First Drive: 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 and SE V6
From the instant the Dodge Challenger hit the scene in 2008, it was apparent that Chrysler had taken a different tack with its retro muscle car than Ford or Chevrolet. Larger, heavier and more comfortable than either the resurrected Camaro or rebodied Mustang, the Challenger was more grand tourer than a red light terror. But with the Pentastar's resurrection comes two new powerplants, both of which make an already solid package even more appealing for those seeking style seasoned with a healthy dose of all-American get-up-and-go.
Along with a suspension that's been spit-polished to provide more feedback and better dynamics, Mopar engineers have plopped a new 3.6-liter V6 and 6.4-liter V8 under the long, squared-off hood of the 2011 Challenger to create the new base SE and top-shelf SRT8 392 models. With the rev-happy six cylinder begging to be flogged and the new V8's voracious appetite for asphalt, both engines drastically alter the big daddy muscle bruiser's personality while offering better fuel economy than their 2010 predecessors. If you've been able to resist plopping yourself behind the wheel of a Challenger so far, your self-control may have finally met its match.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
Unless you happen to bleed Mopar and breathe Hemi, chances are you'll have a hard time telling the 2011 Challenger from its 2010 counterpart. The designers at Dodge didn't exactly go hog wild with a new fascia design, opting instead for subtle tweaks to the vehicle's air dam and iconic duckbill spoiler. Likewise, in base SE trim, the Challenger now wears a new set of 18x7.5-inch wheels, though the rollers still manage to look small on a car with this kind of girth.
Switch to the mighty Challenger SRT8 392, however, and there's no mistaking this coupe for anything other than the top of the heap. For 2011, Dodge is only offering the big-engined Challenger in two color combinations – blue with white stripes or white with blue decorations. Unlike lower-rung cars, the 392 wears a full-body stripe package, with swaths of contrasting color stretching from the lower fascia, up the nose, down the hood, across the roof and all the way back down the rear bumper cover. Those stripes may be an application nightmare, but they make a huge difference in the look of the finished product.
You won't find any faux carbon fiber on this bruiser, and for that we are thankful. Otherwise, only the large, red-numeral 392 badges hanging from both front fenders differentiate this beast from the standard SRT8 behemoth.
Unfortunately, Chrysler didn't see fit to bestow one of the company's revamped and much-improved interiors on the 2011 Challenger. While we never found fault with the simple design of the coupe's dash in the past, the instrument cluster looks downright uninspired compared to the attractive and modern driver-oriented cockpit in the 2011 Charger. Throwing in the brilliant eight-inch touchscreen from the four-door hauler wouldn't hurt our feelings, either.
As serious as the SRT8 392 looks from the outside, this muscle car loses the plot indoors. Dodge has opted to grace each and every one of the 1,492 inaugural editions of the vehicle with a set of white leather seats with blue accents and ridiculous 392 lettering. From the looks of things, Don Johnson had a hand in the buckets' design. The good news is, once you get past the initial cringe of climbing behind the wheel, you don't have to look at the seats again for the duration of your flight.
In SE guise, the Challenger comes from the factory bearing the new corporate 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. Bumped to 305 horsepower and 268 pound-feet of torque, the six-pot kicks out 55 extra ponies and 18 lb-ft of additional twist compared to the old 3.5-liter V6. Even better, Dodge says all of that added power will come with no fuel economy penalty. The EPA hasn't finished putting the Challenger SE through its paces, but we're told to expect a significant increase in efficiency over the old base car. That means this mega-cruiser should see above the 21 miles per gallon combined of the current 3.5-liter V6.
And what about the new destroyer-of-worlds 6.4-liter V8, you ask? Dodge has managed to lure a blistering 470 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque from the cast-iron block – substantial improvements over the outgoing SRT8's 425 hp/420 lb-ft. With 10.9:1 compression breathing through aluminum heads, the company says that the new engine doesn't share a single design element with the old 6.1-liter pushrod terror, which may help explain why the 6.4-liter engine delivers 50 lb-ft of torque more than the outgoing lump. As with the V6, the EPA has yet to turn out its fuel economy numbers for the 6.4, but Dodge fully expects to see the engine deliver at least one mpg better both city and highway than the old V8 thanks to tricks like a dual-plane intake and cylinder deactivation in automatic-equipped vehicles. That would put the 392 at around 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. How's that for progress?
