Ronald Montoya , Consumer Advice Associate
Do you love smoky burnouts, Hemi V8 engines and mind-numbing acceleration? Well, the 2010 Dodge Challenger SE isn't the car for you. But fortunately, this base-model Challenger has other positive attributes. Sometimes all you want is a great-looking car with plenty of options, and it's for this reason that you should consider the Challenger SE.
The SE is the base model in the Challenger lineup, but as evidenced by our test vehicle, you can add plenty of options to make it as luxurious as your pocketbook will allow. The starting price on an SE is $22,945 -- our test vehicle was equipped with a little more than $7,900 worth of options. This gives you a lot of flexibility in how to outfit your car, but the price can rise quickly.
The 2010 Dodge Challenger SE comes with a 250-horsepower V6 engine. This places it squarely in competition with the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang V6 models, which are similarly retro-styled but are a bit smaller and offer more performance. Another car to consider would be the Hyundai Genesis coupe. Though it doesn't have the same domestic pony car appeal, the Genesis coupe is fun to drive and has its own sharp looks.
Although its competitors offer more performance than the Challenger, its retro-styled sheet metal, spacious interior and composed manners on the highway more than make up for those shortcomings. But if you have an itch for more spirited driving, you may want to consider the other pony car options.
The 2010 Dodge Challenger SE comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 250 hp and 250 pound-feet of torque. In a slightly smaller car, this would be a respectable amount of power. But in the 3,819-pound Challenger, that 250 hp feels overburdened. In our instrumented testing, the Challenger SE had a 0-60-mph time of 8.1 seconds. Its competitors' V6s make at least 50 more hp in lighter vehicles, and their numbers reflect that: The Camaro and Mustang reach 60 mph in 6.1 and 5.6 seconds, respectively. For everyday driving in the city, the power is adequate. However, the engine starts to show its sluggishness when you want to merge quickly on the highway or pass another vehicle.
The Challenger shares its steering wheel with the Chrysler 300. This results in a larger wheel that requires more effort on the driver's part, but steering effort is light and responsive. The Challenger's large size requires a wide turning circle, so extra space is needed for U-turns. Despite a low slalom speed at the track and a fair amount of body roll, our track driver described the car's handling as feeling "remarkably athletic" for such a large car. On the road, our test Challenger's suspension soaked up bumps and ruts well.
A five-speed automatic -- up from a four-speed in 2009 -- is the only transmission available in the SE models. Under hard acceleration, we noticed that the transmission tends to hunt for gears. The transmission also has a manual shift option that is helpful for holding a gear on hills or curvy roads.
Our braking tests resulted in a 60-0-mph stop in 127 feet. While coming to a hard stop, our testing team noted that the ABS was noisy and busy as the all-season tires hunted for grip. This resulted in a "less than arrow-straight" stop with moderate dive and adequate fade resistance. But in normal driving situations, the brakes exhibited none of those traits, and the Challenger kept its composure on the road.
The EPA fuel economy estimates for the 2010 Dodge Challenger SE are 17 mpg in the city, 25 on the highway and 20 mpg combined. During our testing period, we were able to average 19 mpg in mixed driving conditions. Though this is within reach of the 20 mpg for combined driving, the Challenger still trails behind its competitors by 10-15 percent. You may not have to make as many trips to the gas station, however, since the Challenger has an 18-gallon gas tank with a combined cruising range of about 360 miles.
The Challenger rides comfortably and quietly on the highway. Originally equipped with 17-inch wheels, our test model had the optional 18-inch wheels as part of the Rallye Group package. The increased wheel size didn't impact the smooth ride quality. The Challenger's seats are wide, well bolstered and, on our tester, were wrapped in good-quality leather. Unlike those in other performance coupes, the Challenger's backseat is actually usable and offers a respectable amount of legroom for adults. Getting to the rear seats, though, is a bit of a hassle since the seatbelt needs to be moved out of the way and the front seats don't slide forward that easily. This may make things a bit more difficult for owners who wish to install a child safety seat.
A coupe this size is bound to have a few drawbacks. On the one hand, there is plenty of head- and legroom on the inside. But visibility is impacted due to the length of the hood, small rear windshield and wide C-pillar. And while pony cars aren't known for their great visibility, the Challenger isn't as bad as the Camaro in that respect. Thankfully, the front seats let you make a number of adjustments to get your seating position right, and the steering wheel also tilts and telescopes.
Our 2010 Dodge Challenger came equipped with the Media Center and Navigation package. The navigation system is easy to use, but it won't let you enter data if the car is moving. We did notice that the screen is positioned a bit lower than eye level and makes you rely more on voice directions. An easy-to-use iPod interface is also a part of the media center. We had no trouble setting up our phones with the "UConnect" hands-free phone system, though we would've liked the option to dial from the touchscreen.
The climate-control layout is a traditional three-dial setup and is surrounded by a mini carbon bezel, exclusive to the Rallye Group package. A nice bonus to getting the leather upholstery is the heated seats, which reach their temperature quickly in either the high or low setting.
At 16.2 cubic feet, the Challenger's trunk is substantially larger than its competitors' and, as we noted in a previous review, on par with the capacity of a roomy family sedan. This makes the Challenger a great choice for road trips. In our real-world usability test, the Challenger's trunk easily held a full-size suitcase and a set of golf clubs, with plenty of room to spare.
Design/Fit and Finish
On the outside, the Challenger's muscular looks garner plenty of positive attention from other motorists. But we wish we could say the same for the inside. The Challenger's interior looks a lot like the rental fleet Charger it shares a platform with, even down to the same oversize steering wheel. When compared to the Chevy Camaro or Ford Mustang and their more distinctive interiors, the Challenger's lack of personality is a notable letdown.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Dodge Challenger SE is for consumers who love the looks of the vehicle but aren't interested in the performance -- or additional cost -- of the V8 models. A similarly equipped Challenger R/T would cost you at least $7,000 more. If you want a spacious coupe with usable backseats, this is the right car for you.
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