• Sep 12th 2008 at 12:29PM
  • 69

2009 Dodge Challenger SE – Click above for high-res image gallery

Chrysler pays the bills with big sellers like the Dodge Ram and Caravan, but when it comes to passion and excitement, the 2009 Dodge Challenger sits with the Viper atop the Pentastar throne. The new Dodge Challenger is retro done right, with the wide stance and long hood of the original mixed with the clean lines and aggressive dimensions of a modern pony car. For the 2008 model year, Chrysler introduced only the SRT version of the Challenger. The first production model sold for $400,000 at auction, and the entire stock of HEMI-packing, Mopar goodness was history faster than it takes to hit 125 mph on a barren back road.

The reality of today's high gas prices combined with strict new fuel economy standards means that, unfortunately, it's unreasonable for every Challenger to pack a fire-breathing, neck snapping 425-hp, 6.1L V8. So for 2009, Chrysler added the R/T Challenger with an extremely competitive 375-hp 5.7L Hemi and a less expensive Challenger SE with a corporate 3.5L V6 engine pumping out 250 ponies. We wanted to see if the SE model could satisfy our hunger for rear drive performance and classic muscle car looks, so we took in the entry level Challenger for a stay in the Autoblog Garage.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

Our Dark Titanium Metallic Clear Coat Challenger SE review vehicle came only with the $2,795 group G package, which includes stability control, Sirius satellite radio, anti-lock brakes, and 18-inch aluminum wheels. This gave the SE an MSRP of $25,140, which puts it in line with similarly equipped competition from the Ford Mustang.

When an automaker introduces a vehicle with sporty pretenses, there is usually a vast difference in the appearance of the base model and the snorty, rip-roaring high performance model. This isn't the case with the Challenger. While the SE didn't have 20-inch rims or stick-on stripes, its basic shape is still very much a head turner. Carried over from the $40,000 SRT model are the front chin spoiler and aggressive-looking but non-functional hood vents. Those attributes and the Challenger's classic muscle car dimensions make Chrysler's bargain basement muscle car look more expensive than it really is.

The Challenger is a big vehicle, sharing its platform and powertrain with the full-sized Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300. But when you're standing next to it, the Challenger appears relatively compact. The larger than expected 18-inch rims fill the wheel wells, which gives the sheet metal around them better proportions. Having only two doors also helps, as the coupe shape allowed Chrysler designers to create a compact greenhouse with an abrupt C-Pillar. The front chin spoiler also gives the Challenger a nice ground-hugging look.

We had the Challenger SE during this year's Woodward Dream Cruise, and when we drove it down the famous four-lane avenue, we received thumbs-up from several onlookers. With the windows down, we heard one young man turn to his father and say "Hey Dad, it's the SRT Challenger". What the kid don't know won't hurt him. At one point we were taking pictures of the Challenger next to the Mustang Bullitt, and a passing spectator ogled the base Challenger while completely ignoring Ford's coolest Mustang. If anything, the reactions of others proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Challenger SE looks the part of muscle car, but how does it drive?

In a word, slow. We got the the impression we were driving a Chrysler 300 Touring instead of anything from the era of modern muscle. We expected a bass-filled growl when turning the key, but instead were treated to the whimper of a V6. After slapping the truly retro four-speed automatic into Drive, we experienced a smooth yet unsatisfying engine; long, infrequent shifts; and family sedan acceleration.

Don't get us wrong, the engine is just fine. The transmission, while only sporting four cogs, is perfectly average and acceleration is acceptable – just not for something that looks as fast as the Challenger. We noticed plenty of body roll and steering calibrated for minimal feedback when we hit the twisties. This definitely isn't the ass-kicking SRT8 Challenger we drove at Chrysler's proving grounds over the summer, but then again this model doesn't cost $40,000. The SE model, with options, falls some $15,000 short of that amount. There is no gas guzzler tax we actually averaged a respectable 24 mpg.

We certainly didn't feel like stunt drivers for a Vanishing Point sequel behind the wheel of the Challenger SE, but at least we were comfortable. Clearly the budget ran out before Chrysler designers were able to fit the Challenger with a retro interior, but the familiar layout works well just like it does in the Charger. The seats were large and comfy, the buttons well laid out and easy to reach, and the materials were of a higher quality than we've experienced in recent Chrysler products. Our only major gripe is that Chrysler insists on using an antiquated cruise control stalk instead of more modern and easier to use steering wheel button controls. The cruise stalk is unlit and in the dark we had absolutely no idea how to set speed, no matter how many times we used it.

The Dodge Challenger is our favorite vehicle in Chrysler's lineup right now. It looks terrific in any trim and you can get one that fits most any need, desire or budget. The SE model is a sheep in wolf's clothing, but if you want the muscle car look without the gas guzzling, performance and sheer driving joy of the SRT8 or R/T models, it's worth considering. And that's not a knock on the Challenger SE. As Ford has proven with its V6 Mustang, there are a lot more people who want a car that looks cool than there are those who want a fast car that's fun to drive. Just don't think you can blow away that Nissan Altima 3.5 sitting next to you at the stop light, because you'll get your ass kicked.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

