The car looks great on the street. It’s nice to see it in a real environment at last. In my opinion, the exterior styling is spot-on. The interior, though, is a missed opportunity. Chrysler didn’t go far enough moving this car away from the Charger. A Mustang feels more special inside-not higher quality, but more stylish. Two other discordant interior notes: The tilt steering column feels like junk, and the aggressively bolstered seats have way too much lumbar even on the lowest position.
Typical of Chryslers, the Challenger provides a hat-pulled-down-around-your-eyes view out, with its squashed windows, low roofline, and fat pillars. That compromised view out is becoming tiresome, but it’s less annoying here than it is in some of Chrysler’s other products. Looking out over the hood, the view is different enough that you don’t feel like you’re driving a Charger.
The powertrain, of course, is the same as the Charger SRT8’s and it’s very good. Exhaust note is just right, but I could do without the hollow, ringing tire noise. The SRT8’s 6.1-liter Hemi provides the full measure of rip-snorting thrust to scream from stoplight to stoplight along Woodward Avenue (keeping a careful eye out for the overactive police from the famed avenue’s various little burgs). Chrysler’s marketers’ are undoubtedly already dreaming up even more over-the-top, low-volume, high-margin variants, a la the countless Mustangs and Shelby Mustangs, but one wonders whether high gas prices might nix those even before the first one off the line can cross the block at Barrett-Jackson and head straight into some collector’s hermetically sealed garage.
The most accessible versions (R/T and SE), however, will be out soon, which will be the real test of the Challenger’s staying power. The original Challenger barely caused a tremor in the market compared to the earth-shaking impact of the Mustang. It will be interesting to see how important that is to the popularity of today’s Challenger.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor
Great car, but, like the Mitsubishi Galant, it seems to have been designed in a bubble. If you’ve never driven anything else, it’s fantastic. Bleak interior, sluggish transmission, big ‘ol slab sides, and a lack of a unique behind-the-wheel feeling (you may as well be in a base, V-6-powered Dodge Charger) ultimately let it down, though. I’d take an ’09 Camaro over one of these things in a heartbeat, and I haven’t even driven the Camaro yet.
Sam Smith, Associate Editor
This is a big old cartoon car that has brought unbounded joy to the world. Seeing it drive by makes people’s legs collapse out from under them. A security guard ran out of a grocery store to babble over it. People in the parking lot at Jay’s sporting goods in Clare, Michigan, did the cellphone camera salute. Every place I parked it, I came back to find someone looking in the window, taking a picture, stopped in their tracks staring. I think that means something. Yes it is heavy (opening the door five times on each side could be part of a daily exercise program). Yes. the interior is a throwback to the Seventies, when you could count on your slab o’ dash to eventually crack in half at 100,000+ miles.
When you’re driving, you sit low and feel like the outside world can see only your baseball hat. And it doesn’t matter because you are CRUISIN in this beast. It is loud, thrilling, fast, and flashy in orange. Stomping on the gas is thrilling again and again. It roars and it flies and it is a joy to blast around in.
The Challenger SRT8 may be an anachronism in these fuel-crazed times (wow, those fill ups!), it may be too retro, it may be too cheap inside, but, Sam! The Challenger is hardly a let down. And how can you possibly compare the experience to a base, V-6 powered Charger?? Camaro is a lifetime away. We’ll drive that car when it gets here.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief