Autoline on Autoblog with John McElroy: Driving the Dodge Challenger SRT-8
A couple of weeks back I wrote a bit about the new Dodge Challenger SRT-8. But to honor the embargo that the Public Relations people put on driving impressions, I had to hold the best stuff until now. And man, was it worth the wait!
Despite a sagging economy, sinking car sales and soaring gas prices, the SRT-8 version of the Challenger is going to do just fine. That, despite the fact it only averages 15 mpg and costs $40,000. No worries, mate, it's the other numbers that are going to sell this car.
Check 'em out:
0-60 mph: 4.9 seconds
¼ mile: 13.7 seconds
0-100-0 mph: under 17 seconds
60-0 mph: 110 feet
When it comes to top speed, the SRT people have had the car up to 170 mph, but that was on an oval. Since the Challenger is not speed-limited in any way except for its aerodynamic drag, they believe that out on the Salt Flats it will go even faster.
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John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers. Follow the jump to continue reading this week's editorial.
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We drove the Challenger from Pasadena to Willow Springs race track through the winding Angeles Crest highway northeast of Los Angeles. It's a great combination of fast sweepers, long snaking esses, and clear-to-the-horizon straight-aways. Perfect for putting a car like this through its paces.
And the Challenger is definitely up to the challenge. Even though you've heard how porky this car is, tipping the scales at over 4,000 pounds, out on the open road or lapping on a big open race track, you don't really notice it. Maybe an autocross would be a different matter, but other than in very tight turns, this car feels good.
In fact, there are certain styling tricks the designers used to help make the car actually look lighter, as chief exterior designer Jeff Gale explains here:
You sit snugly in a Challenger SRT-8. The seat bottoms and backs are well bolstered, and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so you can tailor the driving position to your personal taste. Well, almost. I wish it had adjustable pedals because I found the brake pedal a tad high for my liking. Sure hope they get it right for heel-and-toe shifting when they offer the manual 6-speed next year.
There is good effort in the steering, almost on the brink of being heavy, but not quite. And it has excellent on-center feel. The thick rim makes it comfortable to grab the wheel with your whole hand, or just make light adjustments with your fingertips.
The brakes are exceptional. Big 4-piston Brembos with 14-inch rotors up front and 13.8-inch ones in the rear. It'll haul this car down from 60 mph in only 110 feet, which is extremely impressive and helps explain why you forget that this car is heavy.
SRT Engineering added an interesting refinement to the brakes that they call knock-back mitigation. When cornering at very high speeds in many cars, the wheel bearings will flex, and the rotors will tilt outboard, actually pushing the pads away. Then, the next time you jump on the brakes, you'll get you a long pedal since the pads have to travel farther. To get rid of that disconcerting feel, anytime you go over 0.6 g's, the Challenger slowly runs the ABS pump to push the pads back into position. Actually, ESP systems use this same feature when its rains so the pads will wipe water off the rotors. The wrinkle that SRT Engineering added is to have it cycle through this feature based on g-load. They have a patent pending.
You can hear first-hand how it works from Eric Heuschele, the Supervisor of Vehicle Dynamics at SRT Engineering:
Besides the raw power roaring out of the engine, and the extraordinary sound of the exhaust note that I wrote about last time, the ride and handling of this car deserves to be singled out. At Willow Springs race track I was surprised to see how flat the Challenger corners. And on the sinuous and heaving Angeles Crest highway I was surprised to see how supple the car rides. There's a very good balance between the two, which must be thanks to exhaustive suspension tuning and the fact that this is the fourth car to come off the LX platform. They just keep building on their body of knowledge.
There's so much more to write about this car but I'm out of room, except to make one last point. The customers who buy this car will not be put off by its price tag or the fuel economy. They've got the dough and they want the go, so they're going to buy it anyway.
But fuel economy legislation is about to take cars like this out of the market. Sad to say, but it looks like this muscle car was revived just in time to go right back into extinction.
More from the Dodge Challenger team is on John's Journal.
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