On a rainy day last September, I was enjoying the unique experience of piloting a Dodge Challenger SRT8 at Pocono International Raceway. Exiting the tight road course, I launched the Challenger onto the oval. Getting on the banking at full tilt, the Challenger reached over 125mph, the car sounding like a NASCAR race car itself, before braking hard into a chicane. It was instantly clear this was a car that deserved a closer look, but I wanted to pick the moment-Spring, 2010.
It was worth the wait. The ultimate end to a Monday, a Challenger R/T finished in retina-searing Detonator Yellow was dropped off at my home. Opening the door to the stark, black interior, much to my joy there was a six-speed manual. I quietly thanked God and The Garage’s Founding Editor, Gary Grant for this awesome job. Still, I wondered how the Challenger would work as my daily driver for the next week. Instead of driving flat-out on a race track, I’m schlepping my kid to day care. Read on to see how the Challenger fares!
For starters, there is no getting around the fact that the Challenger is absolutely stunning. The Challenger is just a brutal looking car, yet manages a grace that I find lacking in the current Chevy Camaro. Every design element works, and there is not a single bad line to be found. I have always had a strong distaste for chromed alloy wheels, but the 20″ rims seen here looked just right on the car, and I did not mind them at all. The black R/T stripes gracing the side, the small ‘HEMI’ badge on the hood, and the scripted ‘Challenger’ nameplate all add up to make a car that is impossible to suppress a smile when you walk up to it.
I wasn’t alone in my admiration of the Challenger’s looks. Driving this car, you get stares everywhere. Pedestrians gave me the thumbs up, drivers pulled up alongside me to compliment the car. Pulling up to a deli for lunch one drizzly afternoon, a complete stranger reprimanded me for driving such a beautiful car in the rain! And I am pleased to report that when I met another Challenger on the road, there was always headlight flashing and a wave.
Inside, the Challenger offers a simple, straightforward interior, true to its roots. It takes only a few moments to acclimate oneself, and you are ready to go. The gauges are large, and easy to read, day or night. While the seats were fairly comfortable, they were a little flat, and did not offer much in the way of lateral support, making me long for the ultra-supportive seats equipped on the SRT8. I was impressed with how roomy the cabin was, with best in class rear head and leg room. With a 16.2 cubic foot trunk, the Challenger offers an unexpected amount of cargo space. Some critics decry the Challenger for being ‘too basic’ inside, but this was never intended to be a luxury car. Our Challenger was equipped with heated, leather seats, a power driver’s seat, a quality Boston Acoustics stereo, navigation, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a power sunroof. If you require more luxury than that, you need to ask yourself if you really want a muscle car.
Did I say muscle car? Isn’t that why we’re here? The heart of the Challenger is its sweet, 5.7L HEMI V-8, producing a healthy 376hp and 410 lb. ft. of torque. Here, the engine makes the car, and makes just the right sound to back up the car’s bad-ass looks. The Challenger is incredibly easy and docile around town. The pistol-grip 6-speed manual is also a snap to use, with easy clutch take-up, and even a hill-holder feature. But the Challenger R/T is always at its best when pushed, and the car rewards you with blistering acceleration accompanied by a breathtaking exhaust note as the tach sweeps upward. You never want it to end, but only the limitations are the road you are driving and traffic, as the Challenger simply pulls like a freight train, and never runs out of breath.
Impressively, the Challenger acquits itself quite well as a highway cruiser. In sixth gear, cruising at 70mph, the Hemi is registering a lazy 1,500rpm, and is nearly silent in operation. On my highway drive, I found myself preferring windows down, sunroof open, and cruising in fifth gear just to enjoy the racket from the engine bay. Still, it is nice to know the Challenger can be a quiet interstate cruiser when you want it to be.
The Challenger is a big, heavy car, and in driving it, you don’t forget it. Still, the car handles remarkably well, as long as you don’t expect it to shrink around you like larger BMW’s. In the twisty bits, the Challenger remains calm and easy to drive, remaining flat and predictable. Steering feel was a little isolated for my tastes. The brakes were always up to task, and inspired confidence in hauling this heavy car from speed. What shocked me most was the ride quality-for a car sporting 20″ rims, I was amazed at how forgiving the car was over bumps and road undulations.
The Challenger R/T is a car that was meant to be enjoyed. On a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, I ventured out, with a couple hours to myself. Music? Nothing but classic rock. Starting off with “Slow Ride” by Foghat on my iPod, it was hard to think of a more perfect car to enjoy a blast on some of my favorite country roads. Ã‚Â The joy of shifting the manual tranny, and the intoxicating sounds of the Hemi V-8 with a smooth, solid ride combined for an unforgettable driving experience.
When it comes to muscle cars, buyers typically feel strongly toward one brand, and almost never cross-shop. Which is a shame. For every Challenger sold so far in 2010, Ford sells two Mustangs, and Chevy sells almost three Camaros. Of the three, the Challenger offers the most authentic muscle car experience, with modern build quality and equipment. I am pleased to report that the Challenger did manage to thrill me in daily life as it did on the track, which is no mean feat. Retro and proud of it, the Challenger R/T is my personal top choice of the modern muscle car.