Speed Read: Challenger is Challenging

We didn't have a chance to shoot the TorRed Challenger SRT8 so we're using photos we took of a HEMI Orange one that we shot earlier in the year.  We aren't colorblind, I promise. -- Z
Carl Modesette: The thought hit me somewhere along the lazy, post-rush-hour, 12-mile drive home from picking up the 2009 Challenger SRT-8: "This may be the last fun car Dodge, as we know it, ever makes."  It's not exactly the kind of thought that cheers you up, but, as Barney Stinson so wisely admonishes on How I Met Your Mother: "When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead."  And how to be awesome instead in a 425 horsepower car?  Drop 3 gears and flatten the accelerator, of course. Given my druthers, I'd have chosen Brilliant Black Crystal Pearl over the TorRed of our tester, because as my wife says, it just looks mean. Nevertheless, I won't lie and tell you I didn't enjoy the temporary highway hero status conferred by our pun-colored sample; I just wouldn't pay the $225 premium for the arrest-me-now-please paint. I've always been a huge fan of the 6.1-liter Hemi SRT-8 powerplant, and I'm certainly no less a fan of its most current sheet-metal wrapper.  The 425 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque spinning through a Viper-sourced Tremec 6-speed provide hours of speed-shifting punches in the back, at least until the fuel (or points on your license) runs out.  Whether the Challenger SRT-8 is the fastest machine in a straight line or not, there's something about the glasspack exhaust note as the revs build that will never get old. Whether you like or dislike the "old" (read: retro) styling of the Challenger, there's no denying its sheer road presence.  Of all the cars I've had the opportunity to sample here at S:S:L, the TorRed Challenger has gotten the most attention from everyone, period, point blank.  Whether cruising down the boulevard, stopping to get gas, or even at the church parking lot, the Challenger was never without a cadre of admirers.  Of today's current crop of retro-muscle, the Challenger is probably the closest to its original inspiration, and even if the retro is lost on you, it's hard to miss Chrysler's big coupe on the road thanks to its exaggerated proportions. While the Challenger is a blast to drive in a straight line, it stays true to the classic muscle-car paradigm when it comes to on-road ride and handling - that is to say, it's not so good at either one.  Any assessment of handling when it comes to the Challenger will always have the "it handles surprisingly well... for a car this BIG" caveat attached.  Likewise, the best way to describe the ride quality of the car would be with this visual image: picture a fat guy riding an innertube being pulled by a speedboat on a rather choppy lake.  When the pavement gets a little irregular and the speeds start to increase, the springs and dampers just have a hard time keeping control of the Challenger's heft. There's no doubt that the engineers at SRT have prepped the SRT- 8 reasonably well for track work. It has big brakes, thick rollbars, and reasonably well-sorted damping. On the road, however, the package doesn't deliver top-notch ride quality or solid broken-road handling.

At the end of the day, the pragmatist in me takes a long look at the sticker price and can't help but be, well, Challenged.  From a "base" price of $40,220, a Gas Guzzler Tax of $1700 and a Destination Charge of $725 takes the minimum actual base price to $42,645.  Beyond that, the potential Challenger buyer must pony up an additional $695 for the why-would-you-have-it-any-other-way 6-speed manual transmission, $225 for any paint color aside from black or silver, and $1,045 for "SRT Option Group II", which basically means "bad ass stereo system".  These options took the final tally to $44,610 on our tester, and this, folks, is where we have a problem.  See, that kind of money will buy you a Ford Shelby GT500, which is the best car ever.  That kind of money will also get you pretty close to a base C6 Corvette.  Even worse, once V-8 Camaros start hitting showrooms in numbers, you'll be able to get a Camaro with the same power and torque for at least TEN GRAND less  - and you won't have to pay extra for the 6-speed manual tranny.  So, as nostalgic and enjoyable as the Challenger is, I just can't see the value - unless retro Mopar exclusivity is your primary aim.  And if it is, well, mo'par to ya.

Jack Baruth: Carl's right. The SRT-8 costs serious money, and the competition offers either more power for about the same cash (Ford) or a lighter, faster car for less (Chevrolet, assuming the Camaro sticks around in the Government Motors era). But it's worth noting that the original Challenger didn't directly compete with the Mustang and Camaro. It was a larger, more luxurious car that offered a slightly older, more prestige-conscious audience the same shove in the back as the ponycars did. Viewed in this light, the Challenger makes sense. It's just plain bigger and more expensive than the equivalent Mustang or Camaro, and it offers what the competition doesn't: a bored-out HEMI V-8 paired with slab-sided retro styling that looks more like an original Challenger than... an original Challenger does, honestly. Truth be told, I could live with the weight penalty, the dark interior, and the steep sticker price, no questions asked. There are only two reasons why I'm not already an SRT-8 owner. The first is that I have an Audi S5, which is a better-looking, smoother, more luxurious, and more competent ponycar than the Mopar or the Camaro. The second, more serious one is this: Dodge won't sell you an SRT-8 in white. You can have an R/T in white, but those of us who are fans of both "Vanishing Point" and stopping the car without drama on a road course are the proverbial you-know-what out of luck. A Challenger you can't get in white? Get real. [nggallery id=28]

