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.
Challenger 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.
Dodge Challenger 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. Dodge 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.
Challenger 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.
The Dodge 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.