The new Dodge Challenger has the muscle to compete and smoke 'em
From the Detroit Insider:
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Scott Burgess: Review
The new Dodge Challenger has the muscle to compete and smoke 'em
PASADENA, Calif. -- You know it's going to be a good drive when the race track supervisor reminds you to keep the driver's window rolled down "for extraction purposes."
Translation: That ain't your mamma's Hemi under the hood, so don't get stupid and assume you have the driving abilities to handle it.
Only after hitting 115 mph on the downhill straightaway of Willow Springs Raceway can I report back that the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8, which hits dealerships this May, is better than the original. The first Challenger would have never handled the blind uphill corners as easily as this chiseled machine. Its electronic stability control popping to straighten me after over steering with too much speed. The 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 pushing me back in my seat with every tap of the accelerator. The big Brembo brakes gobbling up speed as I approach the 90-degree left hand turn known as Castrol Corner. The steering always true to the imperfect line I've mapped out.
Based on the retro-styled concept vehicle that blew away the automotive world two years ago at the Detroit auto show, the new Challenger graduates from Old School muscle to high-tech performance. And it only took 35 years.
It may look like a bulked-up original, undergoing a Barry Bonds-type transformation. But unlike Bonds, who declines to talk about his growth in power and hat size, this car embraces performance enhancement.
Built on the Chrysler's LX platform (the same underpinnings as the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger), the Challenger SRT8 marks the return of the Dodge's pony car. And for the first time, Dodge has started with the performance-oriented SRT model, with the R/T and base models expected to arrive at dealerships later this year.
It's a wise move. Nostalgia-generated hype may have put the Challenger on the fast track for production, but the SRT8 model serves as a Mopar man's alternative to the Ford Mustang GT500.
Starting at $37,995, the Challenger SRT8 looks better, rides better and outperforms better than ever before. Detroit and Hollywood tend to over produce sequels, this time Detroit got it right. It's the Empire Strikes Back of automotive second editions.
Much that's old in the new
The design has stayed true to the original but in modern proportions. Measuring 197.7 inches in length, the Challenger looks lean and long (it's 10 inches longer than a Mustang). Its profile maintains a taut, fast look, with the rear slightly elevated. The front end is all 1970 Challenger -- the full-width grille and side-by-side round head lamps. Instead of a chrome bumper, the front uses a body color fascia to surround the sunken grille and fog lights. The dual hood scoops and double wide stripe across the hood dramatically tout the car's power.
Many of the design cues technically point to the concept vehicle, which was, in turn, designed off the 1970 Challenger T/A. The car's A-line -- that ridge along the side -- starts lower in the front and pops up along the rear fender to give the Challenger stronger-looking hips. The taillamps stretch across the back of the car with the reverse lights directly in the center, much like the original. The 20-inch tires look crammed into the wheel wells. Even the fuel cap is reminiscent of the old model.
One modern-day trick used on the Challenger is the black stripe below the door. Designers used this to hide some of the car's body. The 1970 version had body panels that curved sharply under the body like an airplane's wing. (And modern day wind tunnel testing proved the old model could take flight.)
This car has the looks to stop traffic.
In fact, when a group of us drove out of Pasadena in silver, black and orange Challengers (those are the only colors available for the 2008 model) for a day at the track, a Mustang driver approached from the opposite direction and stopped in the middle of the road to check out the new kids on the block. Looks like a leather driving glove just got smacked across Ford's grille; the duel is on.
One exterior design cue taken from the original that I really like is the door-mounted mirrors. Nowadays, most mirrors are placed on that front corner of the window. By moving the mirror back, that section of the window is open now, and the lines of sight are improved dramatically especially when making a sharp turn, such as in a parking lot.
Interior keeps up with times
Inside, the Challenger is less reflective of its past. Thank goodness for that. Some things were never meant to stay the same, nor would you really want them to. Baby boomers may be the driving force behind the Challenger's revival, but few would want to subject their body to constant rattling, bumpy ride and the heady aroma of gasoline flowing through the heater vents.
The second row offers lots of room (32.6 inches of legroom). It's darn near comfortable. The one problem is the seat belt for the front passenger is mounted on the B-pillar and connected to the seat, so getting to the back seat requires limbo skills. Baby boomers might lust after this car, but I can't imagine a gaggle of five piling into this coupe to hit the early-bird special.
The dash is clean and almost a complete single piece, eliminating unsightly gaps and lines. Rubber on the door handle feels right and the fit and finish throughout is good. The steeply angled windshield makes the top of the dash appear oversized, but it's a tidy set up throughout. There's nothing pretentious -- gaudy faux wood or fake carbon fiber trim -- about the interior. But there's certainly room for improvement. The cup holders in the center console look cheap and the three control knobs on the dash feel of hard plastic.
The black leather seats with white stitching include additional bolsters to keep you in place on tight turns. The pistol grip shifter is still there and the white-faced gauges with a nice silver trim are easy to read. Overall, the interior doesn't blow you away. No, that job was left for the car's engine, ride and handling.
Mother of all Hemis
This Challenger is extremely comfortable to drive. On the highway, it's quiet and smooth, a product of its 116-inch wheelbase and independent suspension. Along Angels Crest Highway, a fun, twisty route between Pasadena and Willow Springs, the Challenger never lost its footing. The five-speed automatic provides a great launch and low rpm cruising and the Autostick, Dodge's name for the device that allows you to manually change gears, adds to sharper turns and quick acceleration out of them.
The 6.1-liter V-8 is the mother of all Hemis. Four-hundred twenty-five horses and 420 pound-feet of torque give the Challenger SRT8 lots of yee-haw from the get-go. After a single lap on the track, it'll leave you grinning. Two laps and you're laughing. On the third lap, you start thinking about rolling up your window due to that whomp, whomp, whomping on your eardrums from going too fast with the windows down. Shifting is smooth through all five gears and downshifts never feel too sharp, even on pedal-to-the-metal highway passing.
There are also three modes to the electronic stability control that allow the driver to pick the best mode. The safest controls the antilock brakes and throttle override, which will cut the gas if you're starting to swerve too much. The second, used on the track, turns off the throttle limiter and just keeps you straight. The final mode turns every thing off -- so you're on your own. With this car's power and capabilities, you'll soon become too confident and spin her like a top. Extraction becomes a definite possibility.
Soon, you'll start seeing the Challengers on the road. Already around Detroit, I've seen a few cruising along the highway, turning heads as they rumble along.
And there's a reason that driver is smiling.
This car is just that good and that much fun.