Dodge Challenger, first impressions.
By Kevin "Crash" Corrigan
8th October 2008
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Well, I finally made it, and here I am in the Big Apple to bring you the complete rundown on the new Dodge Challenger lineup.
However, before we get into all that, I simply have to make a statement, and that is..."I can't recall ever driving a vehicle which draws as much attention as the new Dodge Challenger".
Honestly, New York City, which used to have a bad rap for violent crime is now a much safer place to visit, yet when driving the new Challenger around town, even some of the business suits looked as if they'd mug me for the keys, given half the chance!
Yes, no doubt about it, Dodge has pulled out all the stops on this one and has presented us with the almost perfect re-creation of the All American Muscle Car.
Perfect re-creation, I hope not???
As the clock of life turns, drivers of my age often look back with fondness to those days when the ordinary Joe on the street could afford something with a heap of performance under the hood. The days when car nameplates were more than just a meaningless numbers, and the word Hemi conjured up the possibility of losing your pink slip at the end of the quarter mile!
Yet, as fond as those memories are, does anyone truly want to see the return of the original muscle cars? After all, they might have boasted the performance and looks back then, but they were also more than a little on the crude side. Oh yes, remove the rose tinted glasses for a minute and the words brake fade scurry back to mind, and suspension? What suspension, I swear that they sat on little blocks of hardwood!!!
Oh, and the steering, you didn't so much guide them around corners as battle, hope and pray them around!
Now you know why I was so eager to test out the new Dodge Challenger. Yes, it might have glorious looks but unless they managed more than a few improvements on the original, my days of muscle car driving is way behind me.
Well, now I have to make another statement, and that is, they pulled the job off to perfection, because the new Challenger is leaps and bounds better than the original in every aspect. However, they did steadfastly maintain one major feature of the original, and that is...they kept it affordable!
Let's take a look at what the new generation of muscle car owners can expect for their money...
The Challenger SE
The base SE version starts at just $24,995 and although it could be said to be missing the old styling cue from the top of the line SRT model, it still can turn heads faster than cars twice its price.
Power comes from a High-Output 3.5L V6 which produces 250hp and is coupled to a 4 speed automatic transmission. The company didn't hold back on features for the base model either because standard equipment boasts four-wheel-disc brakes, remote keyless entry, A/C, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo, and an 8-way power driver's seat. If that's not enough to impress you, then how about front seat lumbar adjustment, tilt and telescopic steering, and power foldaway mirrors! (All of these are standard).
The Challenger SXT
The next step up the range brings us to the SXT version which adds several extra features to the base SE such as Electronic Stability Program (ESP), an alarm system, upgraded 18 inch wheels (17's on the SE), and leather wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter. Unfortunately, neither the SE nor the SXT is available as a stick shift, which is a pity, but at $26,995, the extra couple of thousand bucks spent to move up to the SXT makes it a rather tempting deal.
The Challenger RT
Dodge tends to believe that the volume sales will be in the SE & SXT range, but personally, if I were buying a Challenger, I'd dig a little deeper into my pocket and splash out for the RT model.
The RT brings the true feeling of a muscle car to life, and with the well tried and tested 5.7L 376hp Hemi V8 under the hood, it offers more than enough power for the average driver. In fact, I had the opportunity to test out this model alongside the SRT version on the track at Raceway Park in New Jersey, and to be perfectly honest, on a race track, I actually preferred it to the SRT. Now that might sound a tad strange coming from me, but the RT, with the available 6 speed gearbox can reach 0-60mph in under 6 seconds, and it is a very predictable and manageable performance car.
Simply put, you can hurl the RT around a race track with complete and utter confidence, whereas with the SRT, you have to be constantly aware of its immense power and take care that it doesn't get away from you.
The RT version starts out at $34,995, which places it just under half way up the Challenger price scale, but together with the 5.7L Hemi, you also get the choice of a wonderfully slick 6 speed box (a must on any true muscle car) or a 5 speed automatic transmission. It also boasts a few extra features like leather seat facings, dual bright chrome exhaust tips, and a Boston acoustics sound system.
The RT version also has up-rated steering and suspension, an anti-spin rear differential, performance brakes, and heated seats. Another item worth mentioning is the beautifully crafted pistol grip shifter knob, which gives a real performance feel to the gear changes, and don't worry if it's been a few years since you drove a standard because Hill Start Assist is also included.
All in all, I believe that the RT version of the Challenger offers the best value for money of the entire range. Yes, you can get into the same shape car for less, and you can also get one which performs a little better, but do the pro and con list and I think that you'll find that the RT comes out on top!
The Challenger SRT
We now come to the ultimate performance model and the one that will no doubt encourage the sale of the others, the Challenger SRT. This version boasts a 6.1L V8 Hemi which supplies a whopping 425hp and can reach 60mph from a standing start in less than 5 seconds. Yes, you read that right! Under 5 seconds, and this from a car which costs less than $46k Welcome to the new muscle car era!
Available in a 6 speed manual, or a 5 speed automatic transmission, the SRT receives a special high-performance suspension setup, performance tuned steering, and 20 inch wheels as standard. It should also be noted that Dodge decided to use world renowned Brembo performance brakes on this model, a wise choice considering the startling capabilities of the SRT.
Speaking of performance, the SRT also carries a clever little device which records such things as 0-60 times, braking distances, 1/4 mile and 1/8 mile timers, and even has a g-force meter built in to it. Now you can actually prove to your passenger how quick your Challenger SRT is. As if the hairs standing on their heads wouldn't have told you that!
Simply put...I love the new Challenger lineup, and I would be proud to have any of them parked in my driveway.
I believe that the company deserves a huge pat on the back for bringing enthusiasm back the car buying public. For years we have driven around in aerodynamic jelly beans, now we have head turners available to suit everyone's pocket, not just the wealthy.
Now I know what many of you are thinking...What about fuel economy and the price of gas, do we need V8 powered muscle cars? Well, how can I put this nicely? Oh yes, if, in order to save the planet, I have to go around wearing hemp clothing and driving a hard boiled egg on wheels, then euthanasia might start to sound like a viable option to me.
I'm a car guy plain and simple, I was raised as a child attending auto shows and dreaming of one day getting my license and owning a cool car. That was what made me who I am today and that is exactly my wish for today's younger generation.
Besides, the fuel consumption figures for the Challenger lineup are really not too bad considering.
3.5L V6 auto (11.4 city, 7.9 hwy)
5.7L V8 Hemi auto (13.1 city, 8.6 hwy) 5.7L V8 Hemi Man (13.8 city, 8.6 hwy)
6.1L V8 Hemi auto (16.3 city, 10.6 hwy) 6.1L V8 Hemi man (15.4 city, 9.5 hwy)
I think that those are numbers that most car enthusiasts can live with. After all, vehicles like this appeal to our inner motoring passions. It is all about the feeling that you get when you drive a vehicle like this. Basically, if you have oil running through your veins instead of the usual red stuff, then you're going to love the Challenger.
Honestly, I can't pile the praise high enough on the company for this vehicle. I went to New York expecting a nice car with perhaps better than average performance, but when I actually got behind the wheel of the Challenger I was amazed. It seems as though the company truly put its best efforts into the design. It looks awesome, the ride and drive is way better than I expected, and best of all, it's priced like a true muscle car...affordable!
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