There was a time when a muscle car’s only traction control was in your right foot; when the human utricle and saccule were the world’s finest yaw sensors. Sadly, those days are gone forever. Yes, but… Let's get one thing straight. The original Challenger was no muscle car. And when Dodge’s pony car performance met (and lost to) emissions controls and fuel economy, the little demon turned into a compact luxury coupe of questionable Mitsubishi heritage. Fast forward to the frenzied pace of the Barrett-Jackson Pimp-O-Rama and the next logical iteration was obvious: the Challenger is now a true Muscle Car.
Challenger? Just doing my job M'am. Approaching the big beast is a suitably daunting task. The muscle-bound MOPAR hails from the Chrysler LX platform, shot into the limelight by Ralph Gilles and his gangsta-fresh Chrysler 300. While the original Challenger tucked away unnecessary belly fat and sported pencil thin bumpers, the new “LY” platformed Challenger ditches the Hank Aaron School of Muscle, heading straight for Barry Bond’s homerun bustin’ persona. And it works: the Challenger's overtly chunky, hunky proportions still have the requisite long hood and short deck– even if the visual weight below the beltline gives it a staid and static appearance.
But it’s worthy of Mark Rothko’s approval; the rear's squared sheetmetal (finished in our testers HEMI Orange) with black trim, red taillights and singular white backup light are a shot of abstract expressionism in a landscape dominated by Altezza-encrusted bubble butts. Add the chopped roof, power budge hood and a subtle wedge spoiler proudly bearing the SRT8 moniker and it’s done. There’s a new badass in town.
But the boisterous overtones hit the skids with a palate of dark charcoal inside the SRT8’s cabin. Luckily, the interior is decidedly Charger-ish, with enough unique parts and upgraded materials to put the rental car references at bay. To wit: the SRT8’s suede accents and elegantly stitched door trimmings compliment the upgraded seat covers and squish-friendly plastics. The look is right, but the execution is far off the mark of an Accord Coupe. No worries, the bangin’ Kicker Audio and in-dash Navigation sport enough modern technology to advance the muscle car to the current millennia.
What makes the Challenger’s interior truly unique: the old school seating on the rear bench. Folding back cushion notwithstanding, the intimate hindquarters offers space for two adults, albeit cocooning them with a tapered C-pillar and sculptured armrests. It takes us back to a simpler, smaller time when high fructose corn syrup didn’t fill our glasses and mandate an interior’s size and shape.
Not that the Challenger is a trim, toned lightweight. At well over two tons, the two-door Dodge is part buttoned-down autobahn bruiser, part miracle mile cruiser. Broken pavement and choppy roads have no effect on the SRT8’s massive 20” Alcoa forged wheels and conservative spring rates.
You feel its heft in under any cornering load, even if the multi-link suspension keeps the ship sailing a tight course. Roll control is in the house, but there’s no escaping the laws of physics. Thankfully, the days of bias-ply shredding understeer are history, and power on oversteer isn’t far away– with appropriate coaxing. No surprise there, considering the Germanic levels of refinement in its bones, and a big bore HEMI under the bonnet.
All that sounds great. On paper.
First, this is a limited production, hot-blooded American with an aural, tire-shredding (if largely mythical) legend to preserve. Try and keep that in mind when the Challenger’s overzealous mufflers hush the glorious V8 rumble, while you’re waiting for the massive push of 420lb/ft of torque to hit the pavement. Throttle tip-in is muted and the raucous-looking dual exhaust absolutely begs for Magnaflow’s finest cat-back piping.
To say that the Challenger’s disingenuous tuning is a buzz-kill is like saying the undefeated Pats losing the Super Bowl was a bit of a bummer for Bay Staters.
The Challenger SRT8’s strength lies in its highway strut. If one were to find an abandoned stretch of asphalt and wind-out the 425 horsepower HEMI to its limits, you’d discover a touring car that holds its speed like an S-class Benz, with a touch of wind noise from its frameless door glass. And then brings it all down without drama, thanks to a set of fade-free discs wearing glorious four-pot Brembo stoppers.
The premium price, mandatory autobox, limited production (for now) and polarizing styling isn’t the recipe for a mainstream success. Nor is the SRT8’s 13/18 mpg call on premium go juice. And? All those who want one will get one, and not give a damn. Why would they? The Challenger SRT8 is an immensely comfortable, powerful and over-the-top stylish vehicle. This is what Chrysler stood for in the past, yet works surprisingly well with today’s definition of Detroit Iron.
Special thanks to Mr. Tim Beck for the seat time.