2012 Dodge Challenger

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Review: 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8

This 2009 review is representative of model years 2008 to 2014.
By Larry E. Hall of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.9

Bottom Line:

The Challenger proves Lord Acton’s statement that “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Especially when that power is wrapped with such alluring sheet metal.
Pros:
  • Tire-burning V8 muscle car
  • Solid handling
  • Seats five
Cons:
  • Lacks muscle car soundtrack
  • Off-the-shelf steering wheel
  • Gas guzzler

Dodge’s 2008 Challenger SRT8 is one serious-looking, all-out, no-holds-barred American muscle car. But don’t let the looks fool you. This is a modern machine that not only has pavement-rippling performance, but serves up a near sedan-like ride quality in day-to-day driving. The new Challenger also contains all of the safety and entertainment features expected in a 21st-century automobile.

Model Lineup
Until this fall when the full lineup arrives, the only new Challenger coupe offered is the muscled-up SRT8 version. So far, more than 11,000 folks have put money on the table for the 2008 model year production run of 6,400 units. There are only three color choices (orange, black and silver) and one engine — a HEMI-V8 of course.

Those nabbing keys will find many standard features that were either optional or non-existent in 1970; items such as side-curtain airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock disc brakes, high-intensity discharge headlights, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control and a 322-watt, 13-speaker audio system. A Performances Pages instrument panel readout can show 0–60 and quarter-mile times, 60–0 mph braking and g-forces. The only options are a sunroof, a GPS navigation system, and Goodyear F1 Supercar rubber as an upgrade from the standard Eagle RS-A tires.

Throwback Styling
Despite an abbreviated platform borrowed from the Chrysler 300 that is longer and wider than the first Challenger, designers have captured the essence of the storied 1970 model’s long hood and short deck. Up front a rectangular grille is flanked by round headlights, and out back the full-width taillight with a centered white back-up light has a familiar look. The 20-inch forged aluminum wheels have roots from the 1960s Magnum 500 wheels, while the outside mirrors are aerodynamic versions of the originals.

Functional hood scoops help the 425-horsepower 6.1-liter V8 keep its cool. The ‘HEMI’ twists out 420 lb-ft of torque, and its 69.8 horsepower-per-liter rating exceeds that of even the legendary 1966 “Street HEMI.” Directing the power to the rear wheels is a five-speed automatic with AutoStick, which allows the driver to manually select a higher or lower gear, but is the only transmission available. An aggressive first gear ratio provides outstanding launch performance.

Inner Space
Sitting in the driver’s seat is not exactly a blast from the past, thanks to the off-the-rack Chrysler 300 steering wheel. Not only is it way out of character, it’s proportionally too large, and has four rather than three spokes. There are reminiscent touches, however. Trapezoidal shapes around the gauge cluster and on the door panels relate to the original, as do the slanted shifter console and black headliner.

Dodge’s signature four-bomb gauges with black numbers on a white face are highlighted with chrome rings. Changing audio, climate or navigation controls doesn’t require the driver to change seat positions to reach, and materials used throughout the cabin are pleasing to the eye, with respectable-looking plastic finishes. Aggressive side bolsters on the front seats seem to glue occupants in place on the track, yet are marvelously comfortable on long highway runs. The back seat is similarly comfy for two adults — three on short hauls.

On the Road
Straight-line numbers are worthy of old school Challengers: The new version hustles from 0 to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds and covers the quarter mile in the low 13s. But there are two additional talents unheard of in the early ’70s: solid handling and strong brakes (60-0 mph in 110 feet). In all aspects this is a diecast American muscle car, save the soundtrack. Push the start button and the deep, rich rumble of a big V8 is missing. Even at part throttle the Challenger SRT8 is relatively quiet, growling only moderately when the go pedal is mashed.

Traveling on the highway there’s gobs of power still unused at 70 mph cruising. Floor it at this pace and triple-digit speeds arrive quickly. At freeway speeds there is only a slight intrusion of engine and tire sounds and just a whisper of wind noise. A drive along the curve-laden Angeles Crest highway brought forth true grins. The Challenger’s all-independent suspension helps the car stick to the road like chewing gum on a hot August day. Mid-corner bumps are soaked up without a falter, and the stability control system maintains a hands-off policy until unequivocally needed.

The sure handling carries over to a more intense road-course environment. On track the moderately weighted steering lets you know where the front tires are and turn in is quick and precise. Amateur drivers will find the car predictable; seasoned hot shoes will be rewarded.

Horsepower for Your Dollar
If you’re one who measures the value of an automobile by how much horsepower you receive for the dollar, the Challenger SRT8’s $37,995 sticker price (including destination charges) is quite compelling. What’s surprising is the broad spectrum of people who have purchased the car — and it’s not just baby boomers wanting to hold on to the past. Dodge says they’ve “sold to all walks of life, all ages, all cultures.” Apparently what attracted people in the 1960s and early ’70s — two-doors, big V8 — transcends time. The muscle car lives.

Larry E. Hall is editor of Northwest Auto News Service and a freelance automotive journalist based in Olympia,Wash. He has an intense interest in future automotive technology.

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BB03 - 7/23/2014 4:01:56 PM