Resto-modders, listen up: stop tearing apart perfectly salvageable classic muscle cars, fitting them with wide wheels and tubbed fenders, and instead go straight to your nearest Dodge dealer. There, you’ll find the Challenger SRT8 392, a classic 70s muscle car disguised as a brand new, modern five-seat coupe with a warranty. The Challenger looks as tough as those resto-modded vintage rides, hunkered down the way it is on its 20” 5-spoke wheels, a deep chin spoiler splitting the flies up front and a pair of over-the-roof vinyl stripes the only decoration on what is otherwise a totally throwback body.
The Challenger has been my favorite looker of the current batch of American muscle cars since its debut, and that’s coming from a Ford man. “Muscle car” is a title really only befitting the Challenger, anyway – the current Mustang and Camaro are much closer to their pony car forebears in both size and sporting intent, so neither comes close to offering the Challenger’s interior volume – in fact, the SRT8 has a backseat that is downright livable. There’s an expansive view from the driver’s seat both over the vented hood and out to the sides – the Camaro interior’s sensation of sitting in a bathtub has no place here. Instead, you feel like you could – and should – immediately tackle a cross-country trek, burning Kowalski-style toward some unknown destination.
If the Challenger has me waxing nostalgic, it’s because there are few cars on the market today that so directly embody our American motoring roots – the sense of driving not only for necessity, but for recreation. And if you were going to choose a Challenger for recreation, you’d be remiss not to pick the SRT8 392. Sporting a punched-out 6.4-liter version of the HEMI V8, the SRT8 has 470 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. Not inconsequential numbers, those. But while the numbers might suggest the driver needs to be a lion tamer, the 392 is really a pussy cat. It builds power smoothly, and the long gearing that enables its stratospheric 180 mph top speed also allows you to loaf away from stoplights without roasting the rear tires, if you so desire.
There’s also a launch control feature buried among the gauge cluster’s various performance submenus, allowing you to set a rev limiter, mash the throttle and dump the clutch fuss-free as the traction control limits wheel spin to your accelerative benefit. Get everything right, and you’ll arrive at 60 in the low-four second range. The clutch is heavy but take-up is fairly progressive, and the pistol grip shifter is canted toward the driver for an easy reach. The Tremec TR6060 gearbox used here and in various other high-torque applications is a sturdy unit, but hardly a rock-crusher when it comes to shift feel. In fact, I preferred it to the much-maligned Getrag 6-speed I used to row in my Mustang.
When you’re not intent on exploring the outer edges of the performance envelope, the SRT8 makes a nice driver. Bumps and road noise are both well-isolated, the steering is fairly accurate and makes tracking straight on the highway an easy task despite the wide Goodyears under foot. For being 20”s, they display little of the slap over expansion joints that smaller cars with large-diameter wheels and tires often do. Turn up the wick a little bit, and the 392 hauls, in a classic car kind of way – it relishes long straights and wide sweepers, but it certainly doesn’t embarrass itself in the tighter stuff – it’s just that its size only truly becomes apparent when you have to crank the flat-bottomed steering wheel from one lock to another.
The future of the current Challenger is uncertain at best. Reports from Detroit peg the return of the Barracuda nameplate and the smaller, lighter car it will be attached to as the possible death knell for the SRT8 version of the Challenger at the very least. If the Challenger does stick around, it’ll be up for a major refresh. On the bright side, there are also rumors of a 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8 slated for the top dog Barracuda – with enough firepower to really take the fight to the ZL1 and Shelby GT500. Think 600 horsepower and you won’t be far off. We hope Dodge sees fit to let the current big-body Challenger stick around for at least another generation, and while they’re at it, slide that supercharged HEMI under the hood as well. But the current Challenger, especially in SRT8 392 guise, is a piece of rolling nostalgia we’re happy still exists in a marketplace rife with downsizing, turbocharging and efficiency-chasing.
2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392
Base price: $44,770
Price as tested: $49,205
Options on test car: Redline 3-coat pearl paint ($500), Harman Kardon 18-speaker sound system ($1,995), Uconnect 730N Nav/DVD/CD stereo with 40GB hard drive ($790), Goodyear F1 Supercar summer tires ($150), Gas Guzzler Tax ($1,000)
Powertrain: 6.4-liter V8 HEMI engine, 6-speed manual transmission – 470 horsepower, 470 lb-ft torque
Dodge provided the vehicle for testing purposes and one tank of gas.