I remember being horrified as a teenager in the early 1990s at the sight of some model wearing bell-bottom jeans in a fashion ad. My mother was amused at my naiveté and explained to me that everything in fashion happens in cycles, and it was about time for the flared jeans to come back into vogue. I laughed at her. But she laughed last - which is always the best laughter - when I bought a pair of flared jeans a few years later.
Humans seem to be stuck in the same old patterns, and in the automotive world, it's looking a whole lot like the 1970s. Just like then, we're seeing huge-horsepower muscle cars (451 horsepower in a C-class, anyone?). And just like then, we're seeing the looming emissions and fuel economy regulations that may put and end to it.
We're also seeing a dead ringer for the 1970 Challenger. Let's hope it lasts longer than the original.
First, it's important that we put Dodge's new coupe in perspective. Luckily, that's very easy: just look at it. The Challenger is jaw-droppingly stunning. And if you don't like its lines, think it's too retro, too boring, or whatever? Just reserve your final judgment until you see it on the street, next to Camrys and Versas and Rolls Royces. There is no other car in this price range that makes as much of a statement. For $37,995, you, too, can be a celebrity. Make sure your hair is done - and go get some cool bell-bottoms while you're at it.
As for the way the Challenger SRT8 drives? That, too, is simple to explain: drive a Chrysler 300C SRT8, and you'll know what the Challenger feels like. Underneath its skin, the two-door Challenger is a 300C (or Dodge Charger) with four inches chopped out of the rear footwell. Its suspension is seven percent stiffer than a 300C's, which, combined with the shorter wheelbase, makes its ride fractionally stiffer. It doesn't ride as firmly as the Charger, though, whose suspension is about twenty-five percent harder than the 300C's.
Like its siblings, the Challenger's steering is accurate, but unfortunately also completely devoid of feedback. The municipal bus-sized wheel and ultraslow steering ratio don't help. Then again, all of those qualities are classic muscle car features. So, too, is the pushrod 6.1-liter V-8. It produces 425 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, pushing the Charger SRT8 to 60 mph in just over five seconds, according to Chrysler. But unlike many of the original muscle cars, the Challenger has real brakes - four-piston Brembo fixed calipers with aluminum housings.
On the road, the Challenger is a comfortable, quiet, and smooth cruiser. A fairly long final drive ratio (3.06:1) gives the five-speed automatic long first and second gear ratios, making no-wheelspin full-throttle launches possible. We'd prefer shorter ratios, just because the Challenger looks like it should be able to roast its rear tires off the line at one-quarter throttle. Wheelspin is, however, readily available with a little brake-torque.
At highway speeds, the big V-8 turns over faster than we expected, a result of having only five forward gears. EPA fuel economy suffers a little (EPA estimates are 18 highway, 13 city), but on the plus side, downshifts out of fifth aren't often needed. Despite the relatively high revs, the engine's roar is kept to a minimum, so long trips aren't tiring. In fact, we longed for a lot more noise inside the car - even at full bore, the Challenger is quiet inside. We think the passengers should be enjoying just as much big-bore music as passers by. Luckily, the powerful audio system was able to bolster the lack of acoustic drama - just set the iPod to Classic Rock and cruise along.