What's New for 2009
Dodge fills out the Challenger lineup for 2009 with the introduction of a base V6 model and midlevel R/T. Joining the pavement-searing SRT8 trim, the V6 trim sports a 250-horsepower V6, while the R/T boasts a 370-hp 5.7-liter V8. Also new this year is the availability of a manual transmission for the R/T and SRT8.
Thanks to the massive press coverage of last year's Dodge Challenger rebirth, you probably know as much about it as we do. But in case you missed all those headline road tests featuring the burnt-orange car, here's the skinny. Borrowing heavily from the styling of the original 1970-'74 Challenger, the reborn version sports similar lines and proportions. But you needn't worry about the 2009 Dodge Challenger merely being a poser's visual link to the past -- it can be had with Hemi V8 power, rear-wheel drive and the right sound burbling from its rectangular exhausts.
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's, though with a 2-ton curb weight, the newer model is frighteningly similar to its forebear in terms of sheer bulk. Of course, the 2009 Challenger has features that previous Mopar designers could hardly have 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. The new Challenger also differs by being fairly athletic and able to go around corners without scraping the Goodyear lettering off the tires.
Last year, Dodge offered just one model -- the top-level SRT8. For 2009, Dodge expands the Challenger family with a couple of less intimidating alternatives that make this retro-styled sport coupe more accessible to the masses. Starting things off is the new base Challenger, fitted with a V6 engine and four-speed automatic, a pairing as ill-suited as Charlize Theron and Gilbert Gottfried. You'll get 250 hp and a 25-mpg highway rating from this powertrain, but considering that you're stuck with four speeds, it's hardly set up for optimal efficiency. Sitting between the base car and the SRT8 is the best pick of the bunch: the new R/T, with its 370-hp V8. This year also brings back another Mopar icon, a pistol-grip-shifted manual gearbox. Available on the V8 cars, this tranny features six speeds.
Considering that the resurrected Camaro is set to debut next year, Dodge's preemptive strike with this full family of Challengers couldn't have come at a better time. And considering the cost of gasoline nowadays, we imagine the V6 model will be fairly popular. Overall, we like how the 2009 Dodge Challenger impressively combines the visceral and visual excitement of the past with modern engineering, safety and convenience features. Yes, there is competition in the form of the upcoming Camaro and the Ford Mustang. But for a modern take on the old muscle car, the Challenger certainly gets almost all of it right.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Dodge Challenger is a large five-passenger sport coupe available in three trim levels -- base SE, R/T and SRT8.
Standard features on the SE include 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry, full power features, an eight-way power driver seat, air-conditioning, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a CD/MP3 player. The R/T gains a V8 engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and steering, minor exterior enhancements and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
The top-dog SRT8 ups the ante with even more power, black hood stripes, 20-inch alloy wheels, a sportier suspension and steering than the R/T, a limited-slip rear differential, Brembo brakes, xenon headlights, heated side mirrors, leather and faux suede upholstery, heated front sport seats, cruise control, keyless ignition, Bluetooth, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a 13-speaker premium audio system (with six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls). Many of the upgraded features can be added on lower trims as options.
Other optional features, depending on the trim level, include a sunroof, ultra-performance summer tires, a 13-speaker premium audio system and the MyGIG combination navigation and music-server system. For the R/T, one may order the Trak Pak, which features a six-speed manual gearbox (in place of the automatic), a limited-slip differential, Hill Start Assist (prevents rolling back on hills with the manual), a recalibrated performance steering system and bright pedal accents. There are numerous Mopar accessories available, including a retro T-grip metallic automatic shifter.
Powertrains and Performance
The Challenger SE is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 with 250 hp and 250 pound-feet of torque. The only transmission for the SE is a four-speed automatic. The R/T sports a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 that makes 370 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque. It comes mated to a five-speed automatic, with a six-speed manual available -- with the latter gearbox, the 5.7 makes 5 more hp. The SRT8 comes with a 6.1-liter V8 packing 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, with transmission choices mirroring those of the R/T.
Dodge claims the R/T will rocket to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. We've timed an SRT8 with the automatic at 5.1 seconds to 60 and 13.2 seconds in the quarter-mile. Fuel mileage estimates range from 18 mpg city/25 mpg highway for the SE down to 13 city/18 highway for the SRT8.
Antilock disc brakes (with brake assist) and stability control are standard on R/T and SRT8 models and optional on the SE, while side curtain airbags are standard across the board.
Interior Design and Special Features
While the exterior is enthusiastically nostalgic, the Challenger's interior is rather bland. There's a faint echo of the original Challenger present in the 2009 version, but in total, the cabin is somber and dull, with only a few metallic trim pieces to spruce things up. 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 in the SRT8 are covered in leather and faux suede, while the rear seats in all models features a fold-down armrest and a split-folding back. At 16.2 cubic feet, the Challenger's trunk boasts impressive cargo capacity for this segment.
Break out the bell bottoms and peace signs -- it's 1970 all over again. With the V8 versions, performance is thrilling, as one would expect. Provided there's sufficient grip, the 2009 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 automatic 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 Brembos in the SRT8 (about 14 inches front and rear) are fitted with four-piston calipers and provide abundant stopping power. The brakes also automatically keep their pads closer to the rotors when driving in the wet, lightly wiping the discs off for improved braking in these conditions.
Read our Dodge Challenger R/T Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test