Autoblog accepts vehicle loans from auto manufacturers with a tank of gas and sometimes insurance for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      get the R/T or just get a mustang and be done with it. 25k? sorry, for that price I'd get a Mustang GT. only have enough for a 6cyl? I'd get the base mustang with the 5sp, and would still toast this thing, and have enough cash left over to put gas in it every week. hell, for 25k I'd get a Mazdaspeed3, blow this or the v6 mustang away, have more interior (at least usable) space, and would probably get the same gas mileage.

      thumbs down.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Yea 25K for a Mustang that is a solid axle platform that feels unsettled and outdated, oh and a backseat that barely fits two people. Then we can look like evey other douchy wigger slangin gold chains bumping fiddy cent on crackley Ford speakers!
        The Challenger is a great platform, Ive been driving a 09 R/T six speed Challenger for a week and I don't want to give it back tomorrow. The revised 5.7 is Great and the motor keeps pulling right up to the rev limiter! Oh, and the Challenger turns heads wherever it goes. The mustang seems to attract smoked out old cougars wearing some sort of animal print clothing!
        You may also want to compare the Challenger to its competitors not the Mazdaspeed3, which has ZERO in commen with a RWD Muscle coupe!
        • 7 Years Ago
        did you just claim that a 4,000lb car with an anemic 250hp engine and a 4sp slushbox a "RWD muscle coupe"??


        I consider this a ricer for old people. It's worse than a huge wing and a fart can, since it just shows that money can't buy taste. At least the kid down the block in the riced out civic only paid 2grand for it, whoever buys this thing paid 12 times as much and still gets worse performance.

        Give me a freakin' break. Muscle cars were cool because they were cheap, fast, and attainable. This thing isn't cheap, isn't fast, and who cares if it's attainable. It's for middle-age white guys who are trying to relive their "glory days".

        Yes, you're driving the 30k version, which by all accounts is fun to drive and well powered. This is FAR from it. Get stuck in this secretary-mobile for a week and I'm sure you'd be singing a different tune...
      • 7 Years Ago
      Getting flashbacks to my moms 13 yr old 74 Plymouth Duster. She would love for me to get one I'm sure. Looks alot like a Duster too in case you hadn't figured it out.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Good review.

      And while I'm not sure I'd ever rush to the Dodge dealership to pick one of these things up, I can see why a lot of people might. Dodge realized that it's the looks and image of the SRT8 that's going to move these more than anything else, and have done a fantastic job with the looks of the SE model. Just flipping through the exterior photos, I might have been the little boy mistaking the SE for the "real thing."

      Interior leaves LOTS to be desired, but hey, I'd take this over a Mustang in a heartbeat.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "Just don't think you can blow away that Nissan Altima 3.5 sitting next to you at the stop light, because you'll get your ass kicked."

      Edmunds tested an SE and ran an 8.1 second 0-60 and 16.1 second 1/4.

      Never mind losing to the 3.5 Altima, that's actually a quick car. This won't even keep up with an inline four Altima.

        • 7 Years Ago
        screw that, it wouldn't stand up to my 16k Scion (tC, 5sp), lol.
      • 7 Years Ago
      It's not the speed, or lack thereof, that bothers me. These base versions of fast cars are so often stripped of their aggression. I understand that a kid could mistake it for the SRT8, or perhaps not know the difference, but those big and empty wheelwells disgust me. On the other hand, it drives me nuts when people turn their 328i into an M3-without-the-M3-engine, so I'm hard to please. But for wheelwells alone, I could never consider a base 'Stang or Challenger. Oh, and it's terrible in blue. (http://goodcarbadcar.blogspot.com/2008/03/more-big-apple-vehicular-debuts.html). This grey helps.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Ditto on the gray.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I really like the way it looks but would not buy a large two door. Very sharp car.

      I can get over how small the trunk opening is on such a large trunk.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Like the other two, it's too big, too heavy and thirsty. I'd guess the handler will be the Camaro, with its IRS. Mustang already owns this market, like the first time around over forty years ago, when the three were based on econocars.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Wait for the Genesis coupe.
      • 7 Years Ago
      "the 2009 Dodge Challenger sits with the Viper atop the Pentastar throne."

      What? Is this meant to be a joke?
      It was hard to read the rest of the article after reading that line. Even as a SRT, the car is a turd. It does look pretty good and pretty sporty until you get close to it. Then you realize how completely oversized it is. And doesn't it only come with a torque converter automatic? Oversized overweight slushbox cars are just fine. That is as long as you don't market them as sports cars.

      Chrysler, bring back the PVO team, the guys that brought us the SRT-10 and the SRT-4, cars that didn't even have a slushbox offered, and stop giving us this crap.
      • 7 Years Ago
      No if only you could delete the stupid stripes and rather unsightly Sirius radio antenna from the RT.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I sure shouldn't complain about a RWD Detroit muscle car, but it is too tall. It is almost a cross-over!
      My perception of a performance car is low & sleek and be darned to fit the 4 sets of golf clubs.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Sometimes I really wonder about these writers on Autoblog.

      Cruise stalks are preferred by Germans, and when done correctly are actually very good. I have one on my A4 and it is great.

      Who actually thought this 2 door 'Charger' was going to be a hit anyways? What a joke. It still sports the same ancient looking plastic interior. Chrysler should just give up. Those climate controls feel cheap and wobbly. The massive amount of hard, poorly grained plastic looks awful.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Dead Men Club.

      When the Methane Bomb goes off, there won't be any gas to buy to run this thing, there won't be an economy, there won't be a Stock Market.
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