As someone who is too young to have been around for the first round of muscle car wars, I sometimes forget that these beasts started out as rather crude vehicles that were nothing more than an excuse to buy an enormous engine that made an otherwise less than stellar car exciting. Now that virtually every car on the market is actually safe, reasonably fast, and dependable, these dinosaurs make much less sense.
The Challenger suffers from poor fuel economy and a footprint larger than many sedans on the market today, and it doesn’t even generate neck-snapping acceleration. I know 425 hp is a big number, but check out the 4144-pound curb weight! That’s 9.75 pounds per hp, and it feels more like 20 pounds per hp when you’re trying to get it moving.
Cruising around town in a Challenger is a lot of fun. People stop and stare as the beast rumbles by while the passengers gently rock back and forth from that bump you hit a few blocks ago. But if you attempt to drive this muscle car like a sports car, you’ll come up short. It’s got the looks and the power to be a hot ride, but not the appropriate curb weight or suspension tuning to ever feel athletic. There’s nothing wrong with this equation so long as you have the right expectations before you fire up that big Hemi.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
I really like the Challenger SRT8 for what it is: a big-bodied, retro-styled, Hemi-powered muscle car. For someone like me who didn’t experience the 1960s and ’70s muscle-car era as it happened, it’s fun to climb behind the wheel of a car like this and see the reaction from forty- and fifty-year-olds.
Switchbacks and mountain roads shouldn’t even be mentioned with a car like this. It’s meant for straight-line cruising and getting attention, the latter helped by the bright yellow paint on our tester. You won’t find this car at an SCCA event. It was interesting to see that the manual transmission is a $695 option rather than standard equipment. The six-speed manual can be sloppy at times, and I had a few anxious moments trying to find gears, but overall it has good feel. Clutch takeup is a little numb, which is OK in a mid-size sedan but for a 6.1-liter Challenger SRT8, I’d like a little feel and vibration coming through.
Mike Ofiara, Road Test Coordinator
First off, the Dodge Challenger isn’t the type of car I usually go for, especially when it’s painted bright yellow. But, having said that, I have to admit that there’s something enticing about this car. The deep burble of the 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 and the unashamedly extroverted character of the SRT-8 can conspire to bring out the boy racer in just about anyone. When I pulled down my street, I happened upon my neighbor, who recently purchased a new Chevy Camaro. I asked him what they thought about the Challenger. “Well, I’d rather have the Camaro, and I don’t care for the yellow color,” he said, not unsurprisingly. “But that Hemi V-8 sure sounds great.” I agree with all three points.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
While I was driving down the ramp of our parking structure toward the exit, I just mildly blipped the throttle of our 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8 Limited Edition coupe. A fifty-something woman who was about to walk into my lane toward the pedestrian exit thought better of it and literally grabbed her husband and clung to him for safety as the big, bad yellow monster came rumbling by. That’s the sort of reaction this car provokes in some people—as Phil Floraday says, this is a car that definitely gets noticed.
I could make a list of dozens of cars I would rather have for $46,000, but to the folks who like this sort of over-the-top, old-fashioned performance coupe: have at it, you’ll love it.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Ford and Chevrolet are once again engaged in muscle car wars — but Dodge seems to be playing the role of conscientious objector. While the Mustang and Camaro are continually refined in an attempt to beat the other car, Dodge simply rolls out new retro graphics or retina-scorching paint.
That’s a pity — even though the Challenger is saddled with a substantial curb weight and an aging platform, there’s still more potential. I’d really love to see engineers first address the suspension tuning. Even as a full-bore SRT model with the “track pack” option, this feels nearly identical to the R/T I drove last year — which is to say substantially soft. The ride is perfect for boulevard cruising and brief blitzes down the quarter-mile straightaway, but the soft dampening — to say nothing of the Challenger’s portly heft — don’t help in switchbacks.
Then again, that’s exactly how the original Challengers handled — so those looking to recreate memories from decades ago won’t be disappointed. Those looking for yesterday’s styling enhanced by today’s technology, however, will be.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
I have to say, the Challenger seems to be getting something of a bum rap from most of my esteemed colleagues, especially vis-à-vis how it compares with its more popular pony car competitors. Just to review, the Challenger concept debuted around the same time as the Camaro but made it to production two years sooner. It also has a much more usable trunk and five real seatbelts. And despite its quick concept-to-production turnaround, the Dodge doesn’t come off like a half-finished product, with better interior fit and finish than the Camaro and a more comfortable driving position than the Mustang. Not a bad accomplishment for a company that had just about no money at the time.
It’s also quite fun to drive, providing one drives it the right way. That requires pointing it at the nearest stoplight, loading up the revs — don’t be shy about it — and dumping the clutch. Grab second with the surprisingly precise “pistol grip” shifter, and immediately slam on the Brembo brakes before the next light. Repeat. I’d also have to disagree with most of my colleagues regarding the suspension tuning, as I found the car more than agile enough for what is — that being a full-size coupe — and wouldn’t want a more punishing ride.