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Carl Modesette

15 CommentsLeave a comment

  • You guys are doing it wrong. The Challenger to have isn't the SRT8, but rather the Challenger Classic. This is by far the best looking Challenger of the bunch, and I'll bet you the fun quotient is nearly the same as the SRT8 in everyday driving. With an MSRP in the mid-30s, you bring the price back down to earth, and you have the best looking of all three muscle cars on the market.

    <img src="http://www.speedsportlife.com/photopost/data/1234/medium/DCHJWPL6828b.jpg"&gt;

    • Zerin makes a good point here, but i'd argue that he only builds upon the value proposition i originally wrote… why does the SRT-8 make sense? the R/T gets 90-95% of the performance for 75% of the price – a pricetag that puts it back in reasonable competition with the Mustang GT and Camaro SS.

      • You're right about the RT being the better value than the SRT, particularly if you spend half the price difference on go-fast bits.

        The problem is, at $30-something-k, the RT gets spanked by the GT and the Camaro SS.

  • Zerin is right..the best looking Muscle car out there period. Jack is 100% correct about White….becuase…it's right.

    WTF. I am agreeing with everyone….I am loosing my edge…I feel like Ari in Entourage when i couldnt fire the blind guy…..


  • I spent a week in the SRT8 and fell in love with the car almost right away.
    The price is high, but the feeling it provides – when cruising down a local boulevard – is hard to match.

    Soon the roads will be infested with new Mustangs and new Camaros… and the Challenger will be the one that still stands out.

    I will take one in black… because, as Carl's wife said, it just looks mean…

  • "Likewise, the best way to describe the ride quality of the car would be with this visual image: picture a fat guy riding an innertube being pulled by a speedboat on a rather choppy lake. When the pavement gets a little irregular and the speeds start to increase, the springs and dampers just have a hard time keeping control of the Challenger’s heft."

    Love it.

  • loving the new road test format. keep it up guys! i'd like to see an HHR SS vs. Mazdaspeed3 comparison test. its something no one else has done, and its a pretty reasonable comparison. also, may i suggest doing features on owner's cars? it would mean an endless supply of writing material and entertaining stories.

  • Here's my problem with the Challenger over the other 2 muscle ponies:

    It's main selling points are its retro looks, V8 rumble and straight-line muscle.

    I can get retro looks, V8 rumble and straight-line muscle in an actual classic muscle car for a hell of a lot less than $45k. Why not have the original, rather than a copy?

    The Mustang in particular seems to be the only one that's actually trading on legitimate all-around performance rather than retro muscle pastiche. That's where my money would go.

  • Sure you can have an original for the same price but trust me, it's not the way to go. You can't use an original as a daily driver, I did this for a year with my 71 Challenger R/T and it was a bad experience from every angle. If I had the budget I would be at the Dodge dealer right now running down the option list for a new Challenger.

    Love the strips on the Challenger Classic!

    • I guess it depends on where you live.

      I've got a 90-mile round trip, 80+mph commute here in LA. With no snow and almost no rain, I could do it in a Se7en. (Hmmm…).

      The distance means way too many miles to use a truly rare classic, but I'd love to build something like a 289 + T5 '65 Falcon from an otherwise unloved I-6, 2 speed model.

  • Do not want…as an only car.

    I'd love to have a 3 car garage consisting of the Shelby GT500, the Camaro Z28 SS and the Dodge Challenger SRT8.

    And you'd be correct in assuming that I'd rock a my mullet, member's only jacket, wife beater under shirt, stone washed black jeans and Nike Err Force Onez…

  • Tip: Do not look at original Challenger + new Challenger pics side by side or you won't be able to look at the new one again. The coolest thing about the original Challenger was how low and wide it was, but for some ungodly reason, the designer of the new Challenger decided to take the classic car and narrow and raise it.

    And i don't see how anyone in their right mind would take any model Challenger over the Mustang or new Camaro. I'm really not a fan of the new 'maro, but it's just better than the Challenger in every single way, besides looks(damn thing is hideous!!!).

  • Yes indeed this is an expensive hot rod but I believe it is vital to future generations of car builders to have access to a good foundation to build there hot rods from. Back in the day cuda’s, challengers, and superbee’s were not just flying off the showroom floor but all the hot roders now sure are happy they built them.

    So my hats off to Dodge for the new challenger.

    Thanks for the cool article!

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