Life is full of compromises. Usually you must give something up to get something in return. So it is always a nice surprise to find something that is not a compromise. The 2009 Challenger SRT8 is just such a find. It is a serious performance car that throws all practicality to the wind. The Challenger does not pretend to be something it is not. It is what it is; the complete reincarnation of the 1970 Challenger R/T.
The Challenger SRT8’s looks are of a different era. Dodge could have given the Challenger the slick aerodynamic “egg shape” of just about every other modern performance car, but it did not. Instead it gave it all the styling cues of the original 1970 Challenger with a few slight aerodynamic and styling tweaks. The finished product is so very impressive. And why wouldn’t it be? The 1970 Challenger’s body lines are as classic and universally accepted as Coca-Cola. It would be like Chevrolet resurrecting the styling of the 1957 Chevrolet; it can only be a success.
The new Challenger is slightly taller and is not as wide as the original, but the look and the whole stance is so similar in proportions that it is easy on first glance to get the two confused. One minor difference is the beltline on the new Challenger which is slightly taller than the original making the famous side body crease slightly higher on the newer Challenger. The Challenger SRT8’s big 20 inch wheels make the original 14 and 15 inch wheels of the 1970 Challenger appear to be go-kart wheels in comparison. And the hood on the new car is not as long as the original due to a steeper raked windshield and stubbier front-end.
What Dodge should be commended for, is the front-end and roof design. Both were designed to buck the current automotive design trend by offering what looked good instead of what was aerodynamic. A fastback style roofline would have made the new Challenger more aerodynamic but would not have looked as good as its more formal retro roof. Same is true with the front grille, which incorporates the four round light design of the original 1970 Challenger (however two of these lights unlike the original are used for parking lights). The whole look completes the car but provides a big area to trap air which is not good for aerodynamics. Most automakers would have opted for an aerodynamic front-end which never would look as good as the Challenger’s front-end.
The heart of this beast is a Hemi 6.1 liter V8 producing an impressive 425 net horsepower and 420 lbs/ft of torque. This V8 is every bit as powerful as the original monster big-block 426 (CID) Hemi which was underrated at 425 gross horsepower. The SRT8 hits the 1/4 mile in the low-13 second range verses the elder Hemi Challenger’s time of around mid-13 seconds. This is no small feat when you consider the new SRT8 Challenger (at a curb weight of 4,100 lbs) outweighs the 426 Hemi powered cars by at least 500 lbs. And Chrysler claims a 0-100-0 mph in just 17 seconds, which 25 to 30 years ago was the 1/4 mile time for many performance cars.
The 6.1 liter Hemi V8 is a special motor, it utilizes the same engine block as its 5.7 liter Hemi brother (the 6.1 has a slightly larger bore but shares the same stroke with the 5.7). The new Hemi V8 is loosely based on the Chrysler LA series small block V8 it replaced. Consider it a modern version of the LA V8 with Hemi heads. The 6.1 does not have the MDS (Multi-Displacement System) and VVT (Variable Valve Timing) of its 5.7 brother. So it is no surprise that the EPA’s mileage figures are 13 mpg city and 19 mpg highway for the SRT8 Challenger.
What a breath of fresh air the SRT8 Challenger was when it was released last year. Who in their wildest dreams a ten years back would have imagined the return of the Challenger with such retro body lines with a pavement pounding Hemi? However the Challenger has arrived late to the party and the lights will soon be turned off. With the Obama Administration having finalizing the C.A.F.E. (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for 2016, the end result is not good for performance car buyers. By the 2016 model year each automaker’s fleet of cars must meet a required average of 42 mpg (that’s way up from the current 27.5 mpg standard). There is already a gas guzzler tax applied to the 2009 Challenger SRT8 due to it not meeting the current standard so the SRT8’s lifespan may be as limited as the 1970–1974 Challenger’s was.
The 2009 Challenger SRT8 is even better than the 2008 model due to two main reasons; a new limited slip differential and a new optional 6-speed manual transmission. Dodge kept traction in order for the rear wheels on the 2008 SRT8 by manipulating the brakes under certain conditions. It worked however the new limited slip differential does the job much better – proving that sometimes old school is better than high-tech. For 2008 all Challenger SRT8s had the mandatory 6-speed automatic transmission, the critics still loved the car and overlooked the lack of a manual transmission option. With a new 6-speed manual transmission for 2009 now being on the option list, it provides one more reason to love this car.
And for those who did not like the silver, orange, or black exterior colors introduced in the original run of Challenger SRT8s, Dodge has added two new exterior colors to the lineup for 2009; High Performance Red Clear coat and (the “back from the dead” classic Challenger) B5 Blue.
One of the main problems with the muscle cars from the golden era is that they were fast in a straight line but when the road ahead met with some curves – beware. That’s certainly not the case with the Challenger SRT8 which handles like it is on rails in the curves. The Challenger is big and beefy like a NFL linebacker, yet its handling is so nimble and precise you easily forget its very heavy weight. Dodge could have easily skimped on the Challenger SRT8 and used a sold axle in the rear to save money, but they opted instead for a five link independent rear suspension. The net result is with its four wheel independent suspension the car handles well along with absorbing the bumps and potholes very well (of course the Challenger’s heavy weight helps too in this area). Also worth noting, on the skidpad test the big SRT8 Challenger scores an impressive .90 g.
The interior of the Challenger SRT8 is a carryover from the previous year; it is comfortable and provides plenty of space. And unlike most 2+2 coupes the Challenger has a fairly roomy rear seating area which adults can actually fit in comfort. The front seats provide excellent lumbar support yet are comfortable enough to not cause the normal aches and pains of long trips. The dashboard instrumentation is attractive to the eye yet functionally it hits the mark. To sum up the interior it is a functional retro version of the big 2+2 sport coupe interiors that we all grew up with. The only difference is headroom can be a little tight for those over 6 feet tall when the optional electronic sunroof is ordered.
The Challenger SRT8 is the best example of a modern muscle car. The only way this car could be made better would be a T-top option, Convertible option, and an optional cold air induction shaker hood scoop. Other than that, this car is as perfect as a modern muscle car gets. And the smart among us will buy one before they go the way of buffalo.
Written contents in this article – © 2009 Pete Dunton – All Rights Reserved