2009 Dodge Challenger SE, R/T


As you'd expect, the lesser Challengers lose some of the SRT8's special chassis equipment. The R/T has four disc brakes, but they're not Brembos, and in Chrysler's tests it takes an additional fifteen feet to stop from 60 mph. The SE has four-wheel discs, but ABS is an option - a pretty shocking bit of cost-cutting in an otherwise well-equipped car. Springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars are all dialed back a bit compared with the SRT8. Still, on the short road course at the Englishtown, New Jersey, racetrack, the R/T wasn't much off the pace of the SRT8. It feels heavy but balanced, with torque aplenty to nudge the rear end around. Both the R/T and the SE are poised and comfortable over bad pavement, one benefit of their independent rear suspension. For a sporting machine, though, the steering feels light and slow, the latter exemplified by the large, four-spoke steering wheel. The Challenger deserves its own steering wheel rather than one borrowed from the Charger. How about something along the lines of the cool three-spoke unit in the 2006 concept car?


Apart from the steering wheel, the Challenger's major interior components are distinct from the Charger's, and that, combined with the unique view out over the long hood, really makes you feel like you're in a different car.

Despite the trapezoidal theme (an echo from the 1970 version), the cabin is nowhere near as stylized as the Ford Mustang's, and the overall look is very muted. At least even the base car has nicely padded armrests and decent-looking plastics, unlike so many Chryslers. Chrysler boasts of the Challenger's five-passenger capacity, but anyone beyond booster-seat age will be too big for the middle rear spot, and pushing the front seats too far back causes rear legroom to disappear in a hurry. The generous trunk space (16.2 cubic feet) and fold-down rear seatbacks, though, impart some genuine practicality into this sporty machine.


And the Challenger is one sporty machine. The R/T is no less a head-turner than the SRT8; the optional front fender stripes are a particularly cool touch and its performance is very close yet its base price is a whopping $10,000 less. Even the V-6 car has plenty of style, with its integrated (and functional) hood scoops and seventeen-inch wheels, but SE buyers must pay extra for fog lights and a rear spoiler.

The Mustang has proven that a retro-look pony car can sell not just to those nostalgic for muscle cars but to a new generation as well. Although, the Challenger had a much shorter heyday than the Mustang, the new one is every bit as well-executed as the new Mustang and is in some ways more livable.

For younger buyers on a budget, the news that you don't have to spend anywhere near the SRT8's $40,000 to get a cool-looking, fun-to-drive Challenger is good news indeed.

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