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Motor Trend and Car and Driver Compare the Challenger to the Mustang

Check out these two comparisons by Car and Driver and Motor Trend. Both feature the all new Dodge Challenger, and in both tests, the Challenger was pitted against its only current rival- the Mustang. Now, since the Dodge will only be sold in SRT8 trim for this year (the most powerful of the bunch), it’s only fair that it competes against an equally powerful Mustang. Car and Driver chose the Mustang Bullitt, and Motor Trend selected the Shelby GT500.

The Mustang was the first true muscle car in a few decades, and its retro fifth generation design stole the hearts of many consumers (and a good chunk of their change). The Mustang has been the undisputed champ, partly because it was a good car, but mostly because it had the segment all to itself. Now, however, the old ‘Merican pony is going to have to fight for its title, with the new Dodge Challenger the first to strike, and the Mustang’s most feared rival, the Chevy Camaro, due to brawl with both of them in 2009. From the looks of things, it’s going to be one heckuva fight.

Go to the links above for the comparisons, if you couldn’t care less about the tests but just want the results, I’ll have the gist of both tests, the winners, and a lot more pics after the jump.

Car and Driver’s Test

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Their Challenger was a fiery muscle machine decked out in Hemi Orange, and the classic styling- the long hood short deck, squared off nose and back, and the humps over the wheels- is a toss back to the heyday of the American car. The Mustang Bullitt is actually a Mustang GT that went through the $3,310 Bullitt package. It is the exact opposite of the Challenger, opting for a more stealthy, under-estimated menace look. It comes draped in dark Highland Green and grayed out wheels and the lack of flashy badges make this one mean machine.

The Bullitt isn’t just a visual mod, ’cause the Mustang’s performance gets beastly when the Bullitt badges are slapped on. The engine is a ___liter V-8 with 315 horsepower and ___ pound-feet of torque. This stealthy pony blasts from 0-60 in 5 seconds flat, and has a top speed of ___mph. Not too bad, but is it good enough to take on the Challenger? Well, the numbers say no. The Dodge’s 6.1 liter V-8 has 425 horses and 420 pound-feet torque, and together they get this machine to 60 in 4.8 seconds, as tested by Car and Driver, and on to a top speed of 170 mph.

Interior-wise, the Bullitt is nicer than the stock GT’s, but its use of plastics and overall simple feel instantly mark it as a Mustang. Exclusive to the Bullitt is a replicated engine-turned swirly design for the dash, and the aluminum ball that sits atop of the shifter. The Challenger’s interior was favored by Car and Driver, who praised the better seats and the roomier set-up.

Car and Driver did have complaints with both, and the biggest strike against the Bullitt was its uncomfortable ride, and the overall “racket of driving”. The only real Challenger criticism is its price tag, which at $40,208, is about $5,000 more than the Bullit’s. On the other hand, the Bullitt’s highlights include the snorty sound of the V-8, the smooth clutch, and the sheer joy of pure driving. The Challenger scored high marks with its beastly engine and performance, and its classy looks.

Motor Trend’s Test

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Motor Trend’s Challenger came in silver, and is not as attention demanding (some might say obnoxious) as the bright orange one. The Shelby GT500, on the other hand, is undoubtedly hotter in blazing red with slick white racing stripes.

The GT500, though based on the outdated live axle platform, is a complete beast when it comes to performance- its screeching 5.4 liter V-8 pumps out 540 horses and 480 pound-feet of torque, and it blasts to 60 in a stupendous 4.3 seconds and on to a top speed of an electronically limited 155 mph. The Challenger, though outgunned, still ain’t no wimp, and it uses its 6.1 liter V-8 (yeah, it\’s a Hemi), to produce 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet torque. It scoots to 60 in a respectable 4.7 seconds, and to a top speed of 170 mph, all with the good ol’ American rumble of the classic V-8, compared with the less appealing supercharged whine of the GT500.

