Full 2008 Dodge Challenger Review
What's New for 2008
For 2008, Dodge brings back the Challenger. With a 425-horsepower V8 and handsome retro styling, this reborn muscle car gives the Dodge boys something to be proud of.
Did you miss out on the original 1970-'74 Dodge Challenger? Or maybe you had one back in the day, sold it and now regret the sale? Well, thanks to the Dodge boys who share a similar nostalgic sentiment, you get a second chance with the 2008 Challenger.
Those familiar with the old Challenger know that it was a belated response to Ford's wildly successful Mustang, which was launched some six years earlier. Size-wise, however, the brawny Challenger was closer in size and weight to a 2-ton muscle car than a lithe pony car. Big V8s were the engines of choice, including the legendary 426 Hemi V8. Unfortunately, this model's life was shortened by the era's gas crisis and more stringent emissions regulations.
Despite arriving into an eerily similar climate, there's no need to worry about the 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8 merely being a poser's visual link to the past -- it sports standard "Hemi" V8 power, rear-wheel drive and the right sound burbling from its rectangular exhausts. Initially, it will only be available in ultra-high-performance SRT8 form, meaning its 6.1-liter (around 370 cubic inches for you old-school types) V8 makes 425 horsepower. A less powerful (and less expensive) R/T model will debut next year.
The Challenger is based on Chrysler's LX platform, which is also used for the 300 and Charger sedans. Its wheelbase is 4 inches shorter than the Charger, though with an estimated 4,140-pound curb weight, the new model is frighteningly similar to its forbear in sheer bulk. Of course, the '08 Challenger does come with features previous Mopar designers could have hardly dreamed about, such as stability control, side curtain airbags and an available hard-drive-based navigation system that can also store music and video files.
In addition to having more features, the new one also differs by being fairly athletic and able to go around corners without scraping the Goodyear lettering off the tires. And thanks to its massive Brembo brakes, it can also stop from 60 mph in significantly less than a football field's length. Sadly, also unlike the old Mopar, you can't get a manual transmission. Instead of a pistol-grip Hurst to grab gears with, you get a five-speed automatic with Chrysler's AutoStick mode.
Overall, however, we like how the 2008 Dodge Challenger impressively combines the visceral and visual excitement of the past with modern engineering, safety and convenience features. We have no doubt that it will live up to the hype, though the accompanying dealer markup and limited availability will make this $38,000 car that much more dear. Shoppers not willing to deal with all that could simply pick up a Ford Mustang GT or GT500. Or even better, one could be patient and wait a year until the new Chevrolet Camaro will be available. At that point, the domestic pony car wars will once again be in full swing.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Dodge Challenger is a large five-passenger sport coupe available in a singular, high-performance SRT8 trim level. Standard features include 20-inch alloy wheels wearing 245/45 high-performance tires, a sport suspension, a rear spoiler, xenon headlights, leather and heated front sport seats, air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated side mirrors and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat. Also standard is a 13-speaker premium audio system with six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. Options include a sunroof, the MyGIG combination navigation and music server system, and ultra-performance summer tires.
Powertrains and Performance
The Challenger SRT8 is powered by a 6.1-liter V8 that sends its prodigious 425 hp and 420 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission. The latter features Chrysler's "AutoStick" manual shift capability.
Dodge claims that the V8 vaults the Challenger to 60 mph in the low 5-second range and through the quarter-mile in around 13.5 seconds. Fuel economy, should a potential buyer care about such things, is an expectedly dismal 13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway.
Antilock disc brakes (with brake assist), stability control and front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags are all standard.
Interior Design and Special Features
While the exterior is enthusiastically nostalgic, the Challenger's interior is rather narcoleptic. There's a faint echo of the original Challenger present in the 2008 version, but in total, the cabin is somber and dull with only a few metallic trim pieces and orange seat accents to spruce up what is otherwise a sea of gray. There was certainly no effort to answer the Mustang or upcoming Camaro's retro interiors, but the Challenger at least provides good-quality materials. The well-bolstered sport seats covered in leather and faux suede are also better than those found in the cheaper Ford. The rear seat features a fold-down armrest and a split/folding back that opens up to the 16.2-cubic-foot trunk, making for impressive cargo capacity.
Performance is thrilling, as one would expect. Provided there's sufficient grip, the 2008 Dodge Challenger lunges off the corners and swallows the straights, its sustained thrust complemented by long riffs of resonant mechanical music. However, we'd appreciate a rev-matching feature for the transmission to make downshifts smoother when running along a curvy road.
For such a big car, the Challenger handles itself well, with minimal body roll and a surprisingly comfortable ride. Braking is up to the task as well. Large (about 14 inches front and rear) Brembos fitted with four-piston calipers provide powerful stopping power. The brakes also automatically keep their pads closer to the rotors when driving in the wet.