Click above for high-res image gallery of the Dodge Challenger SRT8

Back in September we reviewed the V6-powered Dodge Challenger SE, and our conclusion was that an uninspiring engine and benign handling was trumped by terrific curb appeal and an affordable price tag. The R/T model we reviewed yesterday fared even better, with a near perfect combination of brawn and beauty. It was fun spending time behind the wheel of both the SE and R/T models, but we knew we had to get our hands on a fire-breathing, 425-hp 6.1L HEMI V8 to see how capable the Challenger could be at full tilt. After all, there are few things in life better than classic muscle car looks combined with a brute-force V8. And if there are two available V8 engines, it just makes sense that we'd prefer the Challenger with the most powerful powerplant. Did Dodge hit the mark with its top Challenger? We welcomed the Challenger SRT8 into the Autoblog Garage to find out for ourselves.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

Our TorRed Dodge Challenger SRT8 was stocked with options including navigation and an upgraded 13-speaker sound system. Its $44,180 price tag included a $1,700 gas guzzler tax, leather seating surfaces, massive SRT seats, 20-inch rims, and a 425-hp 6.1L HEMI V8 engine. The 44 large also buys owners the right to brag that they own the most exclusive and powerful new Challenger that money can buy.

We've been looking forward to driving the Challenger SRT8 since it was first announced, but we became even more curious after our time behind the wheel of the V6-powered SE model. We were hoping that the SRT treatment would cure all of the SE model's ailments, and Dodge's performance team provided plenty of raw power to help its cause. The 6.1L HEMI powerplant sounded sublime, and its 425 horsepower provided more than exhilarating bark.

In a straight line, this 4,110-lb coupe can flat-out fly. Just put the automatic transmission in manual mode (or don't) and smash the gas and the SRT Challenger becomes a 50-state legal missile. But since the Challenger is so damn big, it's difficult to ascertain just how fast you're going until you look at the speedometer. The list of vehicles with stronger straight line punch than the Challenger isn't very long, but there are plenty that have better moves when the road bends.

Dodge hit the ball out of the park recreating the styling of the original Challenger, but we were surprised to learn that it had similar handling characteristics to the original, too. The Challenger SRT8 has too much weight at its high belt line to be athletic, and its stiff yet uncommunicative steering gives inadequate feedback to the driver. When we had the opportunity to safely test the Challenger's capabilities, we got the feeling that if we pushed it too hard, we'd be on two wheels Dukes of Hazard style. No wonder the seats have such wonderful side supports.

While the Challenger SRT8's performance in the twisties was less than thrilling, it wasn't a death knell, either. This Challenger is more about presence and raw power, and far less about being a competitor to the fleet-footed Lotus Elise. This can be best illustrated by a trip to the corner store. As I was exiting a busy parking lot one day, a couple with three children were walking past the Challenger. All three boys had their necks craned to get an eye-full of the muscle car, and dad almost gave himself whiplash when I pressed the start button and lit up the HEMI V8. The Challenger is a real head-turner at any trim level, but with faux carbon fiber racing strips and stylish 20-inch rims, the SRT8 model just screams for attention.

The Challenger's classic rear drive muscle car looks are sure to stand the test of time. In fact, it's is a dead ringer for the 1970 model, yet Dodge designers managed to give the new model a truly modern flare. The long front hood, short rear end and wide stance brings a smile to our faces and thumbs-up from ogling onlookers. The hood looks menacing in appearance, and the absolute best view of the expansive metal comes from the driver's seat.

If the exterior of the SRT8 Challenger is the automotive equivalent of Carmen Electra, it's interior is a bit less voluptuous. We loved the comfortable, grippy SRT seats and were happy to see that Chrysler upgraded the steering wheel to include redundant controls that we could actually see (instead of behind the wheel). But for some reason, the painfully outdated and un-illuminated 1990's style cruise control stalk remains.

Another problem we have with the Challenger is the fact that the driver seat cannot be folded forward to let people in back. We mentioned this in our review of the R/T model, but it deserves repeating. You have to use the passenger side to perform this feat, which can be a real pain when you're the only adult and have to put two children in the back. We also would have preferred more contrasting materials in the cabin instead of a drab collection of blacks and grays.

We were pleased, however, with the overall attention to detail in the Challenger's cabin. Materials are soft to the touch and a pair of well-placed arm rests makes for spot-on ergonomics. Some performance coupes tend to wear on us over a long haul, but the Challenger is roomy, comfortable and a top-notch cruiser on the open road. Oh, and the trunk is 1986 Ford Taurus big, which is something that can't be said of the pony car competition.

After a week with the Challenger SRT8, we were quite addicted to its raw power and striking good looks. The Challenger SRT8 is all about turning heads and ripping off prodigious burnouts in the parking lot, and we're guessing fans of this Mopar muscle car would have it no other way. We would have liked a lighter and more agile high-end Challenger, but that would have only added to its $44,180 MSRP. The real question is whether the SRT Challenger is the king of Dodge coupes. The R/T model doesn't get hit with a gas guzzler tax, provides 90% of the power and 100% of the SRT8's handsome muscle car looks. Oh, and it also costs around $10,000 less. With that in mind, it's hard to recommend the SRT model as the one to buy.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Weblogs, Inc.

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