First Drive: 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2013.
By Patrick Hong of Road & Track
Cresson, Texas — When Chrysler announced in 2006 that it would produce a modern-day version of the 1970s' Dodge Challenger muscle car, it drew much interest from the public. Back then, the Challenger's long hood, short deck and wide stance, coupled with a powerful engine that could generate clouds of tire smoke on demand, etched a permanent image in the minds of pony-car enthusiasts.
When Chrysler invited us to drive a mechanically correct Challenger SRT8 prototype, we jumped at the chance. And when officials asked us to wear a helmet and a firesuit for the drive, we knew we were in for some serious thrills on the track. That is, until Mother Nature decided to pour rain on our stint at the Texas MotorSport Ranch racetrack. Going off the track in these million-dollar prototypes was not an option. But thankfully, we still got to sample the new Challenger's track performance between rain showers and at places where the track was dry.
The new Challenger SRT8 is derived from its brother, the Charger SRT8, with a shorter overall length and wheelbase. Front and rear tracks are the same, but the Challenger's ride height is slightly lower (by 0.7 in.) and its ground clearance a touch higher (by 0.4 in.). The front A-arm and rear multilink suspension setup is retained in the new car, and though bushings are unchanged, unique coil spring rates and Bilstein monotube shocks are installed for optimized ride and handling characteristics. The vented Brembo 4-piston brakes (with 14.2-in. front rotors and 13.8-in. rears) and ABS have been improved to enable quicker reaction to driver input.
The same 425-bhp 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 found in the Charger SRT8 also powers the Challenger SRT8. Mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with Auto-Stick, the engine delivers 420 lb.-ft. of torque, put to the asphalt via all-season rear P255/45R-20 tires (Goodyear F1 Supercar tires are optional). According to the factory, 0-60-mph sprints can be clocked in the low 5-second range, with the quarter-mile trap triggered in the mid-13s. A top speed of 160 mph can be reached without breaking a sweat.
For the designers, maintaining the classic Challenger exterior was of great importance. HID headlights lead the way up front with a functional hood scoop. Dodge's current crosshair grille is absent to retain the car's original 1970s' style. Around the side, the strong rear fenders support a short deck for that muscle-car look. The production version now sports a B-pillar for more rigidity where the concept had a hardtop look. Aerodynamic elements such as the chin splitter with integrated brake cooling ducts have been installed to ensure proper handling balance at speed without compromising the car's classic overall shape. Inside, modern features such as carbon-fiber trim on the steering wheel mix with the more vintage-styled, chrome-accented 4-ring instrument cluster.
Tuned especially for the Challenger SRT8, the Hemi V-8 emits a throaty note when brought to life. On the track, there is plenty of available torque for acceleration out of corners. It is eager to flex its muscle and lay down its power progressively. There is no manual transmission with a pistol-grip shifter as in Challengers of yore, but the 5-speed automatic shifts quickly and smoothly when you are hard on the throttle. However, through corners where traction is low and the car requires careful throttle modulation, the transmission seems to hesitate between gears.
On deceleration, the Challenger's brakes feel firm and positive when slowing the estimated 4140-lb. vehicle. On turn-in, the SRT8 reacts to driver input with composure, though the steering could benefit from more road feel. Chrysler engineers tell us that the Challenger's ride tuning is a touch softer than that of the Charger SRT8, but more firm than the Chrysler 300C's. The result is a ride that has good compliance, especially over the bumps on the track.
Eager customers who have already placed their orders in December could choose black, silver or Hemi orange for their Challenger SRT8, and can expect to take delivery this spring. The MSRP is listed at $37,995, including destination charge. The first run of SRT8s will be limited, with each car bearing a numbered plaque on the dash. For those who miss the chance to burn rubber with the SRT8, there will be a complete and broader range of Challenger models available in the near future.