And that’s really the rub. If you approach the Challenger expecting a sports car, you’ll doubtless be disappointed, because the Challenger just isn’t one. But for anyone seeking a great-looking, great-sounding coupe that provides most of the benefits of a full-size vehicle and also hauls ass in a straight line, the Challenger is a winner.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Thank you, David, for being the first to have a mostly positive spin to his review of the Challenger SRT8. Given my Mopar bloodlines, it might have seemed pretty suspect for me to be the only strong proponent of the brutish Dodge.
I’ve always loved the 6.1-liter V-8 in Chrysler’s SRT8 products (the fabulous screaming retro soundtrack, the gobs of horsepower, even the attractive underhood look), but I’d never had the chance to experience it through a manual gearbox until I got behind the wheel of this Challenger SRT8 test car. What did I think? I totally loved it! Sure, the throws are a bit long and the linkage is ever-so-slightly vague, but the feel is very positive and the pistol-grip handle makes me feel like I was actually alive in 1970 to enjoy the original Mopar E-bodies.
I’d like the Challenger even better, though, if the gearbox felt as nice as the cue-ball-topped units in the newest performance V-8 Mustangs. I also wish the Challenger wasn’t burdened by such a feeling of heft, which, as my colleagues have dutifully pointed out, does it few favors in corners. Still, the Dodge feels like it weighs about the same as a Chevy Camaro SS, not the 300 pounds heavier that it actually is. Another bonus is that you can actually see out of the Challenger and use the back seats and trunk more easily, unlike the Chevy (the Mustang is equal to or better than the Challenger in these aspects). I do think that the Camaro is the best looking of the bunch, but I still love the Challenger’s head-turning retro looks (although maybe not so much in this “detonator yellow” paint).
Objectively, the Challenger is not the best of the pony-car trio, but I’d still buy it over the Chevy and, hesitantly, the Ford. Why? Because it remains a very good car, and it’s much less common than the other two (in the first three months of 2010, the Mustang has outsold the Challenger two to one and the Camaro has outsold the Dodge by more than 250 percent). Personally, I’d rather not see a car exactly like mine at every stoplight and in every parking lot. (Seems like the attitude of Mopar guys from forty years back, doesn’t it?)
Nonetheless, I would have a really hard time forking over $44,350 for a base stick-shift SRT8. I’d rather save ten grand and lose 49 horsepower and get a decently optioned R/T; I just went to dodge.com and built a stick-shift R/T with a sunroof, Sirius satellite radio, and deep blue paint, and it came out to $33,950. That seems like a pretty reasonable price for Cool.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
The Challenger might just be the least sporty two-door vehicle this side of the Jeep Wrangler. The ride is softer than you get on a Chrysler minivan and the plus-sized dimensions allow crossovers to pull away from you in turns. The 6.1-liter engine is the high point here, and it’s a blast to play with. However, as the Challenger’s top-dog model, the SRT8 can’t compete with the 550-hp Ford Shelby GT500 and the anticipated Camaro Z28 that should make about 556 hp. In fact, you can beat the SRT8’s 425 hp with a livelier Camaro SS for just $31,795. I also find the Dodge’s pistol grip shifter to be one of the slower ways to switch gears in a car, as the throws are long, clunky, and vague.
The back seat may offer a fifth belt, but there is only a fractional improvement in rear-seat legroom. This segment is really filled with two-seaters for all practical purposes. And, Zenlea, who cares that the Challenger made it to market two years sooner than the Camaro? There were plenty of MP3 players before the iPod. I do agree that the interior here is far more functional than that in the Camaro, but while Chevrolet designers got carried away with style, the Dodge team lands on the opposite end of the spectrum with a cabin that’s too sterile.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2010 Dodge Challenger SRT-8 Limited Edition
Base price (with destination and guzzler tax): $43,255
Price as tested: $45,735
6.1L Hemi V-8 engine
5-speed automatic transmission
Electronic stability program
Anti-spin rear differential
3.06:1 axle ratio
Remote start system
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Heated front seats
6 Boston Acoustics speakers
Uconnect Bluetooth connectivity
Steering-wheel mounted radio controls
20-inch forged aluminum wheels
Carbon fiber hood stripe
Dual rear exhaust
Options on this vehicle:
Detonator yellow exterior paint – $225
Special edition group – $275
SRT option group – $695
– 13 kicker speakers
– 200-watt kicker subwoofer
– 322-watt kicker amplifier
– Instrument cluster white face with tachometer
6-speed manual transmission – $695
– 3.92 axle ratio gear
– 20-inch wheels
– Hill start assist
– Track pak
Media center 730N CD/DVD/HDD/Nav radio – $590
– GPS navigation
– Sirius satellite radio/traffic
Key options not on vehicle:
Power sunroof – $950
Plum crazy group – $275
14 / 22 / 16 mpg
Size: 6.1L Hemi V-8
Horsepower: 425 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 420 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Curb weight: 4144 lb
20 x 9-inch forged aluminum SRT design wheels
245/45ZR-20 Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season tires