Picture this: the Chrysler guys give you an all-white, 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 in the middle of the California desert and tell you to have a good time. You’re a big fan of the 1970s classic chase film Vanishing Point. What do you do?

Man, do I love my job.

There is a caveat. I am not allowed to break laws or the car.

No problem. The 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is a remarkably comfortable car for cruising and everything feels overbuilt. I love the Camaro and Mustang, but they are performance cars that were never conceived as comfortable cruisers. The Challenger can cruise.

Here’s the thing. With the new suspension setup, lighter underpinnings, better steering, brakes and performance, the 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is a hell of a lot more than a cruising nostalgia machine. It’s modern and it no longer feels like it was built as an afterthought. Even the automatic transmission has gone to finishing school.

This is a car of two personalities.

When driving in the Auto mode, the Challenger SRT8 feels almost like its predecessor. It is soft and relaxed to a certain degree. Engage the adaptive dampening suspension (ADS) system and the shocks change instantly. When that Sport mode kicks in, the mighty 2012 Challenger SRT8 can go toe-to-toe with anyone. Steering is sharper and better at communicating while the body feels drum-tight when charging into flat corners. It’s impressive.

The newest addition is the revamped, five-speed automatic transmission. I know. I know. You would rather drive a pistol-grip stick and so would I. Still, the advent of a paddle shifting five-speed that is just as invigorating as many dual-clutch systems is noteworthy. Flip the left side paddle for down-shifting and it will respond fast. Snap off up-shifts while charging forward and the gearbox responds with firm changes. It’s quite good and despite not blipping the throttle or having more gears, the system is well-suited for folks who can’t mix their own drink.

Comfort and utility are good in the Challenger. The back seats are comfortable for a muscle car and can hold up to three people. Open the trunk and you can hold nearly as much as a Mustang and Camaro combined.

The engine sound is unreal.

The 470 horsepower, 6.4 liter (396 cid) HEMI V8 fires 470 lbs-feet of torque at the unsuspecting asphalt. As a result, the 2012 Dodge Challenger is capable of 0 to 60 in less than 4.8 seconds and an astonishing top speed of 180 mph. With cylinder deactivation, the Challenger is capable of up to 23 mpg on the highway. With an engine this massive and only five gears, that’s downright impressive. Did I mention the awesome sound?

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You know what else is impressive? The fact that the 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is finally able to drive as fast as it looks.

Dodge did the same performance augmentation it mastered on the Chrysler 300 SRT8, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and the Dodge Charger SRT8. New lightweight components, better steering, brakes and responsiveness gives the Challenger an all new feel from behind its redesigned steering wheel.

Gripes? It is still a huge car with the wheelbase of a truck. External visibility is poor over your shoulders and the interior is still staid. I almost wish they plucked the cool looking interior out of the Charger SRT8 and shared it with the Challenger. Then again, the Chrysler Group LLC folks need to keep the higher volume cars unique. So, perhaps a few changes will come next year for the interior.

It’s hard to judge the big guy; it’s such an amiable machine. If you want to be naughty, the Dodge Challenger SRT8 will be naughty. But ask for a nice car and it can shape up in a sec.

The 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 runs about $43,000 and it’s a good bet that the 2012 price will be close. That might seem steep compared with some higher-end pony cars, but not one of those machines offers what the Challenger can.

Check out a video review of the 2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8 from Roman Mica of TFLcar.com:

And check out a Dodge Challenger doing an insane burnout, just because: