For anyone who came of age during the heyday of the unfettered big-cubic-inch American V-8, the feeling is deliciously familiar.
Stab the throttle, and there's that rocket sled pressure across the shoulder blades as a 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 transmits its massive thrust to the pavement, provoking smoke and shrieking from the rear tires as they scrabble for grip.
The sounds and sensations after pushing the keyless-start button ignite memories of those thrilling days of yesteryear when an original Hemi V-8 lit up its Goodyear Polyglas rear tires and sent an original Challenger hurtling down the highway -- or maybe Woodward Avenue -- with a heady rush.
Whooma! Is that the ground trembling? Now, as then, the experience is seismic. Whooma! There's almost nothing in the internal combustion inventory that can match the visceral experience that goes with exploiting the punch of a big ol' American V-8.
And now, as then, a big V-8 can produce some pretty impressive acceleration numbers.
The Hemi Challenger we tested almost 40 years ago was able to smoke its way through the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 103 mph on tires that were considered hot stuff back then but would be only slightly better than linoleum compared with the performance rubber available today.
The latter-day Challenger, with its Goodyear F1 Supercar tires (245/45-20 front, 255/45-20 rear) is expected to rumble to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, with a quarter-mile time of 13.3 seconds. To follow the action, the car gets a performance display similar to the one in the Caliber SRT4 that measures 0-to-60, quarter-mile and g-force.
We must add here that we have yet to put a new Challenger through its paces at a test track, and don't expect to do so until April.
Our experiences with a pre-production development mule were accumulated at the Texas Motorsports Ranch, about 14 miles west of Houston, experiences that were tempered by intermittent rain showers.
Rain and 425 horsepower on a twisty road circuit isn't a great combination for max lap times or blistering acceleration, although we did learn that the chassis engineers have set the stability system threshold commendably high, and that the Goodyear F1s deliver surprisingly good grip on wet pavement. So our acceleration forecasts are based on our test of a Chrysler 300C SRT8 in June 2005.
Although the Challenger's two-door sheetmetal is sexier than that of the 300C or Dodge Charger SRT8, the foundations -- minus four inches of wheelbase -- are essentially identical to those of the sedans.
This in turn adds up to hefty curb weights. The Dodge boys forecast 4150 pounds, which is just 62 pounds lighter than the 300C. With the same 6.1-liter Hemi V-8 (425 horsepower, 420 pound-feet of torque), the same five-speed automatic, and the same final drive, and the same tires, drag strip numbers figure to be pretty much the same, too.
Still, you might wonder why the smaller coupe -- at 197.7 inches it's 2.5 inches shorter than a Charger and almost an inch lower -- is nearly as heavy as the sedan.
Eric Heuschele, manager of vehicle development at Chrysler's Street and Racing Technology (SRT) skunkworks, says there's no mystery. "For one thing, side-impact standards keep getting tougher all the time, and we had to compensate for losing that beefy Charger B-pillar," says Heuschele. "But the real answer is that when you chop the wheelbase on a Charger you still have a Charger."
Mass notwithstanding, expect the Challenger to be hot stuff. If our expectations are correct, its acceleration will be on par with the last BMW M5 we tested and SRT's big Brembo brake package -- enhanced by a new algorithm baked into the ABS system that keeps the pads snugged up to the rotors at all times -- should deliver above-average stops, say about 165 feet from 70 mph.
Some other wet race track observations: The Challenger's hydraulic power rack-and-pinion steering is just a bit numb, although it's quick at 2.5 turns lock to lock.
Responses are quick for a vehicle in this weight class, and the Challenger's handling traits figure to be somewhere between those of the 300C SRT8 and Charger SRT8, blending the Chrysler's slightly smoother ride with the Charger's more aggressive reflexes.
There are no speed limiters on Chrysler SRT vehicles, so based on our previous experience we expect this one to top out over 170 mph before the engine starts bouncing off the rev limiter.
Which raises the question of behavior at max velocities.
"With retro styling you get retro aerodynamics," says Heuschele. "We wanted to make a car that would be comfortable to drive at 150 mph, if you can find someplace to do that. I think we're close to optimal."
Speaking of styling, we think the Challenger is a knockout, very faithful to designer Michael Castiglone's 2006 Detroit show concept -- the absence of Dodge's crosshair grille is the only readily visible difference -- and strongly reminiscent of the 1970 original.
Money: Yours for $40,158, but make sure to save some for gas as the Challenger is rated at 13 mpg city and 18 highway.
That's about a grand more than the Charger SRT8, and it's hard to ally the word "bargain" with a sum of that magnitude.
On the other hand, it's also hard to think of another coupe offering this much muscle -- and this much sheer curbside wattage -- for anything like this kind of money.
Watch for the Challenger SRT8 to roll into showrooms around the end of April, although we're not sure you can still get a 2008 model as the original 5500-unit capacity was already sold out at the start of the year, with 4300 orders on the first day. Capacity has since been boosted to 6400, we learn, so there may be a few still up for grabs.
Tamer versions will be introduced as 2009 models next fall and we expect a manual transmission will be part of the package when they are shown at this year's New York auto show. The 2009 Challengers will have the higher-output 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that debuted on the new Dodge Ram. In fact, Chrysler officials confirm all 2009 models across the Dodge, Jeep, and Chrysler brands will move to the upgraded Hemi that now produces 380 horsepower and 404 pound-feet of torque.