June 30, 2010
"There is no pretense made by the styling of the 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T. It's not some over-styled street tough like the Camaro. The interior is nothing special, but it works. Dodge didn't try to trick us into thinking the Challenger was sporty by leaving that huge steering wheel in your lap. The suspension is soft and the sidewalls are tall. In return, you get a pretty nice ride on any surface. There is a side benefit to this. You get to squeal and spin the tires around slow corners. Did I mention you can hear the tires break loose as you grab 3rd gear? Yeah, that doesn't hurt either."
Honesty drew us to the 2009 Dodge Challenger R/T over its Ford, Chevy and even SRT8 counterparts. It didn't promise any more than it could deliver. We respected that. And it's why reactions like the one above litter the Challenger R/T long-term blog.
Why We Bought It
In 1998 a stumbling Chrysler clung to Mercedes-Benz in a merger of "equals" that many hoped would keep the ailing automaker on its feet. No sooner did the German juggernaut move in than it left, pulling the rug completely from beneath the nation of Mopar. On the verge of being the first of the Big Three to bow out of the business, Chrysler needed help. It leaned on Dodge, and the 2009 Challenger, for support.
Dodge was rejuvenating its once-cherished nameplate. When the 2009 Dodge Challenger reached showrooms it was big news. It was all-new with an optional 5.7-liter or 6.1-liter Hemi. Our full test of the R/T sold us on the smaller V8. Our decision to get the R/T cost us 0.3 second in a straight line but saved us $10,000. This was a fair trade-off in our book.
In a new era of emissions-regulated retro-muscle cars capable of 25 mpg, the Challenger R/T was a legitimate contender. It was true to its roots. It still did burnouts. And it was fun to boot. Did we mention our plan to purchase a Chevrolet Camaro for side-by-side comparisons? So we bought one and our test began.
Between its fun-to-drive character and comfortable driver seat, the Challenger R/T offered everything we look for in a road trip car. Editor Ed Hellwig complimented the Dodge following a road trip to Tucson: "This is a big, comfortable coupe that lets you stretch out behind the wheel. No need to jam anything in. Just spread everything out and relax in the nicely bolstered seat. Unlike the Camaro, where you feel low in the car, the Challenger's seating position puts you up high, which makes the view that much better. On the road it's a big cupcake. No stiff ride or twitchy handling and it's dead quiet in 6th gear at 80 mph. I've now done a road trip in both the Camaro and the Challenger. Both were enjoyable, but if I had to make another one next week I would pick the Challenger again without hesitation."
Inside the cabin we still found ourselves enamored with how the 2009 Dodge Challenger drove. The shifter became a common focal point. Associate Editor Mike Magrath brought its persona to life: "This pistol-grip shifter isn't the most accurate, nor does it have the smoothest action, but there's no shifter that's more fun to manhandle. Each shift is like opening the floodgates of a dam or flipping the switch on Old Sparky; it's mechanical and raw and when you grab it the muscles in your forearm get all veiny. In contrast, you shift the Camaro as fast as possible to avoid touching the knob for any longer than absolutely necessary. The Challenger's shifter belongs in a factory. The Camaro's belongs in a kitchen, stirring soup."
Perhaps it was the pleasure we derived from slamming through six speeds of Mopar that shortened the life of its clutch. Or perhaps we loaned the car to the wrong guy for a long weekend. Our money was on the latter, literally. Vehicle Testing Manager Mike Schmidt sighed, "As we walked up to the Challenger an ominous stench of clutch was the first sign of trouble. So we fired it up. We let out the clutch pedal and felt a significant judder at the engagement point. This wasn't good. It was still drivable but clearly upset. There was only one way to get to the bottom of this. Pull the clutch." Upon doing so we found suspicious heat scarring on the pressure plate and flywheel. Somebody rode the clutch, a lot. In the end our new clutch assembly cost us eight days, $1,800 and a friend. Other notable expenses resulted from regularly scheduled maintenance every 12,000 miles.
Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 15 months): $399.90
Additional Maintenance Costs: $1,765.27 for a new clutch assembly
Warranty Repairs: None
Non-Warranty Repairs: Clutch replacement, seat adjuster knob replacement
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 4
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 1
Days Out of Service: 8 waiting for parts to arrive
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Performance and Fuel Economy
We didn't waste much time putting our new 2009 Dodge Challenger to work. Just a week after acquiring the R/T we'd already accumulated 1,200 miles, which primed it for preliminary testing. The results confirmed our wise choice of an R/T over the SRT8.
Compared to the SRT8 our R/T gave up just 0.3 second in a straight line and paced its big-displacement brother in all other categories. Our R/T reached 60 mph from a stop in 5.5 seconds (5.3 seconds with 1 foot of rollout) and crossed the quarter-mile in 13.9 seconds at 103.2 mph. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton chuckled, "Love the '60s soundtrack! It's a bit tricky to get off the line without lighting the skinny rear tires. Best technique was to practically bog it out of the hole, then go to WOT ASAP. Shifter requires a deliberate hand but works with precision."
When the time came to stop, the Dodge needed 128 feet to do so from 60 mph, average for the class. Dynamic tests were better than average. The Challenger generated 0.83g of lateral grip on the skid pad and its quickest slalom pass was 64.7 mph. Our R/T showed no significant performance changes between the beginning and end of its long-term test.
Best Fuel Economy: 26.4 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 10.3 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 17.7 mpg
We didn't know what to expect when it came time to sell the Challenger. We purchased the Dodge 18 months earlier for $34,600 and now attempted to sell it in an unfriendly resale market. When we plugged its vitals into Edmunds TMV® Calculator we were surprised to find that, with almost 27K on the ticker, our Challenger still held a private-party resale value of $29,100. But the market wouldn't allow us to sell at this price.
Our initial asking price for the 2009 Dodge Challenger was just above TMV, at $29,900. Nobody called for more than a week. We lowered it by $1,000 and the phone rang immediately. Further negotiation brought the final sale price to $27,500. This value was notable in that it marked a mere 21 percent depreciation from our original purchase price. Not bad at all considering the questionable used car market of the time.
True Market Value at service end: $29,100
What it sold for: $27,500
Depreciation: $7,100 or 21% of original paid price
Final Odometer Reading: 26,800
We feared the massive proportions of our Challenger might hurt its popularity. We feared the same for opting against the SRT8. We were wrong on both accounts. This was one of the more popular cars we've tested, regularly more so than the new Camaro.
With the exception of premature clutch devastation, for which we can't knock the car, the 2009 Dodge Challenger held its own in the durability department. And we put it through the ringer. Fun and reliable are two awfully important descriptors when shopping for a car. Our R/T delivered these convincingly. The Challenger hoped to keep Dodge afloat and it was a good start. Time would prove it wasn't quite enough. But don't blame the Challenger. This was a great car.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.