2009 Dodge Challenger R/T: Drive It Again For The First Time
January 04, 2010
Challenger, right ... the slow one with the limp handling ... bigger than a G8 for godsakes ... Camaro and Mustang always seem to win the comparos ...
No. Wait. Stop your brain right there. You cannot, I repeat, cannot think of the Challenger as a wannabe Camaro or Mustang. Comparing this thing to the other so-called muscle cars is like comparing a Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe to, well, anything. Because the Challenger is in a class of one. It's awesomely, unapologetically, enormouslyAmerican. It's a rolling middle finger to the Honda/BMW generation, i.e., the ones whose idea of a good time is a firm suspension and a shortage of low-end torque. It's what the Cadillac coupe should be.
It's the kind of car that I thought -- feared -- this country didn't know how to make anymore.
To take a Challenger R/T 6MT on a multi-day road trip, as I did up the coast to Monterey last week, is to realize that this is the most authentic slice of Americana to hit dealerships in decades. The highway ride is downright pillowy, which makes the 64.7-mph slalom speed on slippery tires even more impressive. The seats, front and back, are wide and comfy. The cabin is living-room quiet. Elevated speeds are conveyed by the speedometer needle, not by any loss of dynamic composure. This isn't some rough-around-the-edges burnout machine; no sirree. It's a personal luxury coupe in the grand American tradition, with modern handling capabilities thrown in for kicks.
As for the powertrain, "Amen" is what I have to say about that. Unlike the Camaro's strangled LS3, the Challenger's 5.7-liter Hemi always sounds right, whether burbling distantly at 1,600 rpm (which is where the hilariously tall sixth gear puts you at 70 mph) or roaring toward its lovably low 5,700-rpm redline. The pistol-grip shifter feels meaty and delivers satisfying throws through tolerably notchy gates. Throttle response is surprisingly sharp and intuitive when matching revs, and I much prefer the Challenger's clutch to the Camaro's or 370Z's. I wouldn't mind a little more power at higher velocities, where it feels like the Challenger's weight and aerodynamics are getting in the Hemi's way, but overall this is one of the most engaging engine/transmission pairings out there.
Dislikes? Well, I guess I'm with just about everyone else in finding the Challenger's interior design disappointingly uninspired for such an inspiring car. But honestly that's the only thing I really wish I could change, and even so, I still appreciate the soft-touch dash, which complements the car's upscale driving character. Call me a chubby dude working at Home Depot, but I would totally buy this car. Take one on a trip and tell me you wouldn't do the same.
Josh Sadlier, Associate Editor @ 17,590 miles