Big cars… I love em’. In fact both my personal cars are over 18 feet long which may be why I was so attracted to the Dodge Challenger. When you first see the car in person you come to realize that this sucker is HUGE… seriously, it’s a big boy. I received the car on Friday morning which was great because I had the whole weekend to really play with it and put it through its paces. This particular one was a dark blue ‘09 R/T six speed and it was loaded with every option. Navigation - check! Sunroof - check!, Heated leather seats - check! 376 HP - DOUBLE CHECK!
Now I know I am generally pretty critical on most cars, but you know what? I REALLY like this thing and here’s why. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t, which simply means it’s a muscle car. Big, brash, ballzy and in your face is exactly what the Challenger is. It makes all the right noises and stirs up all the right emotions when you hit that starter button. The tried and true 5.7l HEMI burbles to life with a great sounding exhaust note to let the driver know they started something that was meant to get them into trouble. Tap the go pedal and the noise only gets better. There is a lot to say about this thing so I think I’m going to break it down by category… again, this is generally not my style, but like I said, I like this car so it deserves to get the full treatment.
As soon as one lays eyes on the Challenger you know immediately that something different is going on. The car was built for one purpose and for a very segmented population of drivers. It is not a family truckster, it is not a grocery getter, it is not meant to be a fuel efficient eco-box. What it is meant to do is make every family toting, grocery getting, tree hugging driver out there forget about daily life and have a little fun. This car is about tire smoke, noise and an in your face presence… it wants to be the bouncer at the door of that club that may not let you in because you wore the wrong shoes, that’s what the Challenger is. Now, is the styling perfect… well, no. But its one hell of an effort. You see, the car when viewed from different angles looks different. Looking at the car from behind makes me think of that song, “Fat Bottomed Girls”, by Queen as the Chally definitely has a little junk in the trunk. However when you look at it from a pure side profile that pork chop ass seems to disappear. Same with the front. From an angle you see a really large front bumper but the more you walk around the car the more it disappears - strange.
Interior wise in just about every other review it was noted that the interior was simply a carry over from the Charger and 300 and in all honestly, it is. Problem though is it works in this setting. Big fat analog gauges that are in plain sight that can be seen without obstruction from the steering wheel with inset digital displays that showcase everything from oil temp to tire pressure. The in-dash navigation unit is easy to operate with a simple push button screen that is fairly intuitive as well as cleanly displayed. Sitting just below that are your climate controls… again, no BS, just good basic knobs and buttons that make everything work as it should. Interior room however is cramped for anything more than two people for such a big car. The back seats are usable, but are more suited to kids rather than full size adults. One quick note I must mention to back seat passengers: when exiting the car - WATCH OUT FOR THE FRONT SEAT BELTS! The front belts are anchored to this rail that is located right at the base of the doors and every time someone got out they caught their foot on it, so FYI on that one.
The front seats, lifted from the SRT models are great and provide nice support. Notice to tall drivers though - head room is lacking. I am 6′4″, 240 lbs and with a helmet on I would not be able to fit my big melon inside this thing. I say this because if you plan on taking the car to the track whether drag or road course, you’ll need a helmet and if you’re big like me, you ain’t gonna’ fit. Another tall driver notation: I am always weary of cars with a center console because my right leg always butts up against it and it is very uncomfortable, but in the Challenger I DID NOT have this problem… for those of you who know what I’m talking about you will appreciate this. Smaller folk will also enjoy this car as the seat offer loads of adjustability. My wife for instance is 5 feet tall and had no issues finding a nice seating position, so guys, if you are trying to get the wife to buy into you getting a new Chally this could be a selling point…. seriously, my wife now wants one… BOOYA!
Now this is the big one that I am sure everyone wants to know about. Again, ‘09 Challenger, 376 HP, track pack car with 3.76s and a 6-speed. I’ll start out by saying that I don’t really like the transmission in this car so before all you die hard manual weenies go nuts because of that statement, let me tell you WHY I don’t like it. First off, I’m a road course guy, not a drag racer and because of that I tend to move towards a paddle shifted car. For drag racing I think it will probably be ok as the ratio’s are very close together, just keep in mind that you will be shifting this thing very quickly. Another issue I had was that the clutch did not engage until the pedal was 3/4 released, that means there was a lot of travel between your left foot and the floor before this sucker actually grabbed a gear. This car came to me with 1000 miles on it so I don’t know it’s history and that may be why. I’m also a city dweller so shifting every 3 seconds gets really tiresome after awhile. If however, you live someplace where you can really explore the joys of a manual then I’d say go for it. The shifts are crisp with short throws and it is a hell of a lot of fun. Braking wise the Challenger R/T was good but not stellar as it could use a bit more in the way of binders.
The 5.7 HEMI is simply a joy and when coupled with that glorious exhaust note you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time to the movie “Vanishing Point”. Chrysler nailed the sound of this thing and I mean NAILED IT! That low burble just sounds badass. Once you get it on the road the Challenger is deceptively quick, but doesn’t really feel that fast and I think the reason for this is that the power delivery is extremely smooth. Notice, I didn’t say wasn’t fast, I said didn’t feel fast. The long and short of it though is that this sucker moves and anyone that thinks 0-60 in 5.5 sec and a top end of 170 mph is slow is a bonehead pure and simple.
Ride quality is superb around town and on the highway. Although the suspension is a little soft for my liking (that means I’ll need to buy the SRT8). Another minor performance annoyance on this car would have to be the lack of road feel. Yes, the car gives a great ride and does handle, the problem is it doesn’t tell you it’s going to handle, meaning there is very little transmission of road feel from the front wheels through the steering wheel. That means you really have to “hope” the car makes that tough corner you’re going to take because it sure as hell isn’t going to tell you.
So, as you can see, I like this thing a lot. It’s a great car that does exactly what it was built to do. For those of you that own one I would love to hear your thoughts as well. Now this coming weekend I’m getting hold of an SRT 8 Challenger so ya’ll will get a real back to back comparison in the early portion of next week… stay tuned.