The Challenger sure looks and sounds great, but don't expect to see much out of the slim greenhouse. But then again, that's not what this car is about -- it's about cruising, 0-to-60-mph sprints, and that addictive V-8 rumble. To keep the Challenger at the core of its intended use, stay away from the loafing sixth gear, even though, yes, you will average 20 mpg on the highway. Slip the pistol-grip shifter into fifth or even fourth gear at 70 mph and the reward is high-rpm fun as the 6.4-liter engine blares from the large dual exhausts. Expect many thumbs-up and many wrinkles from the smiles you can't wipe off your face.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
About five minutes after I picked up the Challenger from a swanky hotel in Birmingham, Michigan, a girl driving a Pontiac G6 rolled down her window to profess her love: "Ohmigod, it's so hot! I love your car!" That made me like the SRT8 392 a lot. Then I merged onto the highway and discovered just how incredibly fast this car is. As in, break-the-speed-limit-on-the-entrance-ramp kind of fast. Dodge says this Challenger will run the quarter mile in less than 13 seconds and reach a top speed of 182 mph. For less than $50,000? That's an outrageous amount of straight-line performance for the money.
The Dodge Challenger really harks back to the "good old days" of muscle cars. Yes, it's a big, heavy car with poor visibility. The interior isn't anything to write home about. The engine lopes at idle, transmitting lumpy vibrations through the shifter and the clutch pedal. So for all those reasons, it's not actually a terribly good car. But if you work out the acceleration-per-dollar equation, the Challenger SRT8 392 suddenly seems like an excellent idea.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
I feel a bit cheated that it rained the entire time I had the Challenger 392. This car has so much raw power that it's not a very good idea to test its abilities too aggressively on wet roads. That said, I still managed to enjoy some wheel spin and a few full-throttle upshifts. The best place for this Challenger, though, is a dry, sticky, well-lit drag strip, not a wet country road in the middle of the night.
Steering is quick, direct, and offers decent feel. The gearbox is not an exemplar of finesse, but it's fun to row when you're in the right mood. Overall, this SRT8 does a great impression of a vintage muscle car, from its looks to its sounds to its burly driving feel and heavy down-the-road comportment. The problem with that is that there are very few people who want such a driving experience in a modern car. It's like a vintage muscle car with poor outward visibility and decent fuel mileage.
From a design perspective, I love the big central reverse light as well as the red stripe highlighting the seat upholstery. I think I'd like this Challenger much better in a bright color reminiscent of the High Impact hues of yore, but Chrysler currently offers only two colors for this car: orange and red.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Despite looking like an old-school track car that took a wrong turn during a race in 1970, the Challenger is surprisingly refined and fairly easy to drive. The unusual rectangular shifter is a bit too tall aesthetically but it fits nicely in the hand and is its action is appropriately notchy with good weight. The clutch is probably the heaviest I've ever used but thankfully the travel is one of the shortest so it doesn't get fatiguing, even in stop-and-go traffic. I spent quite a long time on the highway with the Challenger and was impressed. The sixth gear makes for relaxed cruising and brings the Hemi growl down to a barely audible hum. A downshift to fifth -- or even fourth -- is necessary when the engine is called upon to produce even the slightest acceleration but it's a small price to pay for being able to hear the radio and carry on a conversation in a normal speaking volume.
The interior is a step below the Charger sedan in terms of style and quality but I prefer it to both the Mustang and the Camaro. Like those cars, the Charger's high beltline and sloping roofline make for bad visibility and funky ergonomics. Interestingly, though, the armrests -- generally mounted too high when compensating for a tall door -- are strangely low. Even stranger, the door handles, placed below the too-low armrests, are at about knee height. After driving the Challenger for an entire weekend, I still searched for the door handle for several seconds every time I tried to exit the car.
To my eyes, the exterior styling is a little too retro but it has tons of presence and I find it hard to deny the allure of racing stripes. It may be the red-headed stepchild of the muscle car trifecta but I find it more appealing as a package than the Camaro or the Mustang.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
When it comes to the modern American muscle car, the Ford Mustang is my preferred pony. But in 2011, Dodge made a number of improvements to the Challenger that have given this car much more appeal. The massive 6.4-liter V-8 steals all the headlines, but it's only the start of the changes. Engineers made significant modifications to the suspension with new dampers and revised geometry. The effect is that the formerly floaty ride has flattened out without any tangible compromise in ride quality. The steering ratio was also quickened and the hydraulic power assist was retuned. These chassis changes are what allowed me to rate the Challenger ahead of the Camaro. It doesn't hurt that there's also another 45 hp and 50 lb-ft of torque from the new engine. My only gripe is that the sport button seems to do absolutely nothing. No change in traction control, or throttle progression, or steering weight. [It only changes the damping rates and, in automatic transmission cars, the shift quality.] Then you realize that a fiddly electronic button isn't going to do anything to change the character of this 470-hp American muscle car. And that's just fine by me.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
With the Dodge Challenger SRT8, what you see (and hear) is what you get. This really is a good old-fashioned muscle car, with a burbling V-8, a long hood, great straight-line speed, and extroverted styling. There's nothing reticent about this vehicle, and the more aggressively you drive it, the better it responds. This is not a car that would normally appeal to me, but then again, this is not a car that is being marketed to middle-aged women. But for those who want a modern version of the American muscle car of their youth, this Challenger, especially with the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, offers a pretty tempting package.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Like more and more high-performance cars these days, the Challenger SRT8 allows owners to see how well they do in performance-driving situations. Two little digital checkered flags flank a readout at the bottom of the speedometer binnacle to give you 1/8-mile time, 1/4-mile time, braking distances, longitudinal and latitudinal g-forces, and the like. So, everybody can feel like a NASCAR driver on track day. Hey, what's the point of having 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque if you cannot measure what you've done with it?
NASCAR drivers don't have to deal with the huge, somewhat phallic gearshift lever, which is canted forward and sharply angled to the left, nor with the V-8's heavy flywheel. It's real work to shift this car smoothly and quickly, but when you do, you feel like you're really driving, not just operating a motor vehicle.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor