Hemi. Some of you will love just the sound of it – the throaty, grunting, gurgle of old-school pushrod technology thumping away to the tune of 470 horses and 470 lb-ft of torque.
There is nothing “green” about a Hemi. It's an unapologetic, howling, burbling monster of a powerplant. To some, it's a thing of beauty, though I'm sure others will recoil at the sheer incorrectness of the thing.
The latest Hemi is the 6.4-litre V-8 and it's in the 2012 Dodge Charger SRT8. This engine is no poseur and the SRT8 itself is certainly one of the very best high-performance deals on the planet – a rear-drive car in BMW M5 territory, at least when the measure is pure, raw performance.
Best of all, the Hemi has a story. To begin, convert the metric engine displacement to cubic inches: 392. That number means something. Back in 1957, Chrysler put the first 392-cubic-inch Hemi in the 300C and Imperial. It was dual-quad carbureted and, while officially rated at 390 horsepower, that was a gross rating derived from a fairly primitive engine dynamometer, one then corrected with help from the marketing department.
Back then, the Hemi was a stud of an engine, capable of being force-fed with nitromethane in a Top Fuel drag racer. Later, the 392 begat the 426-cubic-inch Street and Race Hemi. So you can trace today's SRT to a time when baby boomers were babies. Hemi, then, is not the mere invention of marketing whiz kids; it has a history and meaning.
The term Hemi itself refers to the hemispherical top of the combustion chamber, versus the traditional flathead type. The hemispherical shape allows for better power production. But enough of all that.
If you have $48,095 to spend on a bad boy sedan capable of giving an M5 ($101,500 and 560 hp/500 lb-ft) and a Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG ($99,500 and 518 hp/516 lb-ft) a scare, the Charger SRT8 is your car. We'll throw the smaller Cadillac CTS-V ($72,900 and 556 hp/551 lb-ft) into this mix, too.
You can see the numbers. Even the Caddy is 25-large more than the Charger and the German road runners are twice as much. Moreover, the Germans spool up the power with turbocharging, while Caddy goes the supercharger route. The Charger does the job with good, old displacement and two valves over each combustion chamber. Old school.
So the SRT8 is the beefy descendent of real muscle cars going back more than half a century. It looks tough and obviously can fly, yet the SRT8 is as comfortable and user-friendly as any modern car can be – especially one that sells for $50,000-something all in, and one aimed at 50-something buyers.
That's because underneath you'll find the thoroughly updated underpinnings of the original LX platform that was adopted from the Mercedes-Benz E-Class back when Daimler was running Chrysler into the ditch. Last year, the emerged-from-bankruptcy Chrysler re-did the platform and now the sheet metal has been made right, too. As Chrysler chief designer Ralph Gilles points out, the last Charger was a rush job and was never very pleasing to the designers themselves. No more. And the cabin has been similarly reworked with equal care and attention.
It's the driving part that matters most, though. Fire up the engine and the burbling sound at idle hints at the evil that lurks beneath. Smash the throttle and this rumbling V-8 will launch the car from 0-100 km/h in less than five seconds. The motor expresses itself through chromed dual exhaust outlets. Superb.
When you're up and running, you can manage shifts of the five-speed automatic via paddles, though the whole thing will happen on its own if you just keep your foot planted. When your travels take you to roads that bend, the manual mode is just the ticket to manage engine braking in a do-it-yourself fashion. The shifts themselves are crisp and sure.
The engineers, with a nod to the political correctness of the day, say they've done some smart things to keep this engine as frugal as possible. When you're cruising in part throttle, for instance, the Hemi's Fuel Saver system shuts down half the engine to run on just four cylinders. Transport Canada's rating is 15 litres/100 km city and 8.7 highway, using premium gas.
Yet we all know there is a limit to thriftiness in a 1,915-kilogram car. The Charger SRT8 needs those huge Brembo brakes, too. The all-independent suspension system and fat rubber at each corner conspire to deliver handling and cornering that is nothing if not surprising. Saying this is a nimble car is a stretch, but the SRT8 certainly is predictable and balanced.
Not to be overlooked is the cabin. The instrument panel, console and dash are all nicely done, close to the equal of those aforementioned German cars. Not quite there, but not $50,000 behind, either. The well-bolstered seats are terrific, the leather-wrapped steering wheel rich and meaty in your hands.
What a car. And what a history, too.
2012 Dodge Charger SRT8
Type: Full-size performance sedan
Price: $48,095 (freight $1,500)
Engine: 6.4-litre V-8
Horsepower/torque: 470 hp/470 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.0 city/8.7 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: BMW M5, Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, Cadillac CTS-V