2009 Dodge Challenger R/TPosted on December 7th, 2009
Modern-day muscle car takes no prisoners
By Nina Russin
The Dodge Challenger is not a car for everyone. Based on the classic Mopar of the 1970s, the Challenger is a large, brash, noisy hunk of Detroit iron. The front end has the demeanor of a defensive tackle: a wide, grinning grille with beady round headlamps, flared fenders and huge tires. The large hood scoop takes a periscope to see over. The 376-horsepower hemi engine is very big, very loud, and has enough low end torque to strip pavement off the highway.
The Challenger reminds me of the cars I grew up with more than anything else on the road today. I love its pistol grip shift lever, chrome gas cap and dual exhausts. I love the fact that it stands out in a crowd. In a world of cars designed by committee, the Challenger’s bold design is a breath of fresh air.
Options on the test car upgrade the standard 18-inch rims to 20-inch chrome wheels, and add the R/T hood-to-fender stripes.
Test drive across the desert
This week, I had the chance to take the Challenger R/T on an extended test drive between Phoenix and Los Angeles. While a manual transmission may not be the best choice for stop-and-go traffic, the large overdrive gear provides surprisingly good fuel economy on the highway.
At 85 miles-per-hour, the engine barely breaks 2000 rpm in sixth gear. With its abundance of low-end torque, the Challenger can still soar up steep grades and pass slower cars in the process.
My 405-mile drive to Los Angeles consumed about three- quarters of a tank of gas: about 13.8 gallons. In other words, I averaged 29.3 miles-per-gallon on the highway: over four gallons-per-mile better than the EPA estimate.
While the new Challenger has the looks and demeanor of a classic muscle car, engineering is light years ahead of its namesake. The four-wheel independent suspension is compliant without being mushy. Beefy stabilizer bars keep the chassis flat in the corners.
The power rack-and-pinion steering system provides good feedback at all speeds. High-speed emergency lane changes are not a problem. Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking stop the car in a firm linear fashion, even on wet surfaces.
Fuel injection gives the Challenger superior throttle response to muscle cars from the carburetor era. The Challenger R/T accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in under six seconds: pretty good for two tons of sheetmetal.
Visibility isn’t particularly good, but I’ve seen worse from competitive products. The high cowl limits visibility out the front: the high rear decklid presents a similar problem in back. The view to the front corners, and over-the-shoulder visibility is pretty good.
The chin spoiler is functional, but has enough ground clearance to prevent bottoming out on driveway skirts. Hill-start assist holds the brake to make it easier to accelerate from a stop up a steep grade.
Driving around town, the Challenger’s brash exterior has its advantages. As its name suggests, the Challenger doesn’t back down from a tussle. A blip of the throttle is sufficient warning to fellow motorists who contemplate diving for the inch of free space between the Dodge’s front bumper and the car ahead.
Bat cave interior
The interior is, in a word, dark. Black leather upholstery, a black instrument panel and headliner produce the ambience of a bat cave. Being slightly claustrophobic, I wouldn’t want to ride in the back seat. A sunroof on the test car lights up the inside, but seems out of character for the car. Classic muscle cars don’t have sunroofs. In the space of a quarter mile dragstrip, the driver rarely has time to look at the moon.
Despite an adjustable lumbar feature, I found my lower back tiring on the seven-hour drive. Fortunately, the power controls enabled me to make slight adjustments to the driver’s seat without having to stop the car.
The steering wheel is large, but not uncomfortable to hold. Redundant audio and information page controls minimize driver distraction. Cupholders in the center console are big enough for water bottles. A twelve-volt power point at the base of the center stack recharges portable electronic devices.
Controls on the center stack are easy to reach from either front steering position, and intuitive to operate.
Convenience group options add keyless start, ambient temperature and compass indicators, an iPod interface, satellite radio with a year of free service, and an interface which allows the driver to sync his telephone to the audio system.
A separate audio upgrade package adds a seven-speaker Boston acoustics sound system.
Access and egress to the rear seats isn’t particularly good, and seating positions in the back are cramped. The second-row seats fold flat in a 60/40 pattern to extend the cargo floor.
Even without the pass-through, the Challenger has a spacious trunk. Lift-over is high for a passenger car. I struggled to get my suitcase over the threshold without scratching the paint.
The Challenger R/T comes standard with front, side and side curtain airbags, electronic stability and traction control. The wheel upgrade option adds larger brakes with four-channel antilock braking. All Chrysler products come with a three year/36,000 mile factory warranty that includes free roadside assistance.
Chrysler builds the Challenger at its Brampton, Ontario Canada assembly plant.
Likes: A modern muscle car with an abundance of power. Tall overdrive gears for the manual transmission provide exceptional fuel economy on the highway.
Dislikes: Poor lower lumbar support. Second-row seats are difficult to get in and out of, and lack head and legroom.
Model: Challenger R/T
Base price: $30,220
As tested: $38,170
Horsepower: 376 Hp @ 5150 rpm
Torque: 401 lbs.-ft. @ 4400 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: Under six seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 16/25 mpg city/highway
Comments: Base price does not include a $725 delivery charge. The manufacturer recommends 91octane gas for the hemi engine.
4 responses to “2009 Dodge Challenger R/T”
A fun and informative article. I have a question for you…
Can I drive a 2009 Challenger RT, 6-speed, on 87 or 89 octane gas?
What the octane does is reduce the tendency of the engine to detonate when the car is driven hard. The octane doesn’t improve performance as many people think, but it does protect the engine against damage when the vehicle is pushed to its limits. So the answer depends on the type of driving you are doing. You can certainly try the lower octane gasoline, but if you take the car to the dragstrip and run it hard, it may become a problem.
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