2009 Dodge Challenger R/T: 20,000 Miles and Counting
February 16, 2010
I hadn't taken our Challenger any distance, so this sounded about right: a long weekend when we'd be blasting up to Santa Barbara for a lacrosse game, 132 miles away, almost all freeway, sometimes trafficky. If the car managed a freeway cruise okay, great. If not, it wasn't all that long a trip.
The black Challenger did fine. I've complained how big and heavy and soft the new Challenger is for a retro-ponycar, but settling in for a couple hours on US 101, that wasn't an issue. (I aired up the tires to 36 psi instead of the recommended 32, and maybe that sharpened things a bit, but I still think THIS should have been the Charger and the Challenger should have been smaller and more athletic. But that's just me. I have a 1968 Charger, and it feels like the Queen Mary as I dock it in the garage, yet this 2009 Challenger is 200 pounds heavier than it is!)
Burbling along at 75, the Challenger feels relaxed and comfy. The seats are okay (the front ones, at least; don't put anyone in back for long), the HVAC and stereo and NAV work well enough, visibility is okay (except to the rear quarters), and the interior is plenty roomy enough for two and a snack bag and a weekend of stuff. Best of all, the car has a certain presence on the road that I like. And others like it too. This may be the only car currently in our fleet that kids in other cars take cell-phone pictures of.
My favorite feature in the Challenger is the shifter. It has to stir some heavy-duty gears down there, but it still feels light and positive, the gates are easy to find, and the sort-of pistol grip shape is quite functional. Honorable mention for a best feature has to be the exhaust note, which has great character without actually being all that loud.
For my least-favorite feature, the Challenger gets dinged for a pet peeve of mine: the door handles. This is the first physical contact you make with a car, and their feel should give you confidence. They should be solid and sturdy, with good, natural action. The Challenger's aren't. The lightweight handle feels flexy and loose when you pull it, and its angle in the body side has you lifting up too much. A small thing, but in a very vulnerable place. I've already cringed a little to myself, and I haven't even gotten in the car. Note to manufacturers: don't scrimp on door handles!
But that's about all I have to complain about. The Challenger makes a fine medium-range cruiser, with decent fuel economy (low-20s) to compliment its slightly malevolent attitude. I'd take it again.
Kevin Smith, Editorial Director, at 20,169 miles