Funny how the mists of time can alter one's memory. You know how it goes — you used to run five-minute miles, you had so many hot dates that your friends lost count, and you never met a ski slope you couldn't conquer.
Many longtime muscle car buffs recall the cars of their youth with similar accuracy, or lack thereof. To hear these gearheads tell it, every car they owned could blister the quarter-mile in 12 seconds flat. The reality is that the bark coming out of those dual exhausts was sometimes meaner than the car's bite. And those fans' selective memories usually forget the mediocre handling and braking, the finicky engines that were prone to overheating in traffic, the Nautilus-machine-level clutch effort and the lack of passenger comfort. The 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8 manages to offer all the nostalgia without any of the negatives conveniently left out of all those selective memories.
Unlike last year's version, the newest Challenger SRT8 offers a manual transmission. Fire it up, give the throttle a few jabs and the rectangular exhaust tips roar with the 425-horsepower Hemi V8's chest-reverberating timbre. As you grab the pistol-grip shifter to select 1st gear, you're instantly transported back to the age of eight-tracks and bell bottoms. And thankfully, Dodge's retro muscle car doesn't keep the "endearing" characteristics of the original that some so readily forget.
The modern Challenger turns willingly, stops quickly and provides ride comfort and isolation approaching that of a Chrysler 300 luxury sedan. The latter's not too surprising, considering the two cars (along with the Dodge Charger) are platform mates. But this means the Challenger is more of a high-performance luxury coupe at heart than a raw-edged tire roaster, though it'll certainly light 'em up whenever the mood strikes.
Yes, the $40 grand that the top-dog Challenger SRT8 commands isn't chump change, but that's a mere pittance compared to what the originals are going for these days — and those aging brutes simply can't compete with the SRT8's everyday drivability. The only good reason not to buy one might be for another Challenger — the new-for-'09 Challenger R/T, which lists for $10,000 less and still sports a 370-hp Hemi.
The 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8 brings nothing less than a 425-hp Hemi V8 to the party. This 6.1-liter powerhouse is a pussycat when you want it to be, perfectly content to putter through rush-hour traffic. But the Challenger's other personality comes into effect once the tach swings past 4,000 rpm, shoving you back in your seat as the Hemi hits its stride and the engine provides a thrilling staccato soundtrack.
The pistol-grip shifter, conveniently canted toward the driver, recalls the good old days — except now, instead of plastic that vaguely resembles wood, it's covered in leather. Working the shifter and clutch requires surprisingly little effort, and the action of both is refined. A few staffers even felt this team was too polished, saying that changing gears in a retro-styled muscle car should require a bit more flexion from the driver's biceps, à la Ford's Mustang Bullitt. But most of us had no complaints.
At the track, the SRT8 sprinted to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and ran through the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds. That's certainly quick, but still oddly slower than the times we got with an automatic Challenger SRT8 we previously tested (zero to 60 in 5.1 seconds, quarter-mile in 13.2).
Kicked back and cruising on the interstate, the 6.1 is just loafing along — 75 mph equates to just 1,750 rpm in 6th gear. Against EPA ratings of 14 mpg city/22 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined, we averaged 15.1 mpg.
The SRT8's large Brembo disc brakes, along with its sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar high-performance tires, enabled a short 119-foot stopping distance from 60 mph at the test track. Furthermore, there was no fade to speak of after repeated hard stops, and pedal feel, though on the soft side, remained consistent. The SRT8's handling is downright impressive for a 4,140-pound bruiser, as this heavyweight hustled through the curves with eager turn-in and a flat, unwavering cornering attitude.
However, the steering, though precise, is too light and devoid of road feel for a car this capable. There is no build-up in effort when you're carving up corners, and the wheel itself is too big in diameter, making us long for the smaller "Tuff" steering wheel that was available back in the day.
Oversized though it may be, the steering wheel does tilt and telescope, so most drivers should be able to find a suitable driving position. The large, heavily bolstered front buckets are comfortable on long drives, but they were a bit too wide and soft for some drivers. A benefit of this new-age Challenger's imposing size is its spacious rear seat, which can accommodate two adults as long as they aren't over 6 feet tall. The seat is high enough to provide adequate leg support, and there's also a generous fold-down armrest back there.
Even though the SRT8's suspension is tuned more for sporty handling than plush ride comfort, it's supple enough to handle the bumps and ruts of poorly maintained city streets without ruffling passengers. That's all the more impressive considering the SRT8 rolls on 20-inch wheels with low-profile tires. For the most part, the cabin is impressively insulated from wind and road noise; only grooved freeways cause the latter to filter through.
The 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8 offers up 16.2 cubic feet of trunk capacity — on par with a roomy family sedan — as well as a 60/40-split folding rear seat. The trunk had no problem holding a set of golf clubs, along with a large rolling suitcase. Accessing the roomy trunk can be awkward, however, as the lift-over is rather high.
Most controls are user-friendly, including the radio and the simple three-knob climate control. But we would've liked to see keyless entry (to go with the keyless ignition) and auto-up windows on a car in this price range.
Though the backseat is roomy for a performance coupe, getting back there is a hassle, as only the front passenger seat slides forward — and it takes a healthy shove to do so. As a result, installing a baby seat can be tough, and that seat can only face rearward if a shorter person is occupying the seat in front.
Design/Fit and Finish
At first sight, the Challenger's beefy silhouette with the kicked-up rear haunches is nostalgic and familiar. So, too, are its four round headlights and slim, full-width taillights. Though it's obvious that the designers stayed true to the original form, it's not until you see the old and new Challengers side-by-side that the difference in scale is obvious. Sitting considerably taller and with a longer wheelbase, the 2009 Challenger looks like you chose "125 percent" while viewing it on your computer's photo program.
Fit and finish on our 2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8 was very good throughout. The door panels are notable for their finely stitched armrests and grab handles. While the white instrument faces add a touch of sportiness, the dash could still use some metallic trim to brighten it up, though we appreciate that it's covered in a rich soft-touch material.
Who should consider this vehicle
Enthusiasts who frequent classic car shows and have a stack of Hot Rod magazines in the bathroom, as well as anyone who likes the combination of the original Challenger's style and the new one's modern character.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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