For the interior, Motor Trend was rather disappointed with the Challenger, and I am too. Seems like we both expected a cabin closer to that of the concept’s. But, of course, for some reason the Big Three can’t make a concept into a production model without making it worse. While the concept featured retro touches and flashier trim, the SRT8?s interior looks like it was lifted from a Charger or 300C, and just doesn’t look like it belongs in such a good looking machine. Motor Trend also laments the big ugly steering wheel, and preferred the sportier three-spoke version of the GT500?s. However, like Car and Driver they love the beefy leather seats.

Motor Trend didn’t give any opinions on the GT500?s interior, so I’ll inject some of my own. The whole cabin is a lot more attractive than the Challenger’s, which is plain and boring, not befitting of a top of the line SRT8. The Shelby, on the other hand, features blazing red seat and door panel inserts. Flashier trim and sportier steering wheel land this Mustang up front. Plus, it’s got that cool, evil little Cobra badge on the steering wheel to give a better first impression.

As for Motor Trend’s criticisms, the main one against the Mustang is its use of the outdated live axle platform, especially when compared to the Challenger’s fully independent suspension. Motor Trend did praise the GT500?s superior speed, acceleration, and handling. The biggest strike against the Challenger was the fact that it was almost too well-mannered. They wanted an exhaust with more crackle and boom. They also slammed the Dodge for not having a manual. I agree, as every muscle car, as a matter of fact, every performance car should be a manual. Automatics belong only in family sedans, compacts, and worthless things like SUVs and trucks.

Verdict

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So who won? Car and Driver, after much deliberation, chose the Challenger. Better performance, better looks, and a better interior means it outscores the Bullitt in everything, though it was a close call.

Motor Trend, who compared the Challenger to the GT500, which is faster, more powerful, and more expensive, gave the number one to the Challenger as well. Perhaps the best way of stating why the Challenger won on both accounts is what Motor Trend said-

“It’s one of the closest comparo calls we’ve made of late, but the nod goes to the all-new Challenger from Dodge. The Shelby GT500 remains a fast and compelling piece, but the Challenger is simply a better-sorted automobile, a 20th-century icon reborn with 21st-century sophistication and poise”.

So the Dodge Challenger, which is brand new, managed to beat the Mustang on two tests. How did that happen? Well, in addition to the reasons given by both Car and Driver and Motor Trend, I think that people just got bored with the Mustang. Ever since its introduction in 1964, it has been ever present, a familiar face that is getting too familiar. The Challenger, on the other hand, looks good, is powerful, but more than that it’s new, and people are interested. That’s also why the new Camaro is so hounded by the press, because it looks good, it’s a muscle car, but most importantly, it is new, something different from the common Mustang.

Speaking of the Camaro, Dodge had better not get too confident from these wins and think the Camaro will be a pushover, ’cause GM won’t spare anything to make the new Camaro the best yet. So, as Motor Trend put it, “Kudos, Dodge, but remember: Don’t spare the sizzle for 2009. Retro Round Two, Challenger versus Camaro, will be here before you can say ‘time warp’”.

Challenger vs. Mustang Bullitt

Price (as tested): $40,208/ $31,525

Engine: 6.1 liter V-8/

Top Speed: 170 mph/

Horsepower: 425/ 315

Torque: 420 lb-ft/

0-60 mph: 4.8 seconds/ 5 seconds

Mileage: 13 city, 18 highway/ 15 city, 23 highway

Challenger vs. Shelby GT500

Price (as tested): $41,158/ $47,210

Engine: 6.1 liter V-8/ 5.4 liter supercharged V-8

Top Speed: 170 mph/ 155 mph (electronically limited)

Horsepower: 425/ 540

Torque: 420 lb-ft/ 480 lb-ft

0-60 mph: 4.7 seconds/ 4.3 seconds

Mileage: 13 city, 18 highway/ 14 city, 20 highway

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