acceleration and deceleration required to tackle a twisty road. However, the two areas the Charger R/T did well in were stoplight drag races and effortless freeway cruising at high speeds. Perhaps there's a bit of Dodge's Nascar and NHRA heritage shining through here?
Fuel economy was another one of the R/T's weak points. The EPA estimates the city and highway fuel economy at 16 mpg and 25 mpg respectively. We averaged a paltry 17.4 mpg combined. If you're looking to get more miles out of each gallon, consider sacrificing about 75 ponies and a pair of cylinders to step down to the Charger SXT's 3.6-liter V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission combo, which is rated at 31 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg in the city.
Interior: Godzilla-skin dashboard
Every time I took a spin in the Charger, I found something else to like about the sedan. There are all sorts of cool creature comforts to be found around the cabin. For example, all four seating positions and the steering wheel can be heated and the front bucket seats can also be cooled. Ambient and accent lighting fill the cabin with a cool glow, but the feature that tickled me the most was the front cup holders, which not only had modes to keep my drinks warm and cool, but also featured a neat illuminated ring that glowed white but changed red or blue to indicate the respective heating or cooling modes. It's a silly little feature, but I showed it off to everyone who sat in the Charger's passenger seat.
Now, I didn't enjoy the bizarre rubbery material that covered the Charger's bulky dashboard. It wasn't bad, but its texture and appearance reminded me of the black foam-rubber material that the Godzilla monster suit was made of. Perhaps Dodge should market this as a feature, "The 2012 Charger R/T with Godzilla-skin interior." I think it'd sell like gangbusters.
Cabin tech: 'Yo dawg, I heard you like voice command...'
The technology that filled that dashboard, in the case of our fully optioned R/T Road and Track model, was Dodge/Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system. Nearly identical to that of the Chrysler 300 that we tested recently (but with a red color scheme rather than blue), this system is based around a massive 8.4-inch color touch screen.
Audio sources include USB, iPod connectivity, an SD card slot at the base of the center stack, and Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free calling and audio streaming. There's also a single-slot CD player, AM/FM radio, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (which also provides a data connection for traffic, weather, sports scores, stocks, and so on). Audio plays back through a pretty good-sounding Alpine audio system, but an even better 552-watt Beats Audio by Dr. Dre system with 10 speakers and a powered subwoofer is available. Our vehicle lacked the good doctor's $995 premium audio option.