My father is the biggest car nut you will ever meet and over the years he has amassed what some would consider a dream garage: 1969 Camaro, 1996 300ZX and now the car he’s been dreaming about since the day the magazines put out the original sketches: the all new Dodge Challenger SRT8.
Now that Dodge has finally released this dream machine, was it really worth the wait? Let me answer it this way: when you roll up behind one on the highway or see one coming down a back road, are you gawking at the car for as long as it’s in your site line? If you are like any of the hundreds of people I saw along my drive in this eye-catching ride, the answer is undoubtedly YES.
This car is absolutely gorgeous from any angle. From the massive 20” wheels and giant 4-piston Brembo brakes to the signature Challenger rear flanks and the front end that is just plain menacing: the Dodge Challenger SRT8 is the biggest, baddest car on the road today. This car’s massive proportions dwarf everything else out there and for this reason – along with its retro styling that tugs at the heartstrings of all those old enough to appreciate the original – the Challenger is a win for a company that was on the brink of being just another Motown casualty.I’m not certain if it’s the Challenger’s style and proportions or the super-rare B5 Blue paint scheme of this example (just over 250 such SRT8s were built in 2009,) but from my experience, complete strangers will remind you of just how good looking this car is – almost every time I parked, a lengthy conversation would ensue.
So, this car is stunning to look at but does that actually translate to a fun car to drive? This question is a little harder to answer. Sure, cruising around town in the SRT8 is a blast. The slick shifting 6-speed manual transmission feels great with its tight gates and easy clutch take-up. The view over the long hood is surprisingly good and all-around visibility is much better than either the Camaro or the Mustang. The dash is well laid out with all the right gauges in all the right places, and the 6.5” touch screen GPS navigation system works as well as most: its intuitive and uses straight forward touch commands. Data entry is the typical State > City > Street address or selecting a point of interest by type > name, etc. I still long for the day when an OEM Navigation System works as well as Google Maps.
The Challenger has a massive trunk with fold-down rear seats that can accommodate all of your gear easily, including two oversized golf bags – try that in the Camaro’s oddly shaped trunk opening. The 425 HP 6.1 Liter Hemi SRT8 engine puts the power down and sounds sweet doing it. Putting your foot into it brings an instant smile to one’s face as speed limits are quickly broken. However, at the end of the day this car is better suited to cruising to your favorite restaurant than it is pummeling back roads on the edge of adhesion. Though the sports suspension is well suited for a drive in the country, make no mistake about it: at 4,140 lbs, this car is heavy. The size of this ride translates directly into weight which is no small task to move around an apex.
My complaints for this car are very few considering that it was built using the same LX platform that underpins such recent examples as the Dodge Charger, Magnum and Chrysler 300. Though this cost-saving choice has led to some compromises, the overall design does work quite well. Weight of course is an issue that I hope Dodge can correct in future versions. However, my number one item to change would be the hand brake, or rather the lack thereof. Why Dodge decided to put a foot-operated parking brake in a manual transmission is beyond my comprehension. Not only does it alter my ritual of stop-park-power off but it takes up valuable real estate from the dead pedal, making it considerably less comfortable to cruise down the highway in 6th gear. The fake carbon fiber stripe package on the hood is also a pet peeve of mine and fortunately Dodge is offering a “Stripe Delete” option that lowers the price by a cool $250. I’ve also heard a lot of complaints from the magazines surrounding the car’s interior but I have to say that my opinion differs here. Sure, Dodge could do better, but I do enjoy the simplicity of the dash design and the relatively subtle interior for this segment. The pistol grip shifter feels great and the seats are well bolstered and comfortable. None of the interior design compromises for the sake of retro styling – such as those found in the new Camaro – exist here. The Challenger’s interior is modern, straight forward and it works.
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Overall I am quite impressed by the Dodge Challenger SRT8. At $43,680 base MSRP you are paying quite a premium for this car over the top of the line Camaro SS or the Mustang GT but with that comes, arguably, better looks, far less plasticy interior and more road presence. Stepping down to the Challenger R/T with its slightly smaller 5.7 Liter Hemi V8 would net a similar price point as the competition ($30,860 base MSRP) but the power also drops from 425 to 383 HP. For the cruising purpose of this car, the R/T model should suffice but it would be difficult for me to turn down the addictive power of the SRT8.