2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8Posted on July 6th, 2008
Iconic muscle car goes modern
By Nina Russin
The new Dodge Challenger isn’t a car for everyone, nor is it meant to be. The high-performance coupe, based on the 1970 muscle car, is a tribute to the era when a car was only as good as its last quarter mile time.
SRT is Dodge’s street legal racing team: the group produces halo cars like the Viper and performance versions of high-volume production cars. SRT also oversees Dodge’s motorsports program.
Typically, SRT models roll out after the base production car, but not so with the Challenger. Introducing the SRT grade first speaks to the Challenger’s performance heritage. The Challenger SRT8 is a 2008 model, followed by the high-volume grades in 2009.
Dodge received four thousand orders for the SRT Challenger on the first day of availability: over eleven thousand to date. A few cars will be available at dealerships for walk-in sales.
Big engine, big wheels, big brakes
The SRT Challenger comes as a monospec package with three options: a power sunroof, MyGIG downloadable hard drive with navigation software, and Goodyear F1 performance tires.
The engine is a 6.1-liter hemi V8 rated at 425 horsepower with 420 foot-pounds of torque. The Challenger rides on twenty inch wheels, with Brembo four-piston brakes. Bilstein monotube shocks keep the car flat in the corners. There is one transmission: a five-speed automatic transmission with autostick.
Zero-to-sixty is 4.9 second; zero-to- a hundred, 11.5. The Challenger stops in 110 feet, and pulls .88 g on the skid pad. Top speed is 170 miles-per-hour.
Fuel economy is crap: about fifteen miles-per-gallon. The high-compression engine runs best on premium fuel, making the Challenger an expensive car to drive.
The Challenger chassis is based on the current Charger, but with a shortened wheelbase.
The test car is bright silver: one of three available exteriors. All come with bumble bee stripes: a tribute to the car’s namesake.
The front of the car looks very much like the 1970 model, but with a body color bumper in place of chrome. Head designer, Jeff Gale, maintained the wide grille with set-in headlamps. The front air dam and side bevels are products of wind tunnel tests: they enhance the car’s aerodynamics.
In back, tail lamps run the width of the car, with the reverse lamp in the middle. The spoiler is a Trans Am design from the 1970s.
The car’s profile is very similar to the original Challenger, down to the chrome gas cap on the driver’s side.
Inside, the Challenger is more modern than retro, with all the high-tech gizmos twenty-first century buyers look for. Perforated ultra-suede seats with large side bolsters keep the driver and front passenger in place on the track. The driver’s seat has power adjustments: the front passenger seat is manual.
A performance page feature in the gauge cluster lets the driver record and store stats from the track. The MyGIG multimedia system on the test car downloads tunes and photos into a hard drive: it also adds a GPS navigation system.
There are plenty of bins and cubbies around the first row for storing small electronic devices and CDs. The glovebox is big enough to hold more than standard car documents. The floor console has two large cupholders in back of the gate shifter, but there are no bottle holders in the doors.
The optional power moonroof is almost a necessity in the Challenger as a source of ambient light. Proud as the designers are of the dark interior, it feels very claustrophobic without the moonroof open.
Though the Challenger is sold as a five passenger car, I had difficulty climbing in back. Kids might be comfortable in the second-row seats, but most adults will feel cramped. Rear passengers get a couple amenities: separate air vents, and a fold-down armrest in the center position with cupholders.
The best use of the rear seats is to fold them flat, to extend the cargo floor. Straps on the seatbacks make that easy to do. There is enough room with the rear seats folded flat to put a bike in back, though the lift-over height makes it rather difficult.
The simple joy of wide open throttle
Driving fast is highly underrated. Going fast is something that the Challenger SRT8 is very good at. Engine power finds its way to the wheels in a linear fashion. In other words, what the engine puts out, the tires hook up.
The classic muscle cars were good at one thing: they could go very fast in a straight line and, given enough distance, stop. Four decades of steering, suspension and tire technology have taken the muscle car concept to a whole new level.
My husband and I took the Challenger on a short road trip, from Phoenix to Tucson at the end of June. The drive down the ten freeway is normally as interesting as watching paint dry, but not so this time. The Challenger’s throaty exhaust and flashy exterior attracted plenty of attention: most of it positive.
Standard electronic stability program manages the car’s power on uneven and wet roads. The original Challenger would have shimmied all over the road in a construction zone north of Tucson: the new model handled the bumpy, unpaved surfaces with aplomb. The Challenger SRT8 stops on a dime, has excellent steering response, and stays flat as a level pancake in the corners.
Visibility is good to the front, but there are large blind spots in the rear of the car due to the thick back pillar. The idea behind the rear pillar is to make the new car look like the ’70 Challenger hard top. Personally, I’d rather be able to see what’s coming when I back out of a parking space.
Like its namesake, the Challenger is strictly a road car. Its low ground clearance, large wheels and low profile tires make it a poor candidate for off-roading. Towing is not recommended.
As toys go, the Challenger SRT8 is a fairly expensive one. Base price is $37,320. Options and delivery charges on the test car bring the MSRP to just under $40,000.
Dodge produces the Challenger at its assembly plant in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.
Likes: A tribute to the classic muscle car that takes power and performance to a whole new level. The Challenger SRT8 looks fast, is fast, and is tremendously fun to drive.
Dislikes: Second-row seats are extremely difficult to enter and exit. Black headliner makes the interior very dark, especially without the moonroof.
Model: Challenger SRT8
Base price: $37,320
As tested: $39,885
Horsepower: 425 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 420 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 4.9 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: Not available
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 13/18 mpg city/highway
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