Clearly, the biggest news with the 2011 Challenger is its dynamic duo of new engines, but Dodge assures us that just as much work has gone into giving the vehicle's suspension a thrice-over. Up front, the Mopar engineers have blessed the hefty coupe with monotube shocks, new stiffer-rate springs and aggressive bushings, while the rear now wears a five-link setup with what the company calls "roll-steer geometry." Dodge says that the design allows the suspension to independently control both toe and camber fluctuations during cornering, helping to provide a more stable tail-end.
On top of that heap of changes, drivers can look forward to larger sway bars fore and aft and additional negative camber – a full 1.0 degree up front and 1.75 degrees in the rear. All told, the changes are supposed to make the Challenger less roly-poly and more of apex predator. At least that's the theory.
Unfortunately, our time with the new Pentastar V6-equipped Challenger was limited to a quick blast down a fairly straight two-lane, so we can't exactly comment on the vehicle's handling prowess... or lack thereof. We can say with some authority that the new six-pot is an amazing addition to the Challenger line. The engine comes alive at around 4,000 rpm, and while it feels odd to play with a happy-to-rev engine in a car this size, the engine seems to be right at home in its upper octaves. While redline sits at an electronically-limited 6,400 rpm, the V6 feels like it would willingly pull well past that figure. Interestingly enough, unlike the V6 in the Chevrolet Camaro, the Pentastar engine delivers its punch without the same harshness or vibration of its Bowtie rival, delivering its reps in a smooth, dangerously encouraging wave.
As you might expect, the 6.4-liter V8 is an entirely different beast. Dodge was kind enough to give us a few laps around Infineon Raceway in its new range-topping Challenger, and for all of its suspension tweaks, it was clear that this is one car that's still happier on the quarter mile than in Turn 11. As one Dodge official accurately quipped, she's still a big lady. There's simply no getting around this vehicle's 4,170-pound curb weight when equipped with the six-speed manual, and there's more than a taste of understeer in the corners. Rapid directional changes through a chicane quickly brought to light a downright unnerving tendency to overcome the grip of the 20-inch Goodyears as all that momentum sloshed from one direction to the other.
The one system that seemed up to the task of handling both the otherworldly power on tap and the planetary curb weight was the vehicle's brakes. With Brembo calipers clamping down on all four corners, the stoppers had no problem keeping the SRT8 392 under control, even after two laps of hard abuse.
But don't think for a second that we're not head-over-heels in love with this revamped bruiser. On the contrary, this beast is everything that's right with the American muscle car. While it may not be fit for track duty, on the street, the Challenger SRT8 392 is a force to be reckoned with. When equipped with the automatic transmission, this two-ton tank can dust off the run to 60 mph in the mid four-second range on its way to a high 12-second quarter mile. The 470-horse and 470 lb-ft of torque V8 delivers mind-altering acceleration, sucking up tarmac and closing in on lesser metal with dizzying urgency. It's flat-out amazing. On civilized roads, the suspension is all but perfect for quasi-aggressive touring, allowing you to set record times between countryside attractions.
We'd be remiss in our duties if we didn't take a second to mention the exhaust note on the baddest of the bad Challengers, too. Mopar's boys and girls have taken the time to install one very free-flowing set of pipes, and as such, that 392 cubic-inch V8 announces acceleration like only a big-displacement engine can. Surprisingly enough, the tone isn't overly intrusive in the cabin, even if you are setting off car alarms with hard second-gear pulls. Call it a quandary of acoustics.
The sad news is that the inaugural edition Challenger SRT8 392 will only see a production run of 1,492 units next year, with a full 392 of those slated for the Canadian market only. That means that while the car may carry an MSRP of $42,555, the reality is that dealers will likely demand a fairly serious markup over that price. Of course, buyers can opt for the V6-powered SE with a more manageable base price of $24,670 if their hearts so desire.
The 2011 Dodge Challenger may not be a completely new model from the ground up, but its fresh drivetrain options and revised suspension geometry make for a compelling package, especially for buyers looking for a vehicle capable of comfortably and quickly covering large distances in style. It's a genuine American grand tourer in the purest sense, and it's exactly what the Challenger should have been out of the gate.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
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