I handed over the key to my Dodge Challenger SRT8 last week, and the little lobe of my brain that exists in a state of perpetual preadolescence was not happy about it. Not one bit.
I thought nothing could out-wow the metallic-tangerine Chevrolet Camaro SS that landed in my driveway a week earlier, but Challenger did. It’s yellow — but not merely yellow. Volkswagen Beetles and Mini Coopers are merely yellow. There’s nothing merely about the Challenger SRT8. It’s DETONATOR YELLOW.
Now I’m not sure I appreciate the conclusions my fellow motorists were likely drawing about my endowment — intellectual or anatomical — but I just couldn’t not enjoy this thing. (Double negatives — that can’t be a good sign.) It’s loud, visually and aurally, and it has way, way too much hood for the 21st century. But that’s okay; it’s good, flag-wavy fun. The edgy Camaro takes itself a bit more seriously, while the Challenger is a study-hall doodle come to life. It’s not as out-there as the Plymouth Prowler was, but in 40 years, I suspect this big Dodge will still have a fairly fervent fan base.
Dynamically, the Camaro SS is the better car by a nose, but the Challenger is more fun to drive by the same measure. Go figure. The Camaro feels quicker, more buttoned-down, more focused. It seems more ready and willing to go head-to-head with the Ford Mustang GT. The Challenger feels ginormous. It’s certainly fast, but not unlike the Challenger of yore, seems a bit happier to do so in a straight line (Dodge claims it’ll rush to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds). That said, you have to marvel at progress: Brembo brakes on slotted rotors, a really terrific six-speed manual with a pistol-grip shifter, and of course, a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 with 425 horsepower. Truth told, the car reminds me a whole lot more of an early ’90s Porsche 928 than it does late ’60s American iron.
As a writer, you have to tread lightly when covering cars like these. Their fans can be a bit, um, enthusiastic. I could write that the Challenger’s exhaust gasses smelled like fresh-baked cookies and some Challenger Guy would flame me for it in the comments section. These are vehicles (like Corvettes and 911s) where sweet words are never sweet enough and the casting of aspersions is grounds for a whuppin’. They’re quicker, faster, and thirstier than anybody really needs, but that’s beside the point. They’re cars that inspire passion, and passion and common sense rarely walk hand in hand.