This is 2009, and we’re supposed to be frugal, serious, and green. Especially here in Portland, Oregon where I live, greenness is a virtue we take seriously. We’re all about sensible transportation options.
The 2010 Dodge Challenger SRT8 is the antithesis of all that – it’s got 425 horsepower, gets about 16 miles per gallon, and really seats only two people comfortably. It’s big, loud, and very very orange. Yes, as a Portland car it’s got every possible strike against it.
But I love it, and I don’t care who knows it. In Portland, it turns out that Muscle Cars are the love that dare not speak its name.
And yeah, it’s got a hemi. Specifically, the SRT8 version of the Challenger comes with a 6.1-liter hemi V8 engine. For those who don’t want to admit that they have no idea what “Hemi” means, it just means that the combustion chambers in the heads of your engine are hemispherical – like the inside of a bowl. This allows you to have nifty domed pistons and really nice airflow in and out of your engine. In short: More Power! In the case of the SRT8 engine, that’s 425 eager horses and 420 pound-feet of torque.
In the Challenger, that power is delivered to the rear wheels through a very nice 6-speed manual transmission. They even brought back the old-fashioned pistol-grip shift lever – Nice! The shifting is quick and precise, and the clutch is reasonably light and engages well. Of course, the rear axle uses limited slip technology, so you can lay two perfectly even stripes when you want to.
The performance of the Challenger SRT8 is breathtaking. Zero to sixty in about 4 seconds – but that takes a better driver than me. Maybe an experienced drag racer could drive well enough to meet this car’s potential, but not me. More to the practical side, the 20-60 acceleration that you use to get on the freeway is pretty nearly instantaneous.
I had a Challenger out for hot laps at Laguna Seca raceway a while ago, and I expected it to be big, ponderous, and fast. It turns out that the Challenger drives like a much smaller car than it is, and it has light and nimble handling. And it’s fast. Real fast.
In the SRT8 trim, you don’t sacrifice luxury for speed. Dodge gives you some nice performance seats, though I wanted a little more lumbar support. Plus you get all the usual modern conveniences – Navigation, cruise, air, nice stereo with full accessory capability, heated seats, power everything, remote keyless everything, car alarm, and blutetooth for your phone.
Dodge also doesn’t short you on safety in the Challenger. While the Viper SRT10 comes without traction control or ABS, the Challenger gives you all that modern civilized car control technology. And for 99% of buyers, that’s a good thing. I never turned off the “electronic nanny” even once during the week I had the Challenger. It will get up and run just fine while keeping an eye on your driving – the car won’t let you get into trouble. And it’s got wonderful brakes – many muscle cars throughout history have been under-braked for their power, but the SRT8 has lovely 4-wheel discs.
The Challenger SRT8 starts at $39,820. But if you add the 6-speed manual option, that adds $695, but you get a better rear axle ratio along with your stick. One thoughtful addition that Dodge put in is a “hill-holder” clutch. That means that if you stop on a hill, you can take your foot off the brake and the car will hold for about 3 seconds, which is enough time to give it a little gas and make a smooth start. That’s important with all that horsepower because you could easily stall the engine or lay a patch on a hill. I would have liked a sports car style handbrake, but you get the usual American “step on it” parking brake in the Challenger.
Other options on the test car included $890 for the GPS navigation, and Dodge deserves big credit for being among the first automakers to charge a reasonable price for the optional navigation system!
The SRT8 Challenger also dings you $2,000 for gas guzzler taxes and destination fees, bringing our total to $44,475 for this mighty orange road machine.
The bottom line on the Challenger SRT8 is this – people stopped what they were doing and waved, gave me a thumbs up, or stopped to chat about this car everywhere I went. I didn’t get a single sourpuss look or a rebuke of puritan disapproval anywhere. So maybe there are more folks around than I expected who harbor a secret love for pure, unapologetic muscle cars.