2009 Challenger New Car Test Drive
After a hiatus of more than 30 years the Dodge Challenger returned as a new model for 2008. And Chrysler's biggest styling hit since the PT Cruiser promptly sold out. For 2009, the Challenger lineup is expanded to three models: the new SE, the new R/T, and the high-performance SRT8.
Challenger is all about the in-your-face attitude that's a Dodge hallmark: big car, big presence, big power. Style rules, yet asks few compromises. Some will opine about the timing of the Dodge musclecar's return, while others will note Chicken Little was last seen impaled in a Viper grille somewhere. Much as happens with its principal competitor, Ford's Mustang, each version of the Challenger will appeal to a different buyer.
SE owners will be swayed by the look, a desire to be seen in something more visually amusing than the average V6 sedan or big coupe, and using it every day. SE comes with a 250-hp 3.5-liter V6 and four-speed automatic EPA-rated 18/25.
R/T buyers may be older and wanting to replace the Challenger they lusted after in younger days; some will choose the new one over a far-more-expensive auction car that goes like stink but needs considerable acreage to stop or change directions. Others still, not content to leave anything alone, will buy the R/T as the basis for their next hot rod and blow all the money saved on an SRT8 on more power, accessories, and modifications. The R/T can be used as a daily driver, at least for shorter distances and fuel consumption, and will compete with the Mustang GT, over which it has both advantages and disadvantages. Challenger R/T runs a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 rated at 370 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque with the standard five-speed automatic; power increases to 375 hp and 404 pound-feet of torque on premium fuel with the optional six-speed manual/Track Pak group. The Hemi uses a multiple displacement feature that switches off cylinders to save fuel, but EPA ratings are 16/23 mpg with the automatic and 15/23 mpg with the six-speed manual.
SRT8 buyers want the ultimate performance model. The SRT8 is fast, stable and ready to go to any track, Dodge's fastest car this side of the twice-the-price Viper. Yet it's compliant and controlled just enough that it won't beat you up on daily chores or weekend cruises. At $10/pound, you'll enjoy it a lot longer than that sirloin on your barbecue. Challenger SRT8 comes with a 425-hp 6.1-liter Hemi (EPA 13/19 mpg), the same transmission options as the R/T, big Brembo brakes, the firmest suspension; and a limited-slip rear differential.
The Challenger is a big two-door, but expect it to face some competition from Pontiac's G8 GT, a four-door sedan. Not Challenger-distinctive in appearance, it does offer the same rumbling V8, rear-drive musclecar recipe (without a manual gearbox option), and again like the Challenger, good independent suspension and brakes for about the same price as an R/T.
Challenger features an entirely new body, but many of its parts, systems and structures are shared with the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger (and Magnum). If you can't locate a Challenger to test drive before ordering, driving Chargers will give a good indication of the relative differences between engines. With the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger having proven their reliability, the potential for new-car bugs and quirks should be significantly lower in the Challenger than in most new cars.
The 2009 Dodge Challenger is available in three models, the economy-oriented SE, the more sporting R/T, and the bruiser SRT8. (All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices and do not include the $675 destination charge.)
Challenger SE ($21,320) comes with a 250-hp 3.5-liter V6 and four-speed automatic. It comes with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, 60/40 split-folding rear bench, tilt/telescoping steering column, cruise control, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/CD/MP3 four-speaker stereo, visor vanity mirrors, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. Options include leather upholstery, eight-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, moonroof, disc changer and navigation with real-time traffic, 276-watt Boston Acoustics audio system, 18-inch aluminum wheels, compact spare tire, ABS and electronic stability control and traction control.
Challenger R/T ($29,320) features a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 rated at 370 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque with a five-speed automatic. R/T adds heated outside mirrors, body-colored rear spoiler and mirrors, metal fuel filler door, leather-wrapped wheel and shifter, illuminated visor mirrors, dual chromed rectangular exhaust pipes, and fog lamps. Mechanical upgrades to accompany the added power include 18-inch aluminum wheels and wider tires, stability control, bigger antilock brakes, and firmer suspension. Options include leather upholstery, navigation system, 368-watt Boston Acoustics audio system, bi-xenon headlamps, 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels, hood-into-fender stripes and functional hood scoops, keyless go, remote start, compact spare tire, HomeLink, a trip computer with performance pages (128 functions total), and steering-wheel audio/data controls. The Track Pak ($995) adds a six-speed manual gearbox with twin-disc clutch and pistol-grip shifter, limited-slip differential, load-leveling shocks, performance steering, hill-start assist, bright pedal covers and different mufflers.
Challenger SRT8 ($39,320) has a 425-hp 6.1-liter Hemi V8, Brembo brakes, a special suspension, and a limited-slip differential. Many bits optional on the R/T are standard here, including a better audio system, bi-xenon headlamps, trip/data computer, leather, keyless go, and Sirius satellite radio. The SRT8 rear spoiler is flat black, the front spoiler deeper and ducted for brake cooling, hood scoops are functional, the fuel filler is polished aluminum, and 20-inch forged aluminum wheels and heated sport seats are standard. Options are the Track Pak, 522-watt 13-speaker Kicker audio system, navigation, hood stripes, remote start, and high-performance staggered-size tires.
Safety features on all Challengers include dual frontal airbags and side curtain airbags front and rear. Antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control and traction control are available on the SE and standard on R/T and SRT8.